In a state with the highest incidence of cancer in the nation, delivering the most advanced care to as many patients as possible is a vitally important mission.
As part of that mission, the UK Markey Cancer Center continues to cast an ever-wider net of influence, bringing novel research studies to more patients across Kentucky and Appalachia through the Markey Cancer Center Research Network.
“It’s been shown that patients who participate in clinical trials receive high-quality care and have good outcomes because they have access to treatments not available under conventional management,” said Timothy Mullett, MD, medical director of the research network. “If we only offer these studies in Lexington, then fewer patients have the opportunity to participate.”
To bridge this gap, Markey launched the Research Network in 2015, partnering with select community hospitals to conduct clinical trials in more locations. These partnerships are giving more patients access to advanced treatments.
“We now have six sites in the research network, and the expectation is that we will continue to grow,” Mullett said.
Owensboro Health Regional Hospital joined the research network earlier in 2017 and is the western-most location within the network. Owensboro is part of an expanding focus for the Research Network, which initially targeted partners in Appalachia and Eastern Kentucky.
However, as the only center in the state designated by the National Cancer Institute, Markey was tasked with meeting the needs of cancer patients throughout the state, including Western Kentucky.
“We took the NCI recommendation to heart and began talking to programs in Western Kentucky,” Mullett said.
To become a member of the research network, Owensboro, like all partner sites, was required to meet stringent criteria.
“We have a rigorous onboarding process. We select sites based on the expertise of personnel and the capacity of the facility to uphold the critical quality standards required for clinical research,” said Kris Damron, director of the research network. “Owensboro is a superb facility that has been conducting research for many years. Their inclusion in the research network is significant because it means a dramatic increase in access to trials for the entire western portion of the state.”
Patients with a Markey Research Network site in their community no longer have to travel to receive state-of-the-art cancer care. Instead, they benefit from the convenience and comfort that comes with being treated close to home, under the supervision of a local doctor and with family nearby to offer support.
For Markey, the benefits of this growing network of sites include the dissemination of both NCI-sponsored studies and those led by Markey scientists into more communities, Damron said.
Because it’s not feasible to offer every open trial at every partner site, Markey is strategic in its allocation of clinical studies, giving patients access to those treatments that will be most beneficial.
“We look at the types of cancer most prevalent in a particular area, we consider the requirements of a particular trial, the capacity of the partner site and the scientific interests of their physicians,” Damron said. “We work to ensure the portfolio of studies is always balanced to include those focused on therapeutic options, disease prevention, and survivorship or supportive care.”
Mullett agreed and said the research network is a crucial aspect of Markey’s larger mission to reduce the burden of cancer across Kentucky and the region.
“Our goal is to deliver the right trials to the right program to the right patients,” Mullett said. “This is critical if we are to have a comprehensive impact in the state of Kentucky.”
Some of the key studies currently offered through the Research Network include:
- Optimization of Smoking Cessation Strategies: It’s been proven that those undergoing treatment for lung cancer and cancers of the head and neck have better outcomes if they stop smoking, Mullett said. This study, led by Markey ear, nose and throat surgeon Joseph Valentino, MD, helps patients determine the best smoking cessation option for their needs – from medication and nicotine replacement therapy to cessation counseling and more.
- Lung Cancer Education Awareness Detection and Survivorship (LEADS): Markey is part of the LEADS collaborative dedicated to reducing the burden of lung cancer in Kentucky. As part of this comprehensive effort to study the disease, select research network sites are examining what barriers exist for high-quality lung cancer screening in the state. These sites are also examining the delivery of precision survivorship care interventions to improve quality of life and reduce symptom burden.
- Precision Medicine: Sites are also conducting an observational study evaluating outcomes of genomic testing in cancer patients with rare and refractory tumors.