It is with great pleasure that we share with you some very exciting news for Kentucky and our region: Markey Cancer Center has recently earned National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. This honor was made possible after years of collaboration and the collective efforts of our outstanding researchers, clinicians and staff members.
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 6, 2013) — The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center will host a special photo exhibit and reception honoring Kentucky lung cancer survivors this Monday, Dec. 9 at 1 p.m. in the atrium of the cancer center's Combs Research Building.
The exhibit, "Faces of Lung Cancer," was coordinated by the Kentucky Cancer Program to spread awareness about lung cancer and prevention. Photos of each of the nine survivors will be prominently displayed along with a brief personal statement. In addition to the two survivors who are attending, featured speakers include UK Markey Cancer Center Director Dr. Mark Evers, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Timothy Mullett, oncologist Dr. Susanne Arnold, Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy Director Ellen Hahn, and Kentucky Cancer Registry Director Tom Tucker.
Exhibit participant Juanita Meade, who has been cancer-free for more than two years, says she hopes the exhibit helps raise awareness for the cause and provides inspiration for those who may be going through a similar situation.
"I hope the message people take away is that we need more support, we need more research," Meade said. "And you have to be strong, you have to have faith. I thought, 'I am on the ride of my life, and I'm going to hang on.'"
Kentucky leads the nation in both new incidences of lung cancer and deaths from the disease. Though tobacco use is the biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer, anyone can develop the disease regardless of his or her smoking status. Lung cancer kills nearly twice as many women as breast cancer, and it is the leading cause of cancer deaths for both men and women in the U.S.
As the state's only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, Markey's mission is to ensure that all Kentuckians can receive the best possible cancer care closest to home, and to make an impact on the cancers that are affecting our state the most -- like lung cancer.
"We've taken extraordinary steps in recent years to help combat cancer incidence and mortality, and I'm proud to say that Markey patients with lung cancers show higher five-year survival rates than patients treated at other cancer centers nationwide," said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. "However, we are always working reduce this burden on our state — and events like 'Faces of Lung Cancer' are another way for us to educate the community about this often-fatal disease."
"Faces of Lung Cancer" will remain on display at UK in the Combs Building atrium for one week. The exhibit will travel across the state and be displayed in various communities over the next 12 months. Local exhibits, including educational materials and speakers, will be coordinated by KCP regional staff in collaboration with district cancer councils and other community groups.
KCP is a state-funded cancer control program jointly administered by the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. It includes 14 regional offices across the state. KCP at UK serves Central and Eastern Kentucky.
All photos in "Faces of Lung Cancer" were taken by Richmond photographer Tim Webb, who donated his time. For more information about scheduling the exhibit in your community, contact your local KCP office. For contact information, go to www.kcp.uky.edu and click on "Regional Offices."
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 5, 2013) -- The season of thankfulness and giving is upon us and students and faculty from George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester, Ky., are among those stepping up to help others.
Last week, students from the school delivered gift boxes to the UK Markey Cancer Center to spread holiday cheer. The boxes each contained candy and painted eggs that were hollowed out -- when cracked open, the eggs contained an inspirational quote for the patient.
The school group that was responsible for putting these gift boxes together was iTime, a new program to GRC this year. iTime is an academic-free activity chosen by students at the beginning of the year. This specific program was called Community Service iTime.
A group of around 10 iTime students volunteered in the creation of the gift boxes, with the supervision and help from school faculty and the high school's principal. Participating students were sophomores and freshmen.
Makayla Arnett, a sophomore at GRC and the student in charge of organizing the school group's donation, has a special place in her heart for those battling with cancer, which inspired her to suggest Markey as the recipient of the group's efforts.
"Throughout my life, cancer has been present in multiple family members and friends," Arnett said. "My uncle, being the closest, was like my second dad. When he was diagnosed, they sent him to Markey, and throughout those three years, Markey was a huge part of our lives."
LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 8, 2013) – In biomedical research, access to human tissues is of central importance in studying a disease or condition, and ultimately in developing drugs and looking for cures. For this reason, the University of Kentucky Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) is rolling out an innovative project to develop an extensive Research Registry and Specimen Bank, called a biobank, for UK researchers.
The biobank will utilize leftover blood and tissue from normal medical procedures. For example, when a patient undergoes a blood draw or tissue biopsy, the blood or tissue that isn’t used for testing is normally thrown away. In the new biobank project, however, patients will be given a consent form to allow any “leftover” blood or tissue from their regular medical procedures to be stored in the biobank for research purposes.
Participation is voluntary, and no additional procedures will be performed or extra blood or tissues collected. To protect patient privacy, all identifying information (such as name, address and social security numbers) will be removed from the samples and corresponding medical records. Researchers who use the biobank will sign confidentiality agreements, and all biospecimen information will be stored in a secure database.
