Cancer Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Receive $25 Million from National Cancer Institute

September 23, 2019

For the second time in five years, Wake Forest Baptist Health has been recognized for its expertise in conducting innovative cancer care research by the National Cancer Institute’s Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) with a multimillion-dollar grant. 

The six-year, $25 million award will build on work done through an $18 million grant received by Wake Forest Baptist in 2014. 

One of only seven awarded in the country, the grant is designed to focus on extending ongoing clinical research in cardiovascular and neurocognitive complications of cancer treatments and on improving patient well-being during cancer care. 

“In contrast to the majority of clinical trials for oncology that try to find new treatments for specific cancers, this program focuses on how different therapies, such as radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, can affect the quality of life for patients and their caregivers dealing with the disease,” said Glenn Lesser, M.D., one of the principal investigators of the grant-funded research and the Louise McMichael Miracle professor in oncology at Wake Forest Baptist. Co-principal investigator of the grant is Kathryn Weaver, Ph.D., associate professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest Baptist.  

For example, doctors know that certain classes of chemotherapy drugs commonly given for breast cancer and lymphomas can cause a permanent decrease in heart function. The Wake Forest Baptist team is looking at ways to protect the heart from damage, as well as clearly defining who may be at risk so that doctors could intervene to prevent or stop the damage.

In addition, the research team is studying the following areas:

  • Evaluating how treatments in adolescent and young adult cancer survivors can affect their long-term ability to work; 
  • Using an internet-based approach to provide rural cancer survivors with counseling for depression; 
  • Using statins, a common class of drugs, to potentially protect the heart from chemotherapy-induced toxicity; 
  • Training patient navigators to improve care for African-American patients with early stage lung cancer, who historically have had poor outcomes; 
  • Testing and designing an effective smoking-cessation intervention for high-risk patients being screened for lung cancer.  A study is under way to compare 12 sites that are doing cessation interventions during the screening process with12 sites that don’t offer smoking cessation as part of their screenings. 

”Extraordinary advances in cancer treatment made in the past decade, including immunotherapy and targeted therapy, are very different from traditional radiation and chemotherapy and often have their own toxicities and complications,” Lesser said. “That is why the NCORP project is so valuable and we are so fortunate to be a part of it.” 

Researchers plan to share the results of their work on cancer care with community-based practices where 85% of cancer patients in this country are treated, Lesser said. What might be effective in a resource-intensive academic medical center may not be doable in a real-world community practice with more-limited resources and access to specialists, he added.

“So much of physician interaction focuses on active treatment yet every minute of every day, even when therapy has been completed or paused, patients and providers, caregivers and their families deal with the effects of the cancer treatment,” Lesser said. “We are trying to bring some balance back to their lives by focusing on improving quality of life no matter where they are on the cancer journey.” 

Media Contact:

Marguerite Beck, marbeck@wakehealth.edu336-716-2415