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Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Indiana CTSI to support colon cancer research in rural Indiana

Sept. 27, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS -- Support from a statewide research institute centered at the Indiana University School of Medicine will expand a project to fight colorectal cancer into rural and suburban communities in north central Indiana.

Indiana CTSI

The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (CTSI) will receive $500,000 from the National Institutes of Health to increase the technical and human resources needed in the fight against cancer at Indiana University Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette, Ind. The project is a collaborative effort between the IU Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center (IUSCC) and the Oncological Sciences Center (OSC) at Purdue University. Its initial focus will be colorectal cancer research.

"As a partnership between the state's three largest research universities, with strong ties to the state's most comprehensive health system, Indiana University Health, I consider the Indiana CTSI uniquely positioned to support this sort of large-scale, collaborative project," said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., associate dean for translational research at IUSM and director of the Indiana CTSI, which includes IU, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame. "Our technical expertise, patient recruitment knowledge and sample storage capabilities all align with the resources needed to bring this already successful project to the next level."

Anantha Shekhar

Anantha Shekhar

Print-Quality Photo

The Indiana CTSI's support will fuel two goals: expanding research technology and raising awareness about colorectal cancer research. Mary Lou Smith and Elda Railey, co-founders of the Research Advocacy Network (RAN), a nonprofit organization that brings together patients and researchers, will lead the community education project. RAN will recruit 30 to 50 community representatives to educate their neighbors about the disease and encourage positive actions in the fight against it. Participants will learn about the medical research system and clinical trials and engage in hands-on laboratory experiments.

"There's not nearly the same numbers of research advocates in colorectal cancer as there are for other cancers like breast cancer," said Railey. "Colorectal cancer patients are diagnosed at a later stage and a later age. Many have a difficult experience with this disease; no one really wants to talk about it because it's seen as an uncomfortable topic. The colorectal cancer community has very different needs."

Technical support from Indiana CTSI will enhance research infrastructure at IUSCC and Purdue. Integrating the electronic collaboration environments at these two institutions with a separate system used by scientists at the Indiana CTSI will accelerate research by providing a single, secure electronic environment in which scientists from both institutes may share, store, analyze and annotate research data.

The original partnership between IUSCC and Purdue was created to pioneer a new way to use tissue analysis in the fight against cancer. Scientists at the IU School of Medicine, IU Bloomington, Purdue, Notre Dame and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will subject clinical samples to multiple high tech tests with the results deposited into a single "cyber-environment" accessible to researchers working on the project.

"There's so much information out there now it's difficult for researchers to navigate," said Patrick Loehrer, M.D., director of IUSCC and associate dean for cancer research at the IU School of Medicine. "We feel the key to the future isn't generating more and more studies focusing on very small sample populations or a single form of analysis -- it's performing all the key analyses on many samples and using computer models to predict individual risk factors or treatment benefits."

Nearly 300 tissue samples have already undergone analysis, with plans to collect 500 more from patient volunteers at IU Health Arnett. The samples, which will be stored in the Indiana Biobank, a high-tech sample storage facility managed by the Indiana CTSI, should provide important insights into colorectal cancer in Hoosiers from beyond the state's largest city.

Marietta Harrison, director of the OSC and associate vice president for research at Purdue, said the project is about growing collaboration, accelerating research and building capacity.

"Everything we're trying to accomplish with this project matches perfectly with the mission of the Indiana CTSI, IU and Purdue University," she said.

This level of cooperation across academic and community institutions is unique in cancer research -- but it's the future, Loehrer said.

"There may be no greater goal in medicine than trying to eradicate cancer, and with this project we have many groups working together towards that common goal," he said.

About the Indiana CTSI

The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute is a statewide collaboration between Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame, and public and private partnerships, that facilitates the translation of scientific discoveries in the lab into new treatments and therapies in Indiana and beyond. It was established in 2008 with a $25 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health, supplemented by nearly $60 million from the state, the three member universities, and public and private partners. Indiana CTSI is a member of a national network of 60 CTSA-funded organizations across the United States.

For more information, contact Kevin Fryling, Indiana CTSI, at 317-278-0088 and