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UKIC / Partnerships Research / UK leads Inter-Continental Cancer Consortium to strengthen global cancer research leadership

UK leads Inter-Continental Cancer Consortium to strengthen global cancer research leadership

Monday, May 17, 2021 | By Andrea Gils, Facundo Luque, Vivek Rangnekar

The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center has partnered with both national and international academic institutions to create the Indo-American Cancer Consortium, the first collaborative initiative involving multiple government-supported and non-government cancer centers from India and the United States. The consortium is expected to generate infrastructure and strengthen global cancer research leadership and mentorship at the participating institutions.

This initiative brings together global transdisciplinary teams of basic cancer researchers, oncologists, epidemiologists and surveillance experts who are well equipped with the experience, diagnostic and therapeutic tools, infrastructure and collective resources. Participating institutes include government and non-government organizations: Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre and Research Institute and Tata Memorial Centre in India, and the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center plus University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center in the U.S..

“Cancer research, from bench to bedside, is a classic example of the value of international collaboration in research and higher education,” said Tim Barnes, executive director of International Partnerships and Research for the University of Kentucky. “It’s a great illustration of how we can accomplish more through collaboration across disciplines and borders than we can working in isolation.”

“The purpose of this consortium is to develop meaningful collaborations among the participating faculty of the cancer centers in key areas of cancer research and treatment, education, and community outreach activity,” Vivek M. Rangnekar, associate director of the Markey Cancer Center said.  This initiative also aims to bring together stakeholders with interest in basic cancer biology, translational and precision oncology, cancer prevention programs and public health policy related to cancer.

The consortium focuses on three specific areas: cancer biology, translational oncology and cancer epidemiology, surveillance, and community outreach. These bring together over 30 faculty with active research programs in basic science, clinical and translational research and public health sciences related to cancer.

The U.S. reports almost double the number of cancer cases relative to India that has a much larger overall population. Rangnekar explained that collaborative initiatives can provide a better understanding of the genetic and lifestyle influences on tumor growth, progression, heterogeneity, and the underlying stressors that prompt pre-clinical dormant lesions to progress into malignant tumors, and also synchronize the cancer surveillance protocols in the two countries. “Such initiatives may allow accurate insights into the differences in cancer rates,” Rangnekar added.

Research is aimed to incorporate plans to identify critical signaling molecules, pathways, and mechanisms; discover new compounds and repurposed drugs that target key proteins involved in treatment resistance and discover biomarkers for treatment response; develop new or repurposed drugs, or combine existing drugs for clinical trials; and enhance cancer surveillance and conduct cancer disparities research to promote cancer prevention behaviors.

There has also been a positive impact for graduate students from the different institutions that are part of this initiative. Through concerted efforts to mentor the next generation of scientists, the consortium provides online courses in basic cancer biology, translational oncology and epidemiology, a certificate program in precision medicine and a virtual tumor board to guide oncologists on treatment options for precision oncology. These activities lead to organic multidisciplinary collaborations involving teams of oncologists, basic scientists, pharmacists, pathologists and epidemiologists focused on research projects. The consortium has also been regularly organizing events such as research presentations by faculty and students, thematic mini-symposia and a seminar series with guest speakers.

“Students can hear from the experts in the field and that provides them with a tremendous value which goes far beyond just reading a textbook,” Rangnekar said.

Rangnekar explained that especially now during the COVID-19  lockdown, the students at our partnering cancer centers in India are unable go to their regular lectures. These consortium activities offer them a way to continue their learning process.   

Strategies to improve the impact of cancer research for patients have been widely discussed in India and U.S. over the past several decades. “The importance of collaborative team science cannot be overstated,” Rangnekar said. The Consortium has ambitious projects to promote global cancer research and training, but this is often challenged by the paucity of secure financial support. It is envisioned that such support should be forthcoming from federal, private or philanthropic sponsors, given the value of inter-institutional collaborative programs that build infrastructure, expand capacity and enhance the research fervor and overall cancer care environment in the participating countries.

Support India COVID-19 Relief

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented challenges and hardships in India. The Markey Cancer Center has recently started a donation drive to send oxygen concentrators and accessories through the non-profit Markey Cancer Foundation and the non-profit US-India Chamber of Commerce to our partnering cancer centers. The U.S. has already started shipping valuable vaccine components, oxygen and masks to India, and other countries are lending help as well, but in view of the magnitude of the problems, the demand for life-saving oxygen by far will outstrip supply.

Time is of the essence, and the need is urgent. Donate here