Teamwork Furthers Ground-breaking Cancer Research

Article Date: Oct 24, 2013

CHI's Center for Translational Research (CTR)  state-of-the-art biorepository

From the Lab to the Bedside

Imagine a library where researchers could "check out" blood and tissue samples to learn how to better prevent, diagnose and treat disease.

It's not a glimpse into the future; it's a "library" that exists today—and the coming together of Alegent Creighton Health (ACH) and Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) makes the possibility of important breakthroughs—meaningful discoveries that directly impact our patients-- that much more real.

CHI's Center for Translational Research (CTR) has a state-of-the-art biorepository that includes tissue-processing equipment and freezer storage for biospecimens to be used in testing. Biospecimens are tissue, blood, urine or saliva taken from the human body, often during a biopsy, surgery or other procedure. The availability of high-quality biospecimens that are "research-ready" is critical to cancer research because the samples' proteins, DNA, RNA and other molecules can help researchers understand why and how the cancer developed. The CTR currently resides at Saint Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland, but will be moving to a brand new, custom built space on the University of Maryland BioPark campus in early 2014.

"Our translational research program is very unique and special," said Jeffrey Otto, PhD, MBA, national director for the CTR. "To the best of my knowledge, there is no other similar program in the nation, where such cutting-edge research is brought to community hospitals." Otto said Alegent Creighton Health's academic medical center—Creighton University Medical Center—is a valuable partner: "Partnerships such as these only help to further strengthen our translational research program. It is our goal to continue to grow this program with the objective of using these resources to help bring better drugs, diagnostics and devices to the patients in our communities."

CHI's Center for Translational Research (CTR)  state-of-the-art biorepositoryAlegent Creighton Health patient Gary Ervin agreed to give a blood sample to the biorepository after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin mantle cell lymphoma in March 2013. The blood sample he provided will help researchers better understand how genes influence the development and growth of cancers, including those that are passed on in families.

"We want to focus on research that impacts our patients," said Kayleen Joyce, M.S., operations director of system research for Alegent Creighton Health. "We want meaningful discoveries in a collaborative and patient-focused way."

One way this is being accomplished:  the very large CTR database allows researchers to see which biospecimens with specific genetic markers work with which treatment. By understanding the genetics of cancer, researchers can then develop new personalized tools to diagnose, manage and treat non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

This "personalized medicine"—which replaces treating all patients the same—moves cutting-edge research from the lab to the bedside—and then back to the lab again.

Biorepository Program Supervisor Christina Griffin, MS, called the biorepository program an "exciting research endeavor that will make personalized medicine a reality. By enabling physicians to select treatment regimens based on a patient's unique genetic profile, patients will have better survival outcomes and may even possibly be cured from certain diseases."

After his diagnosis, Ervin underwent chemotherapy and received an autologous stem cell reinfusion, using his own stem cells to help save his life. The 66-year-old Logan, Iowa patient's stem cells were collected, frozen, then reinfused so healthy stem cells could produce normal blood cells. "It was like re-booting me again," Ervin said. He called his outcome "pretty miraculous."

Ervin said he felt great knowing he contributed to the biorepository and to cancer research that one day could benefit other patients."Whatever I can do to make a difference," he said.

In contrast to single-site academic hospitals, a network of community-based hospitals such as CHI's, enables a vast, demographically-diverse biospecimen collection. The CTR acts as a central hub for the storage of biospecimens from across the CHI network of 86 hospitals in 18 states. Alegent Creighton Health has been participating since early 2013.

This is true transformational leadership.

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