UR Awarded $18M for Cancer Control Studies; Grant Among Largest in Decade

Sep. 17, 2014
Gary Morrow, Ph.D.

As a result of longstanding research strength, the Cancer Control & Survivorship program at UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute has been selected to receive an $18.6 million, five-year grant for a leadership role in a nationwide clinical research network to investigate cancer-related side effects.

The National Cancer Institute award to Principal Investigator Gary R. Morrow, Ph.D., M.S., is currently the largest investigator-initiated grant at the University of Rochester, and among the top five largest grants received by a UR Medical Center researcher in the past 10 years.

Wilmot is also one of only two cancer centers in the U.S. to be chosen by the NCI as a research hub for NCORP, which stands for the NCI Community Oncology Research Program. With the new NCORP funding, Morrow and his team will design and manage clinical studies that will be implemented nationwide. All of their work, which includes preparing manuscripts for publication in medical journals, revolves around supportive care for patients coping with side effects during and following cancer treatment.

“This award really helps to keep Rochester out in the forefront of patient-directed care in cancer,” said Morrow, the Dean’s Professor of Oncology and professor of Surgery and Psychiatry at UR. “Rochester has always been known for this important work, and now we can expand our efforts and have a greater impact.”

“Dr. Morrow and his Cancer Control Research team are not only outstanding clinical researchers, as shown by this award,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., Dean of the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry, “they also have a strong track record of mentoring junior investigators who go on to conduct high-impact and innovative cancer control research.  This award, and the legacy of mentorship that goes with it, will continue to support, inspire, and enhance research and clinical care within the Wilmot Cancer Institute, the greater Rochester region, and across the nation.”

For more than 30 years Morrow has been a leader in the field of “cancer control,” a term dating to the 1970s that describes a continuum of various points from cancer prevention and early detection to survivorship and end-of-life. Rochester research has also focused on the management of cancer-related nausea, fatigue, insomnia, chemo-brain, and other post-treatment side effects that can occur months or years later and diminish quality of life for cancer patients. Prior to acceptance in the NCORP network, Morrow built the UR’s Cancer Control program through the NCI’s Community Clinical Oncology Program or CCOP.

This year NCORP replaced CCOP – and when the NCI issued the new awards it also expanded the agenda to include cancer-care delivery research. This encompasses how social factors, financial systems, and health technologies impact care. A new collaboration between the UR and Duke University, for example, will look at how best to gather data across different patient populations through different e-records systems in various communities, Morrow said.

But the main focus will be to leverage the NCORP network of community-based cancer clinics to conduct research that will lead to improved quality of life. With access to the cooperative network, the goal is to take good ideas from within UR and from scientists at other community sites -- and turn them into relevant and researchable projects that enroll between 600 and 1,000 patients at multiple locations. Clinical trials this large have become the gold standard for research, but they are difficult to conduct without a sizeable, organized research network such as what NCORP provides.

“To be included in the NCORP network, and to be one of only two cancer centers nationwide to be funded by this mechanism, is a huge feather in our cap,” said Jonathan W. Friedberg, M.D., director of the Wilmot Cancer Institute. “This grant is also very important to our research strategic plan and our mission to build upon programs that already have a strong foundation.”

“This award is testament to the superb track record and ongoing success of Dr. Morrow's team,” added David C. Linehan, M.D., the new chair of the UR Medicine Department of Surgery, which supports the Cancer Control unit. “These important studies will have worldwide impact and will improve the quality of life of patients battling cancer.”

The NCORP funding also provides an excellent opportunity for Wilmot faculty who’re building a career in Cancer Control studies, such as investigating how vitamin D might impact survivorship, whether yoga therapy influences insomnia, and how to prevent or mitigate chemo-brain. Morrow’s group will also have more flexibility to conduct geriatric cancer research, an area of special interest in light of the growing older adult population and Wilmot’s faculty expertise.

“It’s always been our mantra that we try and help good people through lousy times,” Morrow said. “I couldn’t be happier about this funding and our inclusion in the NCORP network, as it will allow us to seamlessly continue our work while also providing new opportunities for our translational research.”

Morrow also has been the principal investigator on eight previous cancer control grants totaling more than $40 million. Under his management the UR cancer control program has been continuously funded since 1983.

The Wilmot Cancer Institute is the Finger Lakes region’s leader for cancer care and research. As part of UR Medicine, Wilmot provides specialty cancer services at the University of Rochester Medical Center and at satellite locations. Wilmot Cancer Institute is a component of Strong Memorial Hospital. The Institute also includes a team of scientists who investigate many aspects of cancer, with an emphasis on how best to provide precision cancer care.