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April 3, 2012

Forming a global cancer network for research, clinical care, education and prevention.

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Strengthening an International Research Network with the Keepers of the Information


The lynchpin to any academic institution is its research and academic medicine is no different. Although our beloved physicians are the leaders of clinical research at MD Anderson, like any complicated endeavor, there is a group of integral, behind the scene, team members ensuring the studies are carried out. Chief among these individuals is the research coordinator. Under normal circumstances, the role requires superb organization and attention to detail. When the research extends to other institutions, the effort becomes exponentially more complicated. At that point, there are multiple institutional review boards, differing government bureaucracies, varying technologies and a range of research experience. The bright spot among these confounders are the fellow research coordinators at partnering institutions, all with the same aim – to enable the success of the study.







The goal of the Sister Institution Network in Global Academic Programs is to help build a group of research institutions who will engage in collaborative research with the collective objective of impacting the burden of cancer worldwide. Many of these relationships have flourished recently, and two of GAP’s newest Sister Institutions have shown a high level of engagement and drive in contributing to the Network’s effort. Both Barretos Cancer Hospital in Barretos, Brazil and the Instituto de Cancerología (IDC) Las Américas in Medellin, Colombia have actively engaged in research, observer and fellow exchange, and recently the visit of a research coordinator from each institution. Over the course of two weeks, these research coordinators were able to work with their counterpart here and observe first-hand how MD Anderson conducts its clinical research.

Cindy Melendez works in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology & Reproductive Medicine as a research data coordinator. Of late, much of her work has centered on the conservative surgery study for women with low-risk early stage cervical cancer. This is a multicenter study with sites in Colombia, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. The principal investigator at MD Anderson is Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology & Reproductive Medicine.  Melendez’ counterpart at IDC is Natalia Escobar, while at Barretos it is Talita Garcia do Nascimento. When the study was first ramping up, Melendez visited Natalia in Colombia to gain a better understanding of her constraints and how they could work together to overcome any data gathering or protocol related obstacles. Escobar is also the coordinator for a surgical trial for locally advanced cervical cancer (LACC), on which Pedro Ramirez, M.D., professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology, is the principal investigator with partner investigators at IDC and Barretos as well as four sites in Australia, five in the United States, one in Canada, two in Italy, one in Bulgaria, five in Korea and one in China.

Melendez and Escobar identified a problem in keeping patients within the time constraints of the study. Patients were having their pap test, then waiting for the results, then having to make an appointment for a consultation regarding those results at a government approved facility, which was not usually at IDC. The length of time to move through these steps was pushing the patients outside the acceptable window required for enrollment by the protocol. Rene Pareja, M.D., the principal investigator in Colombia took up the issue and the hospital was able to allow women to have their pap test free of charge at IDC as well as their follow-up consultation. In addition, knowing the importance of the cooperative research efforts and the need for accurate and timely data and information, Escobar says IDC has sped up their schedule for implementing and electronic medical record to assist with those efforts. As a result of the visit, Melendez and Escobar talk nearly every day through Skype and keep each other well-informed on the study and its progress.

In the future, Melendez hopes to visit with her counterpart at Barretos. The recent visit of data coordinators to MD Anderson included Escobar as well as Camila Crovador from Barretos. Crovador is one of several research coordinators at Barretos and oversees projects in palliative care. While her counterpart Garcia do Nascimento was unable to attend, Crovador says the trip allowed her to understand more clearly how work is carried out at MD Anderson. One observation Crovador expressed was the high level of patient engagement and education at MD Anderson and that being part of a protocol or study was not threatening to them. Crovador hopes her enhanced understanding of the systems and processes at MD Anderson will allow her to improve her ability to carry out the international research efforts in which Barretos is engaged.

While MD Anderson has hosted a multitude of observers and visitors from our Sister Institutions, this is the first time our Sister Institutions have invested in sending their research coordinators here to learn more about the clinical research programs at MD Anderson. Melendez, Escobar and Crovador are now a more tightly bound network within a network and that dissemination of knowledge and understanding is the intent of the overall Sister Institution Network. Although the connections between institutions at the leadership level is important, these friendships and working relationships between those who carry out the day to day research efforts supply the lasting bond that will sustain and propel these cooperative efforts long into the future.

Calendar of Events

4th Annual Conference of The Indian Society of Neuro-Oncology
Bangalore, India
April 6-8, 2012

New Horizons in Gliomas Treatment 
Clinica Alemana, Santiago, Chile
April 12-13, 2012

GAP Annual Conference
Oslo, Norway
May 14-16, 2012


GAP Conference 2012 Updates

Two sessions have been cancelled from the schedule for the GAP Conference 2012 to be held May 14-16 in Oslo, Norway. Tissue Banking and Smoking Cessation will no longer be separate workshops at the Conference. However for those who were interested in participating in these sessions, conference organizers are looking for alternative areas to integrate topics arising from these areas.

In addition, conference organizers encourage you to both register for the meeting and book your hotel rooms as soon as possible. If you are bringing an accompanying person with you to Oslo, be sure to note that on the registration form. This will allow conference organizers to include your guest in as many activities as possible.

WIN Symposium Updates

Although the Symposium for The Worldwide Innovative Networking (WIN) in personalized cancer medicine's Symposium is not until June 28-29, they have requested abstracts be submitted before May 1st. All accepted abstracts will be published in a supplement to Annals of Oncology and will be scheduled for poster presentations. Those with posters will automatically compete for the best-poster award in the categories of: diagnostics, therapeutics, technologies and tools development and computational/bioinformatics.

In other WIN related news, Foundation Medicine, Inc., has joined the Consortium and will be presenting their collaborative research strategy in Paris during the Symposium. Foundation Medicine, Inc., is a CLIA certified laboratory using next generation sequencing platform. WIN sees the collaboration as an opportunity to access the company's ability to test genes for aberrations associated with cancer.

Network News

King Hussein Cancer Center's Director General Resigns

Mahmoud Sarhan, M.D.,the longtime CEO and Director General of King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC), announced last year that he would be resigning after a new director was appointed to replace him. March 31st marked Sarhan's official last day as Asem Mansour, M.D., chairman in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology steps in to serve in the director general role. A new CEO has yet to be appointed as a replacement to Sarhan. In addition, Hikmat Abdel-Razeq, M.D., the chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine has been appointed as the chief medical officer of KHCC. Her royal highness, princess Ghida Talal, chairperson of the King Hussein Cancer Foundation, had high praise for Sarhan and his service to KHCC.

"Over the past five years, Dr. Sarhan has been a wonderful leader and an inspiring role model. He navigated the challenges of running a fully comprehensive cancer center with great skill while balancing his duties with a very personal and human touch. Dr. Sarhan was so dedicated that you would often find him on his days off visiting with patients or meeting with the Foundation staff members. His calm wisdom and generous and kind nature were recognized and appreciated by all – both within and without of the Center.”

King Hussein Cancer Center became a Sister Institution to Global Academic Programs last November.