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December 6, 2013

Challenge fund established to encourage investment in bladder cancer research by Purdue's College of Veterinary Medicine

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Brown County couple has established a challenge fund for the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine to support bladder cancer research.

Evan and Sue Ann Werling of Nashville, Ind., have given $100,000 to start Brandi's Cancer Challenge Fund. The challenge gift is to encourage additional investment from matching gifts. The fund will support work seeking to transform the management of invasive bladder cancer in dogs and humans, said Jeff Spielman, director of advancement for the College of Veterinary Medicine. Successful results from the Purdue Comparative Oncology Program's (PCOP) bladder cancer work also are expected to contribute to advances in other types of cancer treatment.

The Werlings lived in Lafayette for many years where Evan was an officer of Duncan Electric Co. He later worked for a venture capital firm. In 1992 the Werlings acquired the Moore Langen Printing Co. in Terre Haute, Ind., and took it from insolvency to being the largest privately owned high-tech print communications company in the United States. It served education publishing and computer software packaging.

They became familiar with the PCOP bladder cancer research program when they took their Australian shepherd and basset mix dog, named Brandi, to Purdue for treatment in 2005. Brandi participated in two different studies.

Deborah Knapp, the Dolores L. McCall Professor of Comparative Oncology and director of PCOP, said Brandi lived a total of 15 months after her initial diagnosis, which was a significant outcome. "At that time, the median survival times with most treatment ranged from only about four to nine months," Knapp said.

The treatment Brandi received left a lasting impression on the Werlings.

"The quality of response from Dr. Knapp and Patty Bonney (senior oncology technologist) was beyond anything we've ever experienced in our entire business career," Evan Werling said. "They really cared about Brandi. They treated her like a human being. Few universities in the world have the kind of scientific capability that Purdue has in areas like nanotechnology and biomedical engineering. You have to have long-term investment in technology to build a program that makes an impact."

Drug discovery is an area in which College of Veterinary Medicine researchers are working to make an impact. In September Purdue President Mitch Daniels identified drug discovery as among initiatives the university is targeting for increased emphasis.

Veterinary clinical scientists in the College of Veterinary Medicine are investigating new treatments for invasive bladder cancer, lymphoma and brain cancer.

"Progress in bladder cancer has been especially encouraging," Knapp said. "We have the longest track record with our bladder cancer research, which has been ongoing for more than 20 years. That's the area in which we have made the most progress."

An example involves a study Knapp and her colleagues conducted on naturally occurring cases of bladder cancer in dogs to determine the extent to which drugs called cox inhibitors, which block the cyclooxygenase (cox) enzyme, could demonstrate antitumor activity and amplify the effectiveness of chemotherapy. The study positively benefits many dogs, like Brandi, and also paved the way for the therapy to be translated into human clinical trials.

Another strength of the bladder cancer research, Knapp said, is the work's collaborative scope.

"We tap into world-class scientists at Purdue and beyond," Knapp said.

Those scientists at Purdue include Philip Low, the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. He and Knapp are working to investigate another potential treatment, called folate-targeted therapy, along with Endocyte, the company Low co-founded.

The therapy is linked to a discovery that revealed how certain cancers in humans and animals take up much more vitamin folate than normal cells. The therapy capitalizes on this finding by attaching cancer treatment agents to folate in order to selectively deliver drugs to the cancer cells with much less exposure to normal cells.

An additional area of focus involves therapies that manage bladder cancer as a chronic disease by using low-dose oral chemo treatment.

"This approach can buy, on average, an extra seven months after a pet has failed other therapies," Knapp said.

Purdue also is collecting tissues and developing tissue repositories from canine cancers that provides for another level of testing that can be beneficial, said Timothy Ratliff, the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research and professor of comparative pathobiology.

"We want to find pathways that cancer cells need to survive and then find the drug that blocks them," Ratliff said. "A tissue repository allows us to determine those pathways and then the key to blocking them. With the similarities between canine and human cancer, looking at those tissues will provide insights into human therapeutics as well."

Writer: Greg McClure, 765-496-9711, gmcclure@purdue.edu 

Sources:  Kevin Doerr, director of public affairs for the College of Veterinary Medicine, 765-494-8216, doerrkr@purdue.edu

Evan Werling, eawerling@gmail.com

Jeff T. Spielman, 765-494-7607, spielman@purdue.edu

Deborah Knapp, 765-494-1107, knappd@purdue.edu

Timothy Ratliff, 765-494-9129, tlratliff@purdue.edu