The grant, which creates the Walther Program in Palliative Care Research and Education, will help clinicians, researchers and educators at the IU Simon Cancer Center learn how to best integrate palliative care into conventional cancer care and to provide the highest quality of life for patients and their families undergoing cancer treatment.
Palliative care is a rapidly developing medical specialty that emphasizes the prevention and treatment of the symptoms of a disease, side effects caused by treatment of a disease, and psychological, social, and spiritual problems related to a disease or its treatment. Palliative care also focuses on the conversations required to reach a shared understanding of care goals. Preliminary studies have suggested that cancer care combined with palliative care leads to a better quality of life, fewer depressive symptoms, and a longer life expectancy.
“We are not only excited by this grant, but also deeply appreciative and grateful to the Walther Cancer Foundation for the opportunity that the grant represents,” said Greg Sachs, M.D., division director of general internal medicine and geriatrics at the IU School of Medicine and a co-leader of the new program. “Funding for palliative care research has been one of the biggest challenges for the field, so this grant is a real game changer. It will allow us to jump-start our work from one that is promising to one that makes a real difference.”
James Ruckle, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Walther Cancer Foundation, said: “The Walther Cancer Foundation has a long-standing interest in improving the quality of life of cancer patients and their families. Dr. Joseph Walther, our founder, was especially concerned about mitigating the suffering of patients with life limiting disease and the distress it causes their families. We are very pleased the IU Simon Cancer Center is committed to building an exemplary research program in this important area.”
The Walther Program in Palliative Care Research and Education will build upon the expertise of clinicians and researchers currently engaged in palliative care at the IU Simon Cancer Center to design, test and implement evidence-based palliative care practices.
For example, physicians will design and test simulated patient-physician conversations about end-of-life care to enhance the quality of communication and decision-making near the end of life.
“The program will impact our patients because we’ll work with physicians on communication skills – skills necessary for shared decision making, skills necessary to have meaningful conversations about the options as life may be ending. It will allow us to place more emphasis on a sense of control for the patients,” said Larry Cripe, M.D., medical director of palliative care at IU Hospital and a leukemia specialist and researcher at the cancer center. Dr. Cripe will co-lead the new program with Dr. Sachs.
The Palliative Care Research and Education program also will provide for:
- Healthcare provider education in palliative care to assure greater access to adequate symptom control and psychosocial support of patients with life-limiting illnesses during all phases of treatment
- Testing novel interventions, such as yoga or music therapy, to lessen distressing physical, psychological or spiritual symptoms
- Developing and testing innovative programs to address unmet needs of family caregivers
- Assessing the impact of palliative care on the health care system and financial resources
- Cross-disciplinary collaboration with traditional and non-traditional health care providers
- Public advocacy of palliative care
- Resources to recruit a nationally-renowned investigator. A senior physician-investigator who has a substantial track record of securing funding from the National Institutes of Health for palliative care can help enhance the program at the IU Simon Cancer Center.
“Because of the Walther grant, this program will become a leader in innovative ways to improve the overall quality and cost-effectiveness of cancer care, reduce the burden of poorly controlled symptoms, and restore effective communication with patients and families about goals, preferences, and likely outcomes from diagnosis to long-term survivorship or the end of life,” Dr. Cripe said.