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July 11, 2002

States funds cancer research bioinformatics consortium

Cancer research bioinformatics consortium is funded by state

The Pennsylvania Cancer Alliance (PCA), a group of six cancer institutes in the state, has been awarded $5.5 million by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to create a bioinformatics consortium for cancer research.

The consortium is expected to help establish Pennsylvania as a leader in translational cancer research and technology and foster new understanding of the disease.

Led by investigators at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), the consortium is based on a unique collaboration — the first of its kind in the nation — seeking to promote cancer research throughout the state by using funds provided by a settlement between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and tobacco companies.

According to Ronald B. Herberman, principal investigator of the consortium, director of UPCI and associate vice chancellor for cancer research at Pitt, enhancing cancer care in Pennsylvania is a priority given the more than 75,000 Pennsylvanians who were diagnosed with cancer in 2001, and the nearly 30,000 expected to die from the disease this year.

UPCI joined forces with Fox Chase Cancer Center, Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University, University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center, Penn State Cancer Institute and the Wistar Institute to form the PCA in 1998 with the goal of conducting interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research among large teams of investigators.

The bioinformatics consortium created by the PCA will allow data about specific types of cancers as well as data from clinical trials to be amassed, connected and easily available to researchers through an accessible database.

Michael Becich, co-principal investigator, director of UPCI's Benedum Oncology Informatics Center and director of the Center for Pathology Informatics at UPMC Health System and Pitt, said: "The consortium will allow us to create a biorepository of serum and tissue samples which, in turn, puts us in a better position as a group to compete for funding to advance cancer and bioinformatics research."

A major goal of the consortium is to facilitate collaborations not only among researchers who are members of the PCA, but also with outside partners such as biotech companies, the Life Sciences Greenhouses and researchers and institutions outside of the consortium to energize economic growth throughout the state.

Studies resulting from the creation of the consortium may allow for better classification of cancer types, more accurate assessment of disease prognosis and an enhanced ability to identify the most appropriate individuals for clinical trials. By developing clinically valuable biomarkers, researchers may be better able to distinguish individual tumors that will be sensitive or resistant to a particular treatment and to assess prognosis and predict a patient's response to therapy. n According to Herberman, "Ultimately, the consortium could potentially help reduce the cancer burden in Pennsylvania by identifying more accurately those at risk of developing various forms of the disease and by identifying those likely to benefit from specific types of therapy, and accomplish this at a much quicker pace than would normally occur."

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