WINDBER – The breast cancer research program that is now Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber was launched with Defense Department money 20 years ago.
What was then Windber Research Institute was established as the tissue bank for the new Clinical Breast Care Project of Walter Reed Army Hospital.
Not only has the local program remained associated with the military, its two key components have become an integral part of a growing cancer research collaboration of Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, along with the Uniformed Services University.
It was the Windber institute’s expertise and proven record in tissue banking and medical research information technology that convinced leaders to expand its participation in Defense-funded research through the John Murtha Cancer Center at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Col. Craig Shriver, retired, director of the Murtha Cancer Center, outlined Windber’s partnership with Walter Reed during the research institute’s Cookout for Cancer fundraiser in August.
“It is really an excellent facility that is not surpassed in terms of what it offers as a research unit,” Shriver said of Windber.
The Murtha Cancer Center treatment and research program now expands across nine military hospitals and two Veterans Affairs hospitals around the country, Shriver said.
All the centers send research specimens to Windber’s tissue repository and use software developed at Windber to analyze data produced by their studies.
Windber and the 11 centers are participating in the Applied Proteogenomics Organizational Learning and Outcomes network, abbreviated as the APOLLO project, a collaboration between National Cancer Institute, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Shriver outlined how samples from cancer surgery patients are sent to Windber, where they are characterized and sent on to labs for DNA and RNA sequencing and protein analysis.
One of the goals of the APOLLO program is to find molecular characteristics unique to certain cancers that could be targets for new medicine.
“This is really a one-of-a-kind program in the nation,” Shriver said.
“It is very important for cancer biology understanding and identification of novel cancer targets for treatment options.”
It is Windber’s expertise in biobanking and bioinformatics that connects much of the APOLLO research, he said.
“Our presence here – in terms of what we do in Windber with the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute – is because of the great work that has been done here, and the trust that we have in the future work that is going to be done here under the leadership of Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Hai Hu and all the people who work here,” Shriver said.