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Harper Cancer Research Institute works in pursuit of cure

| Friday, September 8, 2017

Since its formation in 2011, the Mike and Josie Harper Cancer Research Institute has been integrative and collaborative in its founding principles. Originally presented as an intentional partnership between the University and the Indiana School of Medicine – South Bend according to the Institutes’s website, the Institute has encouraged the fusion of differences in subject, education and background in order to create new and effective tools to fight against cancer.

“Many Indiana School of Medicine – South Bend medical students have cancer research labs and request that Notre Dame post-doctorates and undergraduates actually perform the research,” Angela Cavalieri, the Institute’s external relations and special events program coordinator, said.

Scientists from across disciplines — including biologists, engineers, mathematicians and psychologists — gather together at Harper in order to solve complex problems surrounding cancer investigation, Stewart Bullock, associate director of the Institute, said. He said the Institute prides itself on utilizing the combined knowledge of interconnected subject areas as it drives forward in innovation.

“Here, we have biologists researching alongside engineers,” Bullock said.

In practice, this multi-faceted association among different disciplines is crucial to cancer research innovation, Bullock said. For example, he said, detecting tumors in their earliest stages of development is necessary to terminating the cancer before it spreads throughout the body.

“A biologist or biochemist may be able to detect a tumor in the body, but simply knowing it exists doesn’t help anyone,” he said.

Likewise, Bullock said, an engineer has the capability to build machines that have the potential to detect these tumors early in their growth, but would need help from a biologist.

“Without the biologist, the engineer does not know what signals their machine should look for,” he said.

The connection between the biologist and engineer is essential to discovering the full solution to many cancer questions, and Bullock said the Harper Cancer Research Institute has always built their studies on this principle.

“This is the direction toward which cancer research as a whole is headed, and since its opening, the Harper Cancer Research Institute has fostered this model,” he said.

Founder Mike Harper provided funding for the institute in honor of his late wife, Josie Harper, who died after her own battle with cancer, Bullock said.

“Mike Harper was a South Bend native, and actually used to sell hot dogs in the Notre Dame football stadium before becoming the CEO of Tulsa,” he said. “He was approached by the University to make a gift to the University which could be both privately and publicly funded.”

Anyone who would like to become involved in the Harper Cancer Research Institute can attend the Notre Dame women’s rowing team’s annual “ergathon,”  which will benefit the Institute, Friday, Cavalieri said.

“This event will be held from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday, and the proceeds will fund pancreatic cancer research,” she said.

In addition to student-led events, Cavalieri said faculty involved with the Harper Cancer Research Institute also offer lectures and presentations to share their findings.

“On Sept. 13, we are hosting a community seminar series regarding breast cancer at the Indiana School of Medicine – South Bend,” she said.

Any undergraduate student interested in supporting the Institute through research development can explore the Harper Cancer Research Institute website and find the faculty members who match their academic passions.

“Undergraduates who strive to conduct research alongside their professors, postdoctorates and researchers can access them directly through our website,” Cavalieri said.

Each person involved in cancer research dedicates themselves diligently to solve the complex issues surrounding the disease, Cavalieri said.

“Our objective here is to go out of business,” she said. “If we cure cancer, we can all go home.”

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