As a large, research-oriented academic medical center, UK is in a distinctive position to develop and leverage a biobank, and it will be unique in several ways. Many academic medical centers maintain smaller biobanks for DNA or particular diseases, and these biobanks are often proprietary to a specific research center and collect tissue only retroactively. For example, a biobank housed in a cancer research center will only collect cancer tissue, and that tissue sample will only be available to cancer researchers. Alternatively, UK’s biobank will be extensive, global, and prospective in nature.
“This is a unique biobank,” said Dr. Philip A. Kern, director of CCTS. “Other universities have freezers full of tissues, but we’re doing this in a more global fashion, upfront at registration, rather than in a retroactive, disease-specific fashion. This gives us more flexibility to get larger numbers of samples and get samples that we might not have thought about.”
Because of the large and diverse patient population at UK, the potential size and scope of the biobank is huge. In the initial phase of the roll out, which began on Nov. 4, only elective surgical patients are receiving biobank consent forms. All UK patients, both inpatient and outpatient, will begin receiving biobank consent forms by January 2014. UK HealthCare sees about 35,000 patient discharges annually, which could translate into a robust biobank of both healthy and non-healthy biospecimens of all varieties.
“We hope that most patients will agree to participate,” said Kern. “It’s an opportunity for people to give back and be a part of research in a way that doesn’t cost them anything, by donating tissue that would otherwise be thrown away.”
The global nature of the biobank applies not only to inclusion of the general patient population, but also to researcher access. Whereas other biobanks are often proprietary and only available to researchers within a specific research center, the UK biobank will be available to all UK researchers.
However, the Markey Cancer Center will be a primary beneficiary of the biobank because it will greatly increase the capacity of its existing cancer tissue bank. The next phases of the roll-out process for the biobank will be in the Markey outpatient clinic.
"As an National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, groundbreaking cancer research is a top priority for Markey, and the biobank will be a tremendous resource for our researchers to further develop and test their work," said Dr. Mark Evers, director of the UK Markey Cancer Center. "By allowing us to keep blood and tissue samples that would have otherwise been discarded, our patients are providing a way to improve cancer care for many of our patients in the future."
The sheer size of the biobank will allow an unprecedented degree of flexibility in biobanking. Since it will be impossible and unnecessary to keep and store all collected tissue, the biobank will respond to specific research goals and investigators’ needs. For example, if a researcher needs spinal fluid specimens for her study, the director of the biobank will be able to increase storage capacity for spinal fluid, along with targeted consenting of patients undergoing a spinal tap procedure in the course of their medical care.
CCTS spearheaded this project as part of its role to enhance the biomedical research capacity across the UK community. “It was logical for CCTS to do this because it enhances the university’s general research infrastructure,” said Kern. The development of such a large and responsive biobank will be an asset and catalyst to all biomedical research at UK, which could lead to improvements in care well beyond the UK patient population.
Ultimately, the biobank will facilitate better and more robust research to improve healthcare, not just in the field of cancer. “We have a lot of basic scientists doing work in animals and they need to figure out if the work has applicability to humans,” said Kern. “They need to be able to find tissues in order to answer that question.”
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 11, 2013) — In their ongoing quest to develop the latest and most effective drugs for disease treatment, researchers in the University of Kentucky's Center for Pharmaceutical Research and Innovation (CPRI) are looking deep — as in, deep underground.
It's all part of a new UK-based bioprospecting initiative, which involves a collaboration between CPRI, the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), and the Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS). The idea behind the program is to collect samples from unusual environments throughout the Commonwealth, with the goal of finding new, unique organisms that produce natural products that could potentially be used to develop new drugs with an initial focus on treatments for cancer, infectious disease and inflammation.
Many of our existing effective drugs are made by microbes. For example, erythromycin — an antibiotic used to treat a range of infections — is a natural product formed by bacteria found in soil. The anticancer agent doxorubicin is also another example of a microbial-produced natural product.
CPRI Director Jon Thorson and his 11-member lab team are part of a large consortium of investigators at UK focused upon the discovery and development of natural product-based drug leads from unique sources including bacteria, fungi and plants. Thorson also serves as the co-director of the Markey Cancer Center’s Drug Discovery, Delivery and Translational Therapeutics Program and co-director of the Drug Discovery and Development Core in the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science.
"The University of Kentucky is a remarkably rich and highly collaborative community for natural products-based research. As part of this effort, we are looking for new microbes that can produce novel bioactive molecules," Thorson said. "Instead of looking in places where other people have already been, we're trying to access new frontiers. The collaboration with CAER and KGS allows us to sample unexplored environments in the context of natural products discovery."
