UCHealth Memorial joins nationwide cancer research

March 6, 2019

If you could provide a blood sample that would help scientists conducting nationwide cancer research make breakthroughs and develop new medicines to improve cancer treatment, would you?

Across Colorado, UCHealth patients are doing just that. University of Colorado Cancer Center is part of a nationwide research team known as ORIEN – Oncology Research Information Exchange Network – a consortium of leading academic medical centers across the country. These organizations have come together and opened the Total Cancer Care protocol and Coloradans can choose to join and be a part of the team. The person who joins shares their cancer details and tissue and blood samples. Those samples may be analyzed using the latest technology, providing information that will help scientists better understand cancer at the molecular level.

A photo of a doctor speaking to a cancer patient
UCHealth Memorial Hospital is part of ORIEN– Oncology Research Information Exchange Network – a consortium of leading academic medical centers across the country conducting nationwide cancer research.

“The information learned from this will be used to develop cancer treatment for the next 20 to 30 years,’’ said Dr. Robert Hoyer, an oncologist specializing in gastrointestinal and lung cancers. He serves as medical director of oncology at UCHealth Cancer Center – Memorial Hospital Central. “This is something that 30 years from now, people will look back and say, ‘I’m really glad they did this because we have all of this information now, and we have hundreds of drugs for cancer treatment that we would not have had if not for this program.’ ’’

Nationwide cancer research

UCHealth Memorial Hospital is the latest UCHealth hospital to join the study.

“It’s an analysis of the genetic changes that happen in cancer cells and then the development of new medicines to treat those mutations,’’ said Dr. Hoyer, the principal investigator for the project in southern Colorado.

The large, nationwide database that is being created has the potential to reshape how cancer is treated in the future. Only a few months ago, the FDA approved the first-ever medication based on a mutational signature that happens in a variety of cancers.

A photo of Dr. Robert Hoyer
Dr. Robert Hoyer

“What that means is that, potentially, we can treat cancer based on a mutational signature, irrespective of what the type of cancer it is. That has been a major development in the field of oncology because now we have tools that we can deploy across a variety of diseases, even rare diseases, that we may have never had enough patients for a research study,’’ Dr. Hoyer said.

Dr. Steven Schuster  is the regional principal investigator for the project in northern Colorado and a UCHealth medical oncologist. He said traditional clinical trials focus on the type of cancer – such as breast cancer and colon cancer – but future trials will focus on the genetic type of cancer – such as HER2 mutated cancer and EGFR mutated cancer.

A photo of Dr. Steven Schuster
Dr. Steven Schuster

“These mutations may be discovered in standard care or through ORIEN, and patients who could benefit from a new and exciting targeted therapy may be identified,’’ Schuster said.

Total Cancer Care

ORIEN members follow the Total Cancer Care® (TCC) protocol, which is a standard system for tracking patient molecular, clinical and epidemiological data. Patients who are being enrolled have been diagnosed with cancer or are at high risk to develop cancer. Safeguards are in place to protect the data.

Those patients who choose to participate in the program will be followed throughout their lifetime and agree to be contacted for future studies, playing an active role in the study of their cancer and improving care down the line for others with cancer.

Hoyer said many patients who have cancer or are at risk for cancer have altruistic reasons for joining the study – they simply want to help others.

“Scientists will use the information in the development of new drugs and also use the information to design research studies to test those new drugs in a clinical trial,’’ Hoyer said.

More than 237,000 patients at ORIEN’s 19 member institutions have taken part in the effort.

In southern Colorado, patients who are interested in participating in this study are doing so at Memorial Hospital. Patients who already are being seen at the clinic are asked to voluntarily participate in the study. To participate or learn more about ORIEN, email [email protected] or Dr. Virginia Borges, ORIEN principle investigator, at 303-724-3868.

Across UCHealth, nearly 200 open research studies in the specialties of oncology, cardiology, neurology and trauma are underway. Through UCHealth’s close affiliation with the CU Cancer Center in Aurora, cancer patients are able to get access to the same treatment options available at leading cancer centers across the country close to home.

The CU Cancer Center, the lead institution for UCHealth’s participation in the ORIEN research collaboration, has enrolled more than 4,500 patients since September 2015. The center is one of only 49 comprehensive cancer centers as designated by the National Cancer Institute and the only comprehensive cancer center in the state of Colorado.

For more information about ORIEN or to search through the hundreds of other research trials currently underway at UCHealth facilities, go to uchealth.org/clinical-trials.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.