Purdue, IU Health Arnett plan outreach, training sessions for cancer research advocates

April 12, 2012

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University's Oncological Sciences Center is partnering with Indiana University Health Arnett in Lafayette to offer training sessions beginning this week for launching a local network of medical research advocates.

Workshops are scheduled at 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday (April 14) and again May 12 for community members to gain information and hands-on training to educate, assist and encourage individuals to participate in clinical cancer research and drug trials. The goal is to recruit 20 people who will become cancer patient advocates.

This Saturday's (April 14) session, which is free and open to the public, is in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, Room 206. The May 12 workshop is at IU Health Arnett. Leading the sessions are Mary Lou Smith and Elda Railey of the Research Advocacy Network, a partner on the project.

"Medical breakthroughs are the result of clinical trials, and increased patient participation in clinical trials will further 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. "Patient advocates can help increase participation in clinical trials by raising awareness within the community, treatment centers, local hospitals and organizations."

The sessions are part of the outreach component of a Purdue-IU partnership launched with a $500,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant, awarded to Purdue and IU through their joint Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute project, is funding the partnership between researchers in the Purdue-IU-led Cancer Care Engineering program and Research Advocacy Network to educate the public about the benefits of participating in cancer research.

The community-based effort is housed at IU Health Arnett in Lafayette, a new partner in the Cancer Care Engineering project.

More than 1,000 drugs designed to treat cancer are in the pipeline. But it can take 15-20 years of regulatory hurdles and other steps for a single drug to reach a patient. At the same time, 5 percent or fewer of all cancer patients currently participate in clinical trials.

That percentage must climb if the medical community stands any chance of defeating cancer, said Dr. Wael Harb, director of Oncology and Research for IU Health Arnett in Lafayette and a partner in the Purdue-IU research advocacy effort.

"People are still dying of cancer, and that's not acceptable. So we need to find answers," Harb said. "Research is the only way to find a cure for cancer. Without research, we'd have zero chance to treat cancer."

Harrison said community advocates are essential to providing information to their friends and neighbors, explaining what it means to be part of a clinical research trial. Many advocates themselves have participated in clinical trials, giving them insight into what's involved in research and what benefit they hold to advancing cancer treatment.

"We can't change what has already happened. But we can make a difference in how cancer is fought for those yet to come," said project partner Lori Miller, outreach coordinator for the Lafayette-based Community Cancer Network in north central Indiana. "Cancer is survivable. And we can make it so for more people."

Miller knows that firsthand. She has battled three separate cancers in the past decade and today is cancer free. Now, she spends her time encouraging people to participate in cancer research. Even those not currently suffering from cancer can help in this cause.

"Without more people participating in these trials, drugs that researchers at Purdue and elsewhere will not get the approval in time to help people," Miller said.

Through the Cancer Care Engineering project, Purdue and IU researchers are working with colorectal cancer data to develop tools for helping improve prevention, treatment and care of those with cancer. With the clinical data, researchers are refining statistical and engineering models to predict how to treat and possibly prevent cancer. Assisting Dr. Harb on the project is Jenifer Miller, clinical research coordinator for IU Health Arnett.

The key to conquering cancer is early detection, Harrison said. One Cancer Care Engineering project is focused on determining what biomarkers in an individual's blood and tissue might predict susceptibility to colon cancer, its early onset and which treatment is most likely to work.

"This research would benefit from the cancer advocate partnership with the community and help from local individuals who wish to participate in research studies," Harrison said.

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.

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 Indiana University 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.

Indiana University Health Arnett is a comprehensive healthcare system, which operates a 152-bed full-service acute care hospital and 24 outpatient medical offices. IU Health Arnett has more than 300 employed physicians and health care providers with an unwavering commitment to better health care for the people of west central Indiana.

Started in Lafayette in 2007, the Community Cancer Network provides non-medical support to local cancer patients and their families. Food from their onsite pantry, transportation, fuel assistance, prescription co-pays, rent and utilities are just some of the many services offered.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Sources: Marietta Harrison, 765-494-3805, jgreener@purdue.edu

                  Dr. Wael Harb, wharb1@iuhealth.org

                 Lori Miller, 765-446-5464, ccnlori@gmail.com

                Janice Welty, 765-448-7536, weltyj@iuhealth.org