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Michael Schug
IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Last modified: Thursday, December 20, 2007

IU Simon Cancer Center program funds, plans new therapies

Dec. 20, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS - Hair loss, fatigue and nausea are commonly identified as side effects of chemotherapy. Less well known is the fact some cancer patients can experience "chemo-brain."

A cognitive dysfunction, chemo-brain makes it hard for some people to concentrate, and it leads to difficulty remembering things. Soon, a diverse team -- composed of Indiana University researchers from psychology, nursing, pediatrics, pharmacology and radiology -- will begin a study to identify what causes chemo-brain in women with breast cancer. Their study is made possible, in part, by pilot seed funding support from the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center Translational Research Acceleration Collaboration (ITRAC).

ITRAC is a planning and funding process that can facilitate the development of new cancer diagnostics and therapies from the laboratory to the bedside and back. Overall, ITRAC aims to support development of innovative and improved treatments to better detect, treat and, ultimately, cure cancer.

Mark Kelley

Mark Kelley

Without ITRAC, the chemo-brain study, for example, probably would not get under way for another six to 12 months, or perhaps not at all, unless another funding source, such as an external grant, was found. Traditionally, external grant applications, if approved, take nine to 12 months from time of submission to funding.

ITRAC brings together researchers from different areas -- and universities -- working together toward a common cause: finding a cure for cancer. To date, ITRAC has brought together researchers from the IU Simon Cancer Center, the Purdue Cancer Center and the University of Notre Dame's Walther Cancer Research Center.

"ITRAC helps investigators form research teams and break down silos that are naturally found in any research environment," said Mark Kelley, associate director for basic science research at the IU Simon Cancer Center and a co-investigator of the chemo-brain study. "The ITRAC process requires that research teams, including basic and clinical scientists, work together to speed the velocity of the science from the bench to the clinic as well as from the clinic back to the bench. With science becoming ever more complex, the formation of multi-disciplinary teams is the most effective and correct way to undertake complex problems in cancer prevention, detection, treatment and delivery."

In addition, Kelley said, the ITRAC process requires greater accountability of how funds are used and careful scrutiny of the outcomes. Only research with the greatest patient impact potential will be supported.

David Johnson, president and CEO of BioCrossroads, the state's initiative to develop the life sciences, said he's not aware of any other university using ITRAC's approach to translate discovery into action.

"It's revolutionary," Johnson said. "Although it's in an academic environment, ITRAC tries to bridge the gap between the traditional -- the pure discovery domain of academic research -- and the very applied discovery domain of corporate R&D (research and development). It's an approach that says we're going to borrow some of the project management processes that organize corporate research and focus more specifically on outcomes."

Leaders at the IU Simon Cancer Center approached BioCrossroads for insights into project management practices used in the corporate world.

In addition to grant money, ITRAC helps researchers map out their projects, and it provides expertise to scientists who have made significant discoveries in their labs but aren't sure what steps are necessary to turn those discoveries into products that will improve patient care.

The program complements a growing emphasis by the National Institutes of Health on accelerating the development and testing processes that basic science laboratory discoveries go through to become new patient treatments.

IU Simon Cancer Center committees review research projects and identify those with the most potential for clinical applications as well as commercial potential -- potential that the individual scientists may not even realize is there.

Since its establishment in November 2006, ITRAC has awarded more than $500,000, mapped 73 projects, established and/or recommended collaborations with at least 50 projects, and identified intellectual property needs: 14 disclosures, four patents, and one potential license.

"After one year, an exciting benefit we are seeing is the identification of intellectual property, which, we hope, will continue to grow and dovetail with the growing emphasis in the state's life sciences initiative and lead to more biotech startups and licensing opportunities and decrease the 'brain drain' from the state," Kelley said. "Whatever it takes to help speed research findings to help cancer patients in Indiana and elsewhere is what this initiative is all about."