Working Together: Physicians and Researchers Pool Their Expertise

chrisbFall 2013

keiber-emmon-and-hutchins-feature

It doesn’t just happen.

The research, clinical trials and patient care that bring patients hope each day at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute needs synchronization to work efficiently and effectively.

Bringing all these pieces together is a program that is allowing physicians and researchers to pool their expertise as they translate that synergy into a focus on common disease sites.

Called the Disease Oriented Committees (DOCs) program, it is already paying dividends to support new and exciting collaborative research ideas throughout UAMS.

Leading this effort are Laura Hutchins, M.D., a professor and director for clinical research, and Dorothy Graves, Ph.D., a research assistant professor in the Cancer Institute

“The purpose is to bring together all clinicians and scientists who work on many different diseases to not only increase interaction and brainstorm, but to plan and direct traffic to operate more efficiently,” Hutchins said. “Where are the holes in the research? What obstacles are there? How can we best use our patient population to participate in different clinical trials?”

More the Merrier

In its second year, there are now 11 different DOCs focused on distinct cancer-related disease sites, including sarcoma, melanoma, lung, leukemia/lymphoma, head and neck, gynecology/oncology, genitourinary, gastrointestinal, breast and brain cancers, as well as palliative care.

Some meet more than once a week and some monthly, while others just get together as needed.

“It just makes so much more sense than going at things from an ‘everyone-for-himself’ type approach,” Hutchins said. “We have to operate as teams to consolidate our efforts and get the most out of our resources.”

For Example

Thomas Kieber-Emmons, Ph.D., and Laura hutchins, M.D., are working together to fight breast cancer.

Thomas Kieber-Emmons, Ph.D.,
and Laura hutchins, M.D.,
are working together to fight breast cancer.

Hutchins said she recently ran into a road block on a breast cancer vaccine project that requires a special kind of biopsy.

The amount of work needed behind the scenes before she even sees a patient is enough to derail the project completely if not done efficiently.

“I had to discuss not only how we can get this type of biopsy done, but how we can get it preserved properly,” Hutchins said. “So I have to get surgeons on board and the tissue bank involved about handling the specimen and keeping it embargoed until we know if the patient is even eligible to use that sample for research, and so on.”

All of these different areas use DOCs to form a plan and carry it out. Not only for projects as developed as clinical trials, but starting from the inception of an idea.

“DOCs are a venue to talk about work in a group with feedback, and you end up with a better research plan or project in the long run,” she said. “You make sure consents are in the right place and all of the regulatory obstacles taken care of. It’s very complex. If they are discussed in DOCs they can be planned properly so we can actually execute the research; otherwise you just get a failed project.”

And that, Hutchins says, is what makes having DOCs incorporated into the state’s only comprehensive academic health center such an asset.