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Innovative Cancer Research Partnership Formed

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Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian and the Life Raft Group, a patient advocacy organization specializing in gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST), a type of stomach cancer, have announced that they have entered into a collaborative research project to investigate the efficacy of a novel system biology approach for identifying the best treatment options for patients with advanced GIST.

The science behind the approach, developed in the Califano Lab at Columbia University, utilizes VIPER algorithm software (Virtual Inference of Protein activity by Enriched Regulon analysis) to investigate the molecular networks of GIST patients that have become resistant to approved tyrosine kinase inhibitors. Although oncogene targets are already established in GIST, this will identify the master regulators or “tumor checkpoints” that represent the final on and off switches in the GIST cells. Personalized therapeutic agents can then be selected for patients currently lacking any effective therapeutic options.

Clinical and molecular data from the study participants will be stored in the Life Raft Group’s Patient Registry, a unique data management analytics tool developed by the LRG which tracks a patient’s clinical history and links it to a companion record of tissue and mutational data housed in the LRG’s Tissue Bank. The project will launch with the mapping of tissue samples donated by patients to the LRG.

The LRG will also serve as the monitoring arm of the study and use their proprietary research collaboration platform, InterGR, to provide investigators a centralized repository for all data collected.

The collaboration is an example of the vital role patient advocacy groups play in bridging the gap between researchers and motivated patient populations who want to share their clinical histories and tissue to create new treatments and better outcomes.

According to Gary K. Schwartz, MD, chief of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center’s Division of Hematology and Oncology, who is spearheading the project: “I think this could be monumental. It shows how a major patient advocacy group and academic centers can work so closely together.”

To quote Norman Scherzer, executive director of the Life Raft Group, “We agree that this is a historic occasion, and are both impressed and grateful for Columbia’s initiative in recognizing the importance of working with the patient community. We hope that this collaboration will serve as a model for other academic medical institutions.”

Collaboration begins with six other academic institutions: Fox Chase Cancer Center, Oregon Health & Science University, University of California San Diego, University of Miami, Washington University, and Stanford University.

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