Indiana University Research & Creative Activity


Volume XXIX Number 2
Spring 2007

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petri dish

Finding the Potential in a Petri Dish

Can the practices of private industry be successfully applied to research at the Indiana University School of Medicine?

Mark Kelley believes they can, and that the result will be a much more effective process for getting scientific discoveries out of the laboratory and into patient care.

Kelley, the Jonathan and Jennifer Simmons Professor of Pediatrics and associate director for basic science research at the IU Cancer Center, and his colleagues are implementing the IUCC Translational Research Acceleration Collaboration (ITRAC). The program will provide funding and expertise to scientists who have made significant discoveries in their laboratories, but aren't sure what steps are necessary to turn those discoveries into products for patients.

As a scientist at the Wells Center for Pediatric Research, where he is also associate director, Kelley knows firsthand some of the frustrations that researchers may feel. "I may know how to kill cancer cells in a petri dish, but what do I do next? How do I move my project to the clinic where it will help patients?" he says.

The ITRAC program complements a growing emphasis by the National Institutes of Health, including the National Cancer Institute, on translational research--a term that refers to the development and testing processes that basic science laboratory discoveries go through to become new patient treatments.

ITRAC will make money available for translational research work, which often isn't funded by the grants that make original basic science discoveries possible.

IU Cancer Center committees will review research projects and identify those with the most potential for clinical applications as well as commercial potential— potential that the individual scientists may not even realize is there.

As a part of ITRAC, the cancer center also is developing a comprehensive database of resources available on and off campus to help with development, down to details such as the molecules and biochemical pathways researchers have worked with.

"This process will help us know what resources are available, both internal and external, including the private sector," says Kelley.

To help implement the new system, the IU Cancer Center has hired project manager Mary Murray to help scientists move their projects forward. She previously performed a similar role at Eli Lilly and Co.

"They are the team of scientists trying to cure cancer; I help them organize the processes so they can do the science. I help them overcome the obstacles along the way," Murray says.

Oncologist Christopher Sweeney, associate director for clinical research at the Cancer Center, says ITRAC could have helped when he and colleague Harikrishna Nakshatri, IU School of Medicine associate professor of surgery, biochemistry, and molecular biology, were working on a compound they hope to take into clinical trials. Their search for a medicinal chemist to make a water-soluble version of the compound led to an out-of-state academic partner.

"ITRAC likely would have helped us keep the work at home in Indiana and get it done faster," Sweeney says.

--Eric Schoch