Research within reach
The Markey Cancer Research Network allows patients across Kentucky and beyond to access leading-edge clinical trials close to home.
An alliance between the UK Markey Cancer Center and regional hospitals brings vital cancer research studies to people in their home communities.
The Markey Cancer Research Network (MCCRN) consists of member sites conducting investigator-initiated studies developed by Markey faculty as well as studies available through the National Cancer Institute’s National Clinical Trials Network. MCCRN works with each site to select a research study portfolio that aligns with its goals to serve its patients and community.
“Sometimes studies require multiple and frequent visits. Having sites closer to home is something that patients and the facilities appreciate.”
Dr. Timothy Mullett
Hospitals go through rigorous processes to implement clinical trials. They receive support and training from Markey to assist with study implementation, recruitment and screening strategies. “These partner institutions are significant contributors to these trials,” said Kris Damron, director of the Markey Cancer Center Research Network.
By increasing the availability of clinical research, people don’t need to travel to Lexington to participate in some of the latest cancer research.
“Clinical trials in cancer are complex. Sometimes studies require multiple and frequent visits,” said Dr. Timothy Mullett, medical director of the network. “Having sites closer to home is something that patients and the facilities appreciate.”
The member hospitals include:
- King’s Daughters Medical Center, Ashland
- Owensboro Health Regional Hospital, Owensboro
- St. Claire Regional Medical Center, Morehead
- St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Edgewood
- St. Mary’s Medical Center, Huntington, W. Va.
- Tri-State Regional Cancer Center, Ashland
“Being an affiliate of an NCI-designated cancer center gives our patients access to cutting-edge research and clinical trials while also minimizing travel,” said Kristie Whitlatch, president and CEO of King’s Daughters Medical Center, which has been affiliated with MCCRN for over 25 years.
Lung cancer and tobacco studies
Hospitals participating in the research network have recruited significant numbers of patients for an average of 200 trials each year. Sites have done well with enlisting patients for a series of lung cancer precision medicine trials, including the Lung Cancer Master Protocol. This trial evaluates immunotherapies and biomarker-driven therapies for people with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer.
One recently completed survey study looked at the impact of suspending lung cancer screening during the COVID-19 pandemic, while another study evaluated the factors that facilitate cancer programs implementing tobacco treatment.
These studies provide vital data for Kentucky, which has some of the nation’s highest rates of smoking and lung cancer.
Adapting to challenges
The pandemic produced challenges, but MCCRN sites rose to the occasion. King’s Daughters Medical Center, St. Elizabeth Healthcare and Owensboro Health Regional Hospital in particular managed to continue research while guidelines and national and institutional standards evolved.
“Our top priority is the safety of our patients,” Whitlatch said. “No patients are more at risk during the pandemic than those with a cancer diagnosis.”
MCCRN sites have adapted well to best help their patients, Damron said. “They modified research operations and successfully continued their research in the midst of stringent changes to operations.”
Research expanding in Bowling Green
The Medical Center at Bowling Green is developing a research program and plans to become the newest member of the Markey Cancer Center Research Network. This program offers exciting opportunities for expanded research in southwestern Kentucky.
The UK College of Medicine recently established a four-year regional campus at Bowling Green in partnership with Western Kentucky University and The Medical Center at Bowling Green. The campus accepted its first students in 2018. It offers two combined degree programs: MD/MBA and MD/MPH.
A medical program in this part of the Commonwealth will give these students the opportunity to participate in research and get exposure to research careers.
“We’re excited about the potential,” Damron said. “There’s certainly an opportunity for what will grow into a sophisticated infrastructure for clinical trials because of the College of Medicine’s presence.”