INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis has named two new cancer research centers — one dedicated to finding a cure for malignant brain tumors and the other focused on developing health information technologies to improve the quality of health care among cancer patients — as recipients of initial funding under the IUPUI Signature Center Initiative.
The IUPUI Signature Center Initiative fosters the development of centers unique to IUPUI that could lead the way in world-class research and creative activities. The 2013 initial funding recipients are the Center for the Cure of Glioblastoma, co-directed by Karen E. Pollok and Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol; and the Center for Cancer Population Analytics and Patient-Centered Informatics, directed by Dr. David A. Haggstrom.
“The overall mission of the Center for the Cure of Glioblastoma, part of the IU School of Medicine, is to find a cure for what is the most common malignant primary brain tumor in humans . . . Currently there are no effective treatments for Glioblastoma multiforme,” said Cohen-Gadol.
Glioblastoma multiforme, known as GBM, typically results in death within 15 months after diagnosis. Treatment can involve chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
“We will focus on designing new (drugs) that block key signaling pathways that control the growth of GBM cells,” said Pollok, associate professor of pediatrics, pharmacology and toxicology in the IU School of Medicine. “We (also) will focus on development and testing of novel anti-cancer compounds that can be effectively delivered to the brain and kill the cancer cells.”
GBM tumors are hard to kill primarily because they have many different mutations in their DNA, and the cells readily invade other areas of the brain. In addition, it is difficult to deliver adequate amounts of drugs to the brain due to a disrupted tumor blood supply and, in some cases, due to the blood brain barrier — blood vessels in the brain that are highly impermeable to the vast majority of anti-cancer drugs, Pollok said.
In addition to finding innovative new chemical compounds that can cross the blood brain barrier, the center will investigate the use of current standard treatment agents in combination with other targeted agents in order to effectively shut down the growth and invasiveness of the GBM cells, Pollok said.
Immediate goals for the center, also supported by the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, Goodman Campbell Brain and Spine, and the Department of Pediatrics, are to publish new research findings and compete for additional funding from the National Institutes of Health and various brain tumor research associations around the country.
The goal of the Center for Cancer Population Analytics and Patient-Centered Informatics is to create knowledge that will have an impact on the health and health care of patients and populations with cancer in Indiana and the U.S.
“Our center’s mission is to bring together teams of research scientists to develop cutting-edge health information technologies and test whether they improve the lives of cancer patients,” said Haggstrom, research scientist at the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis, associate professor of medicine in the IU School of Medicine, and Regenstrief Institute investigator.
“We will also use data we gather to better understand the quality of care delivered to cancer patients throughout the state of Indiana,” he said. ”Ultimately, we hope that our work can serve as a model for other developers and states throughout the country.”
The center’s name reflects the dual focus of the center, Haggstrom said. The center will also work with collaborators in the IU School of Informatics and Computing at IUPUI.
“In the past few years, new information technologies are rapidly changing how we live and work,” he said. ”We plan to harness the power of new, patient-centered technologies to improve the health of cancer patients. We also need to stretch our thinking beyond how to meet the needs of cancer patients one at a time to how we can best serve populations of cancer patients.”
Immediate center projects include designing a new set of Web-based tools to meet the needs of cancer survivors, Haggstrom said. The center also plans to compete for additional support from the National Cancer Institute and other organizations supporting cancer research.
The Signature Center Initiative provides each selected center with initial funding for a period of three years. This year’s recipients were selected from a pool of seven applications.