Mercy Health joins Cancer Genome Atlas project

October 9, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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Muskegon’s Mercy Health Partners will serve as a source of cancer tissue samples for the National Institutes of Health’s Cancer Genome Atlas Project — one of only 14 designated tissue source sites in the U.S. and the only one in Michigan.

The Johnson Family Cancer Center at Mercy Health announced last week that Mercy has agreed to collaborate with the International Genomics Consortium in Phoenix, Ariz., and join its network to provide cancer tissue samples for analysis under the NIH project. The samples will be collected under uniform and standardized conditions. Mercy also will collect specific long-term clinical outcome information to facilitate research into the underlying cancer mechanisms.

Dr. Peter K. Shireman, a pathologist with 17 years of practice at Mercy Health Partners, has been named principal investigator at Mercy for The Cancer Genome Atlas project.

“This is a fabulous opportunity for our Muskegon and lakeshore communities to participate in a state-of-the-art study of the genetics of cancer,” said Shireman. “The future of cancer research and treatment will rely heavily on the understanding of the genetic code as it relates to cancers.”

No samples will be submitted without written consent of patients, and patient information will be “de-identified” before the tissue sample is sent to the central processing laboratory in Arizona, according to the Mercy Health announcement.

Dr. Robert Penny, CEO of the International Genomics Consortium, said the project is “the largest in the history of mankind and cancer, and will be the largest that you and I ever see in our lifetime.”

“We are honored to collaborate with Mercy Health Partners on this historic NCI initiative to join in the fight against cancer,” he said.

TCGA plans to analyze 500 tumors from each cancer type studied by the program and will provide the clinically annotated outcome data, along with the complete genomic analysis, on the Internet for all scientists, free of any intellectual property restrictions.

The IGC plans to retain a portion of each sample that it provides, if available, to expedite translational discoveries to help patient care in work separate from TCGA.

Penny said Mercy Health Partners was selected for the project for several reasons, starting with “the vision and leadership of the hospital administration.” He added that the “medical leadership that was exhibited to me by Peter Shireman and by Doug Zwemer, the chief of surgery,” also were factors that led to the selection of Mercy Health.

“After that, it really gets into the number of beds, the number of cancer patients, the quality of the surgery that takes place” and other factors, including the quality of care at the facility, according to Penny.

Penny previously met Roger Spoelman, president and CEO of Mercy Health Partners, at a medical meeting in Arizona.

According to the website of the National Cancer Institute (part of the NIH), the success of the pilot project for the TCGA led the NIH to announce in September 2009 that it is investing $275 million in the project over the next two years of the five-year program to chart the genomic changes involved in more than 20 types of cancer. To date, TCGA has achieved comprehensive sequencing, characterization and analysis of the genomic changes in the brain cancer glioblastoma multiforme and in ovarian cancer. Additional cancers selected for study were chosen based on specific criteria that include poor prognosis and overall public health impact, plus the availability of human tumor and matched-normal tissue samples. The additional cancers selected include breast, colon, rectal, stomach, head and neck, lung, hematologic and others.

Penny declined to name the other 13 cancer treatment centers around the country that are part of the Tissue Source Site network, “because of the patient privacy issues.” However, three that have been publicly reported are two in Arizona and one in Texas.

Penny said tissue samples will be collected for a total of five years and outcome data on those cases for 10 years.

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