For years, scientists conducting lab experiments and clinical researchers doing patient studies had very little interaction with one another. But the National Cancer Institute (NCI) tore down these silos in 1992 when it created its Specialized Programs of Research Excellence, or SPOREs.
“The SPOREs’ very purpose is to move new drugs and therapies to patients as promptly as possible by combining knowledge from laboratory and clinical researchers,” says Robert Bast, M.D., vice president of Translational Research at MD Anderson. “The end goal is to improve survival and quality of life.”
Initially, the NCI funded eight SPOREs to address three cancers. Today, the program has mushroomed to 42 SPOREs investigating 18 cancers in 21 states.
Among academic medical centers, MD Anderson has had the highest number of SPOREs in the nation with its eight programs in myeloma, leukemia, ovarian, uterine, bladder, brain, skin and prostate cancers. It shares two SPOREs for lung and thyroid cancers with other institutions.
SPOREs often mirror the goals of MD Anderson’s Moon Shots Program, Bast says, with both programs aiming to fast-track patient therapies.
At the heart of the SPORE program is a requirement to collaborate. “Collaboration can be among academic institutions, government organizations, industry, foundations or clinical trials groups,” says Nancy Hubener, project director for Translational Research, the office that oversees MD Anderson’s SPORE programs.
MD Anderson SPOREs have collaborations with the University of Colorado, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center, the Mayo Clinic, and The University of Texas’ Health Science Center in Houston and Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
“SPORE faculty share data because findings from one type of cancer may impact other cancers,” says Bast, whose office awards $250,000 in pilot grants to support development of SPOREs and other projects enlisting four or more investigators.
Nationwide, SPOREs have generated revolutionary cancer solutions such as therapies for late-stage prostate cancer, novel drugs for multiple myeloma, new diagnostics for non-small cell lung cancer and detection methods for papillary thyroid cancer.
The federally funded Science and Technology Policy Institute, which advises the White House and the National Science Foundation on science and technology issues, reports that 93% of SPORE projects nationwide led to clinical trials or other studies.
“At MD Anderson and throughout the nation, SPOREs will continue to be of paramount importance in the rapid and efficient movement of basic scientific findings into the clinical setting,” says Bast.
Texas has 11 Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) — more than any other state. And MD Anderson leads the nation with eight SPOREs.
- MD Anderson cancer center: 8 SPOREs
- Baylor College of Medicine: 2 SPOREs
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: 1 SPORE