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2016 Health Care Heroes: IU Health Precision Genomics Program

March 4, 2016

Health Care HeroesFinalist: Advancements In Health Care

IU Health Precision Genomics Program

Most cancer patients fear two things: the cancer itself and the treatment they must endure to fight it.

The IU Health Precision Genomics Program addresses both by using an individual’s genetic code to create a personalized therapy that attacks the cancer while minimizing harm to the patient. The program, one of only a few of its kind in the world, is the culmination of what Dr. Bryan Schneider and Milan Radovich have been preparing for their entire careers.

Schneider, a medical oncologist practicing at the IU Simon Cancer Center, and Radovich, on the faculty of the Indiana University School of Medicine, are researchers who share a passion for using genome mapping to develop cancer treatments.

They launched the Precision Genomics Program, which they co-direct, in April 2014.

precisio-genomics-15col.jpg From left in front row, Megan Parsley, Katie Ratcliff, Holly Mathis and Stacy Nance. From left in back, Milan Radovich and Dr. Bryan Schneider. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

“We felt compelled to take our training to the patient bedside,” Schneider said. “If it doesn’t help patients, [the research] really doesn’t matter.”

They’ve consulted with about 450 patients since starting the program, which, for now, sees patients with solid tumor cancers who have few treatment options. The universe of patients the program is available to could grow as Schneider and Radovich learn more.

Making precision genomics work for patients is a team effort. After an initial consultation, the case moves into a technical phase that gathers information about the tumor and the patient’s genetics. Then each case is considered by a 20-member review board that includes a cross-section of experts representing medical oncology, bioethics, pathology, nursing, pharmacy and genomic science.

“A private practice oncologist wouldn’t have that kind of expertise at their fingertips,” Radovich said of the team, which comes up with a treatment plan for the patient.

After the initial consultation, it takes about two weeks to develop a plan. “We’ve worked hard at turning this over at lightning speed,” Schneider said. “A patient with advanced cancer can’t wait a few months.”

So far, the program has been able to produce a treatment plan for 71 percent of its patients. About three-quarters of them receive therapy using FDA-approved drugs, though those drugs might be applied in unconventional ways. The others are matched up with a clinical trial, no matter where that trial is taking place.

Schneider and Radovich aren’t limiting it to the walls of their clinic. They recently opened a satellite clinic at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie and hope to open others around the state in the next few years.•

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