“As a partnership between the state’s three largest research universities, with strong ties to the state’s most comprehensive health system, Indiana University Health, I consider the Indiana CTSI uniquely positioned to support this sort of large-scale, collaborative project,” said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for translational research at IUSM and director of the Indiana CTSI, which includes Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame. “Our technical expertise, patient recruitment knowledge and sample storage capabilities all align with the resources needed to bring this already successful project to the next level.”
The Indiana CTSI’s support will fuel two goals: expanding research technology and raising awareness about colorectal cancer research. Mary Lou Smith and Elda Railey, co-founders of the Research Advocacy Network (RAN), a non-profit organization that brings together patients and researchers, will lead the community education project. RAN will recruit 30 to 50 community representatives to educate their neighbors about the disease and encouraging positive actions in the fight against it. Participants will learn about the medical research system, clinical trials and engage in “hands-on” learning in a medical laboratory.
“There’s not nearly the same numbers of research advocates in colorectal cancer as there are for other cancers like breast cancer,” said Railey. “Colorectal cancer patients are diagnosed at a later stage and a later age. Many have a difficult experience with this disease; no one really wants to talk about it because it’s seen as an uncomfortable topic. The colorectal cancer community has very different needs.”
Technical support from Indiana CTSI will enhance research infrastructure at IUSCC and Purdue as experts in an online platform used at both institutions create an advanced database tool, hosted by the Indiana CTSI, that serves a single, secure electronic environment in which scientists from both institutes may share, store, analyze and annotate research data.
The original partnership between IUSCC and Purdue was created to pioneer a new way to use tissue analysis in the fight against cancer. Scientists at the IU School of Medicine, IU-Bloomington, Purdue, Notre Dame and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will subject clinical samples to multiple high tech tests with the results deposited into a single “cyber-environment” accessible to researchers working on the project.
“There’s so much information out there now it’s difficult for researchers to navigate,” said Patrick Loehrer, M.D., director of IUSCC and associate dean for cancer research at the IU School of Medicine. “We feel the key to the future isn’t generating more and more studies focusing on very small sample populations or a single form of analysis—it’s performing all the key analyses on many samples and using computer models to predict individual risk factors or treatment benefits.”
Nearly 300 tissue samples have already undergone analysis, with plans to collect 500 more from patient volunteers at IU Health Arnett. The samples, which will be stored in the Indiana Biobank, a high-tech sample storage facility managed by the Indiana CTSI, should provide important insights into colorectal cancer in Hoosiers from beyond the state’s largest city.
Marietta Harrison, Ph.D., director of the OSC and associate vice president for research at Purdue, said the project is about growing collaboration, accelerating research and building capacity.
“Everything we’re trying to accomplish with this project matches perfectly with the mission of the Indiana CTSI, IU and Purdue University,” she said.
Added Patrick Loehrer, H. H. Gregg Professor of Oncology Professor of Medicine at IUSM: “There may be no greater goal in medicine than trying to eradicate cancer, and with this project we have many groups working together towards that common goal. This level of cooperation across academic and community institutions is unique in cancer research—but it’s the future.”