Tennessee titans (of healthcare)

Mid-South healthcare powerhouses join forces to advance personalized medicine and improve access to sophisticated care

Jim Cirigliano
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Vanderbilt University and Baptist MemorialHealth Care Corp. have announced a cancer research and education agreement thatwill allow the two Tennessee-based organizations to undertake broadcollaboration on genomic study and personalized cancer-patient care.
 
 
The academic affiliation agreement establishes a frameworkfor a multifaceted partnership between Baptist Cancer Center andVanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center on a number of oncology research, education andtreatment programs. Researchers at the two institutions will undertake jointclinical trials, share clinical pathways and cancer tissue samples and conductjoint conferences for their physicians and medical staff. The collaborationwill help to advance personalized, genomic-based therapy and will facilitateresearch-based fellowship training programs in oncology subspecialties andpartnership in grant applications for cancer research funding. The BaptistCancer will also participate in National Comprehensive Cancer Networkactivities as a Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center sub-site.
 
As the medical community has come to embrace the potentialfor targeted, personalized treatments for cancer—which promise to be moreeffective and less toxic than conventional treatments—the amount of data beinggenerated as it relates to genes and mutations thereof implicated in varioustypes of cancer is staggering. This affiliation agreement between BaptistMemorial Health Care and Vanderbilt University's Vanderbilt-Ingram CancerCenter represents a novel approach to exploiting the overwhelming and rapidlygrowing knowledge base of genetic information related to cancer, and deployingspecialized care in underserved patient populations.
 
 
The research will focus in part on identifying and analyzinglower-frequency, rare mutations. These rare forms of illness, by their nature,have a much smaller patient population base and are typically less exhaustivelystudied.
 
 
"We hope to identify more 'unusual' tumors that have uniquemutations that help to drive our understanding of the mechanisms of thedisease," says Dr. Michael Neuss, chief medical officer at Vanderbilt-IngramCancer Center.
 
 
The center's geographically diverse group of medicalpartners, including the clinicians at Baptist Memorial Health Care, are hopingto "expand the denominator" of patients from whom genetic mutations underlyingthese rare tumors can be identified.
 
 
The partnership will also serve to improve access toclinical trials, cutting-edge genomic medicine and genetic diagnostic tools forresidents of the Mid-South served by Baptist Memorial's 14-hospital system inArkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
 
"The goal is to provide care to the patients in thecommunities in which they live and to provide access to oncology specialists inthe local region," says Ann Bishop, administrator of oncology services atBaptist Memorial Health Care. "Many times patients leave their communities andhome to seek treatment for their cancer diagnosis; our goal is for patients tostay close to home as they are receiving treatment."
 
 
"This relationship will allow us to bring a whole new levelof cancer research to Memphis and the surrounding area. We will be working withVanderbilt-Ingram to develop more personalized cancer programs based onpatients' genetic makeup," said Baptist Memorial Executive Vice President andChief Operating Officer Jason Little in a media release announcing theagreement. 
 
Another goal of the academic affiliation is the creation ofjoint public education programs in cancer prevention, treatment and control.
 
 
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center also manages My CancerGenome (known for its website, mycancergenome.org), a free online cancermedicine resource for physicians, patients, caregivers and researchers designedto support personalized, genetically informed treatment decision-making. Thewebsite provides up-to-date information about the genetic mutations implicatedin various diseases, as well as a database of available clinical trials.
 
 
"(We) envision an integrated, academically affiliated,multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of adult cancer patients across theMid-South," says Bishop. "To keep patients close to home, we must bring theneeded services to the local communities."
 
Baptist Memorial Health Care is one of the largestnot-for-profit healthcare systems in the United States. Its system includes 14affiliated hospitals and more than 4,000 affiliated physicians. Baptistprovided $169 million in community benefit throughout the Mid-South in 2011.
 
 
Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designatedComprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 41 such centers in the United States(one of two in Tennessee) to earn this highest distinction. It is ranked amongthe top 10 cancer centers in the United States in competitive grant support,generating more than $140 million in annual federal research funding. About6,000 new cancer patients every year benefit from its clinical program as well.
 
"Everything we do is directed at helping to achieve quicker,bigger progress against cancer, and to expand our opportunities to make stridesin treating the disease," says Neuss. "We would very much like to put ourselvesout of work."

Jim Cirigliano

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