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Purdue, IU Awarded $500,000 NIH Grant to Launch Cancer Community Engagement Project

Purdue University's Oncological Sciences Center and Indiana University will share a National Institutes of Health grant to launch a cancer advocacy network and advance research for applying systems-engineering principles to cancer prevention and treatment.

The $500,000 NIH grant, awarded to Purdue and IU through their joint Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute project, will fund a partnership between researchers in the Purdue-IU-led Cancer Care Engineering program and Research Advocacy Network to educate the public about the role they can play in cancer research. The community-based project will be housed at IU Health Arnett in Lafayette, a recent new partner in the Cancer Care Engineering project.

"Our goal through this program is to recruit 20 people who will become advocates, the foot soldiers to help educate and recruit clinical trial participants for discovery research," said medicinal chemistry and pharmacology professor Marietta Harrison, associate vice president for research at Purdue and director of the Oncological Sciences Center in Discovery Park.

"We also believe this funding from the National Institutes of Health affirms the progress we are making with our partners through our Cancer Care Engineering Project."

Through the Cancer Care Engineering project, research teams from Purdue and IU are working with colorectal cancer data to develop tools for helping improve prevention, treatment and care of those with cancer, Harrison said. With the clinical data, researchers are refining statistical and engineering simulation models to predict how to treat and possibly prevent cancer, she said.

The key to conquering cancer is early detection, Harrison said. A focus of the Cancer Care Engineering project is to discover biomarkers in individual's blood and tissue that will predict susceptibility to colon cancer, its early onset and which treatment is most likely to work. This research requires a partnership with the community and help from local individuals who wish to participate in research studies.

Community advocates are critical to providing information to their friends and neighbors explaining what it means to be part of a clinical trial, Harrison said. Many advocates themselves have participated in clinical trials and they are the perfect individuals to explain how clinical trials work and what benefit they hold to advancing cancer treatment.

"We believe that patient-focused research holds the greatest hope for improvements in treatment, diagnostics and prevention," said Mary Lou Smith, co-founder of the Research Advocacy Network. "Our goals are to get the results of research studies - new treatment - to patients more quickly, give those touched by the disease opportunities to give back to the cancer community, and help the medical community improve the design of research studies so that more people are willing to participate in clinical trials."

Known as RAN, the Research Advocacy Network is a nonprofit organization formed in 2003 to bring together participants in the research process with a focus on educating, supporting and connecting patient advocates with the medical research community. Its mission: to develop a network of advocates and researchers who influence cancer research - from initial concept to patient care delivery - through collaboration, education and mutual support.

"We believe that dissemination of research results to the medical community and patients can have a major impact on clinical practice," said RAN co-founder Elda Railey. "While many organizations address the needs of patients with specific diseases, advocate in the political arena, promote cancer education and raise money, no other organization advances research through this approach to advocacy."

The Cancer Care Engineering project is applying systems-engineering principles, data visualization and statistical modeling to the broad spectrum of cancer prevention, treatment and care delivery. The multi-institutional project brings together oncologists, health service researchers, engineers, biologists and others in the war on cancer.

Included are Purdue researchers from the Oncological Sciences Center, Bindley Bioscience Center, Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering and the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing along with collaborators from the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, IU Health Arnett, Regenstrief Institute/Indiana University Center for Health Services & Outcomes Research, and the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

The Walther Cancer Foundation, Regenstrief Foundation in Indianapolis and the U.S. Department of Defense have provided nearly $5 million in funding since researchers in Purdue's Discovery Park launched the Cancer Care Engineering project in 2006.

The Oncological Sciences Center, created through a gift from Lilly Endowment in 2005 and housed in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, is the Discovery Park arm of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research. It builds on existing research areas and is expanding Purdue's thrust into nanotechnology, drug delivery, and cancer care and prevention.

The Indiana CTSI is a statewide collaboration of IU, Purdue and Notre Dame, as well as public and private partnerships, which facilitates the translation of scientific discoveries in the lab into clinical trials and new patient treatments in Indiana and beyond.

Led by Anantha Shekhar, the principal investigator of the Indiana CTSI and professor and associate dean for translational research at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana CTSI was established in 2008 with a $25 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health, together with nearly $60 million from the state, the three member universities, and public and private donors.

The Indiana CTSI is a member of a national network of 55 CTSA-funded organizations across the United States.

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