The most recent "new frontier" that Thorson's lab is exploring has very deep roots in the Commonwealth — literally and figuratively. Through the collaborations with CAER and KGS, his team has the opportunity to study products taken from Kentucky underground and surface coal mines, thermal vents from underground coal mine fires, mining reclamation sites and deep-well core drilling operations for carbon sequestration.
The initial collaboration with CAER involved studying emissions, and the corresponding microbes, associated with underground coal fires. The heat of the fires combines with the varying flora and mineral makeup of each site to create a distinctive environment for sampling.
"We decided that the coal fire sites were a very good starting point, because they are fairly unique," said Jim Hower, principal research scientist for Applied Petrology in Environmental and Coal Technologies at CAER. "They're really a prime target for sampling."
CAER has further helped drive the success of this project by introducing CPRI to new contacts in the Commonwealth, Thorson said. Hower and Greg Copley of CAER introduced CPRI to additional collaborators within the CAER as well as leaders of Licking River Resources, a subsidiary of US Coal, and the Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands, both of which have facilitated CPRI access to additional unique collection sites.
Through KGS' core drilling operation, Thorson's team has also accessed samples from deep underground — in fact, during drilling in the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field earlier this year, more than 40 samples of drill cuttings from depths ranging from 100 feet to nearly one mile underground were collected and sent to Thorson's lab. Drill cuttings are ground rock that are continuously pumped out of a well during the drilling process.
“Once you drill below about 2000 feet, the salt concentrations in the water found in pores in the rocks are about three to five times that of the ocean,” said Rick Bowersox, a research geologist with KGS and part of the carbon sequestration research team. “As might be expected in a subsurface environment, the microbes are very different from those in a typical surface soil environment. These microbes have adapted to an environment of extremes in water chemistry, pressure and temperature.”
Once samples are collected, Thorson's team places the material on media plates and begins the painstaking process of purifying and growing each individual strain of bacteria. The team looks for organisms that are capable of producing novel molecules, and then isolates and characterizes the new compounds from these organisms. The compounds are housed in a repository and are made available to researchers across UK's campus to be entered into studies. As an example, Markey Cancer Center researcher Qing-Bai She recently discovered a class of molecules from the new repository that invoke a novel anticancer mechanism, setting the stage for further anticancer lead development studies.
Thorson's program has only been up and running for just over a year, but his team has already deposited over 75 compounds in the new UK natural products repository — and all have come from microbes that were found in the Commonwealth. Could Kentucky's natural landscape potentially yield the next big cancer drug? Thorson has high hopes.
"Natural products have been and continue to be a driving force in drug discovery," Thorson said. "And the hope is that some of tomorrow’s therapies may come from the coal mines here in the Commonwealth."
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 30, 2013) — A new study led by the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center Assistant Director for Research Nathan Vanderford cites a combination of factors that prevent academic-based cancer research faculty from ultimately commercializing their work.
According to the Association of University Technology Managers, academic institutions have been collectively generating more than $2 billion in commercialization income over the last several years. Despite this significant commercialization activity, studies have shown that academic institutions face challenges to commercializing their innovations. Identifying and adjusting for these challenges can further boost academic-based research commercialization, thus having significant benefits for universities and consumers.
Published in PLOS One, Vanderford's study utilized an electronic survey sent to faculty at the University of Kentucky with questions addressing general barriers inhibiting cancer research commercialization and whether mitigation of the barriers could potentially enhance faculty engagement in commercialization activities.
Through the survey, faculty cited a number of barriers to moving research products into the market, including the expense and time involved, the lack of infrastructure for the process, and the lack of industry partnerships.
Additionally, survey respondents noted that alleviating these factors as well as revising university policies/procedures, risk mitigation, more emphases on commercialization by academia research field, and increased information on how to commercialize could potentially increase commercialization activity. Further statistical analysis indicated that a significant increase in commercialization activity would likely only occur when multiple barriers were mitigated.
"This study suggests that the barriers inhibiting cancer research commercialization at UK are, by in large, no different than the barriers that prevent commercialization at any academic institution," Vanderford said. "I believe we have to understand these challenges and devise ways to overcome them to avoid situations where important innovations sit dormant in universities. It would be a shame for a revolutionarily effective cancer treatment to never make it to patients because the barriers to the commercialization process prevent it from moving outside the walls of academia."
Though the UK study was focused on a single population of researchers, Vanderford notes that his study fits into a much broader international discussion on what role universities should play in commercializing innovation that is derived from academic-based research. The dissenting argument is that universities should focus on the pursuit of general, basic knowledge versus being influenced by real or potential consumer-driven market demands.
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