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Cross-college collaboration helps local cancer patients

| Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Harper Cancer Research Institute, a Notre Dame and Indiana School of Medicine collaboration, recently initiated a partnership with local healthcare organizations including the Beacon Health System (BHSMH), The Medical Foundation (TMF) and Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center (SJRMC) in order to provide mutational profiling to local cancer patients through the acquisition of a Sequenom MassARRAY instrument.

Associate director of the Harper Institute Andy Bullock said grant funding for the project began July 1, and the community partnership organizations have since purchased and validated the analyzer, which is now located in the South Bend Medical Foundation.

“We just got a note from the South Bend Medical Foundation that in the patients they’ve [screened] so far, they’ve found 22 percent more mutations in these samples that they never would have found previously,” Bullock said. “It’s already having an impact and it’s only been going on for a few months now.”

According to the Notre Dame press release, the project received a total of $851,910 including a substantial grant from the Walther Cancer Foundation. Bullock said the Foundation was a driving force in making the project a reality.

“This is not a community where everybody can just fly to Boston or MD Anderson [Cancer Center for treatment] and we wanted to do something,” he said. “We had partners in the community that were willing to [help since] it was not something we could do on our own.”

Bullock said the partnerships with other organizations in the community were key in pursuing and funding the research because Harper is a basic cancer research institute.

“The Medical Foundation is doing this test at [their own] cost since just to buy the kits to do the tests costs a few hundred dollars,” he said. “Now, all the other costs associated with the tests, the staff time, overhead … they’re not charging any of that so the price is only a couple hundred dollars a test as opposed to almost a thousand for what this test might be somewhere else.”

Bullock said the collaboration has made the test available to qualifying patients at no cost for the next two years.

He said the analyzer tests about 200 mutations simultaneously in approximately five hours to identify certain mutations in tumors and determine how drug therapies may effect treatment.

“You want that information so you don’t spend six months on chemotherapy that’s going to do nothing for you and to deal with all the side-effects,” Bullock said.

Bullock said the screening is already guiding treatment. In two years, Bullock said he hopes other hospitals in the area join the effort and screening expands to cover more tumor types.

“In two years, hopefully it will be a bigger project, and we’ll be going to Walther to show them all the people that have benefitted in the last two years and why we should keep doing it.”

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About Carolyn Hutyra

Carolyn Hutyra serves as an Assistant News Editor for The Observer. She is a senior from Arlington Heights, Illinois studying Biology and Anthropology.

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