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September 12, 2002

Bioinformatics consortium for cancer research funded

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.

"We are grateful to Gov. Schweiker and the state legislature for allocating tobacco settlement funds for health research to address the very unfortunate legacy of tobacco use in Pennsylvania," said Ronald B. Herberman, principal investigator of the consortium, director of UPCI and associate vice chancellor for cancer research at Pitt.

According to Herberman, 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 PCA in 1998 with the goal of conducting interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research among large teams of investigators.

The bioinformatics consortium created by 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.

"Traditionally, it has been difficult for researchers to find sufficient and specific tumors and tissues necessary to develop new biomarkers, the indicators that distinguish cancer from non-cancer, and to adequately understand disease mechanisms," said 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. "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 PCA, but also with outside collaborative partners such as biotech companies, the Life Sciences Greenhouses and researchers and institutions outside of the consortium to energize economic growth throughout the state.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 2

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