Foes Become Friends to Research Cancer Cures
With Big Ten football season in full swing, ask any Badger player, coach or fan how they would feel about working with Michigan or Minnesota on the field and you will likely get a resounding “no way.”
But what about working together off the field to fight cancer?
That concept of “competitors on the field, partners in curing cancer” is exactly what the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (Big Ten CRC) is about. Formed in 2013, Big Ten CRC encourages clinical researchers from across the consortium to work together to develop new clinical trials and open them to patients at participating Big Ten cancer centers. The UW Carbone Cancer Center is a member of Big Ten CRC.
“Being a part of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium allows us to affiliate with other very prestigious academic institutions to do clinical trials,” said Ruth O’Regan, MD, division head of hematology/oncology at UW Carbone and vice chairperson of the Big Ten CRC steering committee. “For UW, being a member has been a big advantage because we’ve been very active, probably one of the more active in the Big Ten.”
UW Carbone’s main involvement with Big Ten CRC is through the consortium-wide clinical trials. Several hematologists and oncologists are members of the disease working groups developing these trials.
“The way it works is, the studies are all presented to the individual disease working groups, and then if a faculty member is interested, they can request to be part of the trial and to open the trial at their institution,” O’Regan said.
For example, there are currently two breast cancer clinical trials open to accrual at UW through Big Ten CRC. O’Regan and Kari Wisinski, MD, are principal investigators on these trials. O’Regan initiated the trial she is leading, while Wisinski mentored one of the medical oncologists at the University of Illinois in developing a trial that she now co-leads through the Big Ten CRC Breast Working Group. Both trials are available to UW Carbone patients.
“It’s a way of both getting access to more trials for our patients and for us to initiate more trials that can be accrued more quickly because they’re open at multiple sites,” O’Regan said “I definitely see it as a benefit to our patients, because now they don’t have to go to Chicago or Ann Arbor or somewhere else to have access to a trial.”
Another important aspect of Big Ten CRC trials in improving patient outcomes is that all of these trials have correlative studies associated with them. These secondary studies provide lab researchers with, for example, blood or tissue samples that allows them to study the trial drug’s effect at the cellular or molecular level. The information gleaned from correlative studies can inform clinicians how well the therapy is working, or even lead to the development of an improved cancer drug.
O’Regan also sees UW Carbone’s participation as having another, more indirect benefit to patients: it provides the more junior physicians with opportunities to conduct and learn from clinical research and to access leadership roles, helping to boost their role as experts in their fields. Of the 14 Big Ten CRC disease working groups, 12 are populated with and three are co-chaired by UW Carbone members.
“With the larger national cooperative clinical research groups, they’re so large that it’s often hard for our junior faculty to get a seat at the table,” O’Regan said. “With Big Ten, our faculty are more likely to get leadership roles and be principal investigators for multi-institutional trials.”
Date Published: 10/05/2017