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NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Vanderbilt University and Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. have announced a cancer research and education agreement that will allow the two Tennessee-based organizations to undertake broad collaboration on genomic study and personalized cancer-patient care.
The academic affiliation agreement establishes a framework for a multifaceted partnership between Baptist Cancer Center and Vanderbilt- Ingram Cancer Center on a number of oncology research, education and treatment programs. Researchers at the two institutions will undertake joint clinical trials, share clinical pathways and cancer tissue samples and conduct joint conferences for their physicians and medical staff. The collaboration will help to advance personalized, genomic-based therapy and will facilitate research-based fellowship training programs in oncology subspecialties and partnership in grant applications for cancer research funding. The Baptist Cancer will also participate in National Comprehensive Cancer Network activities as a Vanderbilt- Ingram Cancer Center sub-site.
As the medical community has come to embrace the potential for targeted, personalized treatments for cancer—which promise to be more effective and less toxic than conventional treatments—the amount of data being generated as it relates to genes and mutations thereof implicated in various types of cancer is staggering. This affiliation agreement between Baptist Memorial Health Care and Vanderbilt University's Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center represents a novel approach to exploiting the overwhelming and rapidly growing knowledge base of genetic information related to cancer, and deploying specialized care in underserved patient populations.
The research will focus in part on identifying and analyzing lower-frequency, rare mutations. These rare forms of illness, by their nature, have a much smaller patient population base and are typically less exhaustively studied.
"We hope to identify more 'unusual' tumors that have unique mutations that help to drive our understanding of the mechanisms of the disease," says Dr. Michael Neuss, chief medical officer at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
The center's geographically diverse group of medical partners, including the clinicians at Baptist Memorial Health Care, are hoping to "expand the denominator" of patients from whom genetic mutations underlying these rare tumors can be identified.
The partnership will also serve to improve access to clinical trials, cutting-edge genomic medicine and genetic diagnostic tools for residents of the Mid-South served by Baptist Memorial's 14-hospital system in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
"The goal is to provide care to the patients in the communities in which they live and to provide access to oncology specialists in the local region," says Ann Bishop, administrator of oncology services at Baptist Memorial Health Care. "Many times patients leave their communities and home to seek treatment for their cancer diagnosis; our goal is for patients to stay close to home as they are receiving treatment."
"This relationship will allow us to bring a whole new level of cancer research to Memphis and the surrounding area. We will be working with Vanderbilt-Ingram to develop more personalized cancer programs based on patients' genetic makeup," said Baptist Memorial Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jason Little in a media release announcing the agreement.
Another goal of the academic affiliation is the creation of joint public education programs in cancer prevention, treatment and control.
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center also manages My Cancer Genome (known for its website, mycancergenome.org), a free online cancer medicine resource for physicians, patients, caregivers and researchers designed to support personalized, genetically informed treatment decision-making. The website provides up-to-date information about the genetic mutations implicated in various diseases, as well as a database of available clinical trials.
"(We) envision an integrated, academically affiliated, multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of adult cancer patients across the Mid-South," says Bishop. "To keep patients close to home, we must bring the needed services to the local communities."
Baptist Memorial Health Care is one of the largest not-for-profit healthcare systems in the United States. Its system includes 14 affiliated hospitals and more than 4,000 affiliated physicians. Baptist provided $169 million in community benefit throughout the Mid-South in 2011.
Vanderbilt- Ingram Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 41 such centers in the United States (one of two in Tennessee) to earn this highest distinction. It is ranked among the top 10 cancer centers in the United States in competitive grant support, generating more than $140 million in annual federal research funding. About 6,000 new cancer patients every year benefit from its clinical program as well.
"Everything we do is directed at helping to achieve quicker, bigger progress against cancer, and to expand our opportunities to make strides in treating the disease," says Neuss. "We would very much like to put ourselves out of work."