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Health Care New Castle County News

ChristianaCare partnership launches new cancer research

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ChristianaCare, the state’s largest hospital system, has announced three new cancer research programs with its partner Wistar Institute. | PHOTO COURTESY CHRISTIANACARE

NEWARK — To build on its groundbreaking cancer research, ChristianaCare has announced that researchers within its cancer center and the biomedical research nonprofit Wistar Institute in Philadelphia will launch three projects on cancer research strategies.

Through a partnership between ChristianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute and Wistar Institute, research teams will run a population health study on treating negative breast cancer. Other projects focus on a new therapy for the most lethal form of ovarian cancer, as well as developing “mini organs” from stem cells.

For ChristianaCare, it marks yet another innovative portfolio of research as Delaware’s largest health care system since it has partnered with the Wistar Institute for at least a decade. The institute is an international leader in biomedical research, with a focus on cancer, immunology, infectious disease research, and vaccine development.

“Our partnership with Wistar has attracted national recognition as a model of collaboration that leverages cutting-edge research to benefit cancer prevention and therapy statewide,” ChristianaCare’s Cancer Center medical director Nicholas Petrelli said in a statement. “With Wistar, our productive collaborations over the last decade continue to drive discovery research toward clinical trials to benefit patients here at the Graham Cancer Center and in communities everywhere.”

Delaware has one of the nation’s highest rates of triple-negative breast cancer, which has few treatment options because the cells test negative for three known treatment targets. 

In one of the newly-announced studies, researchers will work with patient data — including blood and tissue samples — from ChristianaCare’s cancer center to study potential factors like diet, alcohol use and genetic variants and their effects on cancer metabolism.

The team will also examine the relationship between areas with higher-than-expected prevalence for the disease, as well as other modifiable risk factors. 

In a second study, Wistar’s top researcher in immunology, microenvironment and metastasis program, Dr. Rugang Zhang, is developing novel therapeutics for types of ovarian cancer that have no effective treatments. Zhang’s previous work signals that a specific gene may show a path to treat ovarian cancer.

Finally, a new program will also culture organ-specific tissue from stem cells in order to come up with better models of how drugs and therapeutics may interact with a patient’s specific type of tumor.

These so-called “mini organs” are three-dimentional tissues grown in a lab to copy the complexity and functions of a specific tissue or organ found in a human body. Tests could then be run on these tissues without having to subject a patient to them.

Since 2011, ChristianaCare’s Graham Cancer Center has partnered with Wistar to combine the Delaware institution’s cancer treatment with the Philadelphia institution’s biomedical research. When the collaboration was established, the goal was to advance research discoveries made in Wistar labs into early clinical trials at ChristianaCare.

The Graham Cancer Center has one of the nation’s highest patient accrual rates into clinical trials, reported to be at 20% in 2015. The national average is 4%.

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