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MCG receives second-time designation from National Cancer Institute

December 20, 2007

The Medical College of Georgia has again been designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program.

The renewal, which comes with a five-year $2.3 million grant, provides more access to the latest cancer treatment and prevention strategies for all cancer patients, particularly minorities, says Dr. Anand Jillella, chief of the MCG section of Hematology/Oncology and principal investigator on the grant.

"The real advantage of the grant is that it is minority-based, which is really relevant here because we have such a significant number of minority patients," says Dr. Kapil N. Bhalla, director of the Medical College of Georgia Cancer Center. "The National Cancer Institute recognizes the need to extend studies and clinical trials to those populations and this grant enables us to help advance that initiative by supporting the work done by cancer researchers and clinicians here. This type of work is integral to the overall mission of the Cancer Center - to facilitate and inspire cancer research. It is the perfect marriage of our clinical and research components."

MCG, eligible because more than 40 percent of its newly-diagnosed patients and 40 percent of patients enrolled in clinical trials are minorities, first received the designation in 2004.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta, Aiken Regional Medical Center in Aiken, S.C., and Athens Regional Medical Center in Athens, Ga., are collaborators on the grant.

Dr. Daron G. Ferris, family medicine physician and director of the Gynecologic Cancer Prevention Center at MCG, and Dr. Roger A. Vega, chief of the MCG Section of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology are co-principal investigators.

"This designation allows us to continue to broaden the scope of clinical trials and prevention programs by providing support for the infrastructure those initiatives require," Dr. Jillella says.

Unlike the typical grant, program funding supports the infrastructure for dozens of clinical studies instead of just one, says Dr. Jillella.

"Before this grant, providing trials was difficult because we could not support the personnel needed for that," he says. "Because of the CCOP, we can hire the personnel we need, including research nurses, study coordinators and administrative assistants who are all an important part of clinical research activity."

The grant also allows for collaborative work between adult, preventive and pediatric cancer researchers and clinicians.

"One particular way that we have and will continue to benefit from this grant is in the increasing collaboration between adult and pediatric oncology," says Dr. Vega. "Having this grant as the common denominator allows us to share. There is a lot that both sides can learn from each other."

For example, he says, young adults who are diagnosed with cancer often fall in the middle between adult and pediatric oncology. While pediatricians treat patients until age 21, many pediatric trials do not apply to those older patients.

"Because of the CCOP cooperation, we can extend adult trials to our pediatric patients that wouldn't have been available before," he says.

The grant also provides money for studies on preventing cancer and studies that can help improve the quality of life for patients already undergoing treatments.

"There's a lot of research being done on potential treatments, but there's only a drop in the bucket of studies that focus on the patient with cancer," says Dr. Ferris. "When people have cancer, clearly, one of the major goals is to cure it. But we also realize that during that process, some bad things can happen. That's where we come in. We need to find ways to minimize suffering and make the treatment period more tolerable for the patient. Are there better medications" Alternative treatments for side effects of drugs"

These types of studies also help patients take an active part in their cancer, which gives them hope for themselves, their friends and their families."
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Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University

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