UCHealth patients in northern Colorado step forward to speed advances in cancer care

Poudre Valley Hospital among nation’s first community hospitals to collaborate with leading academic medical centers and researchers through personalized medicine consortium.
Aug. 28, 2018

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (Aug. 28, 2018) – Dozens of UCHealth patients from throughout northern Colorado are sharing a bit of themselves as part of a unique research collaboration to advance the understanding of cancer and how to treat it.

UCHealth patients from throughout northern Colorado are participating in a nationwide study that aims to improve cancer care. UCHealth Cancer Center – Harmony Campus in Fort Collins is one of the sites where these patients are participating.

By the end of the year, more than 100 patients in the area could choose to participate in a study that aims to improve cancer care by gathering data from patients with various kinds of cancers over the course of their treatment and matching them with the best treatment options.

UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital is among the first community hospitals to participate in the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, also known as ORIEN, which is a personalized medicine consortium of leading academic medical centers from throughout the country. The members collect and share patient data with the goal of better understanding cancer at the molecular level and more precisely assigning treatment to patients.

“One of the challenges we face in oncology is identifying which treatment is most beneficial for which patient,” said Dr. Virginia Borges, the principal investigator of the study at the University of Colorado Cancer Center headquartered at the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. “This study will speed up the development of targeted cancer therapies and markers that can help us know with more certainty that a treatment will work.”

This large, nationwide database has the potential to reshape how cancer is treated in the future, said Dr. Steven Schuster, the regional principal investigator for the project in northern Colorado and a UCHealth medical oncologist.

“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. 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.

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.

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.

Karen Crawford of Fort Collins is one of the latest patients to join the study. Forty years ago, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma. She was 18 years old, and the prognosis wasn’t good — only expected to live about a year. She was treated with radiation from the waist up and survived. But, it was the beginning of what she calls an extensive relationship with cancer as she’s fought several other cancers since then. Today, she’s being treated for stage IV breast cancer at UCHealth. She’s been battling it since January 2015.

Crawford knows that some of the treatments that are helping her now and have helped her over the years were only possible because of others who participated in research studies. Now, she’s hoping to help someone else who gets diagnosed with cancer in the future through her enrollment in the Total Cancer Care Protocol.

“The more people who share their stories about cancer, the faster we’ll find a cure,” she said. “If there’s anything I can do to help get us closer to finding a cure for cancer, I will.”

Dr. Farrah Datko, Crawford’s oncologist at UCHealth, said many patients naturally want to help others, and that’s why they are joining the study.

“Even though most women with metastatic breast cancer, for example, are unlikely to get results during their lifetime, many are still eager to participate when they find out this could help future women in their situation,” she said.

More than 216,000 patients at ORIEN’s 18 member institutions have taken part in the effort.

In northern Colorado, UCHealth patients who are interested in participating in this study are doing so at UCHealth Cancer Center – Harmony Campus in Fort Collins or Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland. This is one of nearly 200 open research studies in the specialties of oncology, cardiology, neurology and trauma that UCHealth is offering in northern Colorado. 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 already is part of the ORIEN research collaboration and has enrolled more than 3,660 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. Later this year, UCHealth expects to begin enrolling patients in the ORIEN study at UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs.

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

Kelly Tracer is a media relations specialist at UCHealth, based in northern Colorado. For nearly 20 years, she worked as a newspaper reporter, editor and designer before diving into the world of health care communications.

She believes there is an amazing story inside everyone and considers it an honor to get to meet and work with so many extraordinary people – patients, families, providers, volunteers and staff – every day. She is also fascinated by health care innovation and programs that empower and inspire people and families to live healthier lives.

A native of Nebraska, Kelly received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. She and her husband have two children and enjoy paddle boarding all summer and skiing all winter.