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Research Briefs

For immediate use

Oct. 17, 2007

UNC and RTI International chosen to continue Evidence-Based Practice Center

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has selected the Evidence-Based Practice Center, a collaboration between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and RTI International, to be among 14 centers that will comprise the third iteration of its Evidence-Based Practice Centers program.

“UNC faculty and staff look forward to continuing our work with Research Triangle International (RTI) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality” said Tim Carey MD, director of UNC’s Sheps Center for Health Services Research and co-director of the program with Meera Viswanathan, PhD, at RTI. Carey is also clinical professor of epidemiology in the UNC School of Public Health and professor of medicine in the UNC School of Medicine.

As part of the renewed five-year contract, the RTI-UNC Evidence-Based Practice Center will continue to conduct research syntheses and analyses of the scientific literature on clinical and other health care delivery issues and produce reports and technology assessments on the evidence.

“This work is exciting and of direct relevance to clinicians and the public,” Carey said. “Patients can now often choose among several potential treatment options for a disease, and we need unbiased information regarding their relative risks and benefits. Our role is to provide that information.”

Since its inception the RTI-UNC Evidence-Based Practice Center has produced and published reports on a variety of health care topics including routine use of episiotomy, cesarean delivery on maternal request, eating disorders and second-generation antidepressants in treatment of depressive disorders in adults.

The resulting reports are used by federal and state agencies, private-sector professional societies, health delivery systems, providers, and others committed to evidence-based health care.

School of Public Health contact: Ramona DuBose, 919-966-7467 or ramona_dubose@unc.edu

Breast cancer patients welcome genomic test that predicts risk of recurrence

New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National Institutes of Health finds most breast cancer patients would be receptive to a new genomic test that can determine the chance of breast cancer recurrence and help plan treatment.

Currently, breast cancer physicians make treatment decisions and predict the risk of recurrence based largely on the location and size of the tumor and if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes and distant sites of the body. But not all patients who are similar in terms of these clinical indicators get the same benefits from treatment.

In an attempt to remedy that situation, scientists studying the genetics of breast cancer at UNC and elsewhere have identified a number of patterns in the genes of individual tumors that make them biologically different from others and which could provide valuable clinical information, such as how likely the tumors are to be invasive, how well they might respond to different treatments and how likely they are to recur or spread.

While the test is still under study and a not yet a part of clinical care, it appears that such differences in gene expression patterns may be used to individually tailor treatment.

The new study, from UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, School of Public Health and department of psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences is the first to demonstrate breast cancer patients’ interest in genomic risk testing and how these results might influence decisions about adjuvant care.

The UNC study, led by Noel Brewer, Ph.D., assistant professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health, asked 139 women who were treated for early-stage breast cancer questions that presented hypothetical scenarios reflecting different test outcomes and potential treatment decisions.

“We assessed women’s attitudes towards risk for recurrence testing, how results would affect their choices about adjuvant treatment, and potential concerns about and perceived benefits of testing,” said Dr. Suzanne O’Neill of the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, who was involved in the study.

The study, published Oct. 10, 2007, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found most patients would have been interested in a genomic test that showed their risk for recurrence at the time they were treated, had it been available. The majority said they would “definitely” want to be tested (76 percent), receive their results (87 percent), and discuss these results with their physicians.

School of Medicine contact: Les Lang, (919) 843-9687 or llang@unch.unc.edu

News Services contact: Clinton Colmenares, (919) 843-1991 or clinton_colmenares@unc.edu

Former GSK executive to lead UNC Drug Discovery Center

Stephen Frye, PhD, former worldwide head of discovery medicinal chemistry at GlaxoSmithKline, will lead the new Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“The days when large pharmaceutical companies could be solely relied on to effectively translate basic research into new medicines are passing,” Frye said. “Academic science will have to rise to the challenge.”

Frye is co-inventor of GSK’s Avodart, a drug used to shrink an enlarged prostate gland that is also under study for prevention of prostate cancer and his department discovered a drug candidate that became Tykerb, a breast-cancer drug approved by the FDA in March.

The center is a joint initiative supported by UNC’s School of Pharmacy, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, School of Medicine, and the department of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. Frye is a research professor in the School of Pharmacy.

The School of Pharmacy had been talking about forming a drug-discovery center for more than three years, said Dean Bob Blouin, PharmD.

“We envisioned an organization very rooted in our academic culture but also working to extend our discoveries out into the world,” Blouin said. “But talking about doing it is totally different from bringing in a person who has done it. Stephen Frye is that person. He is going to create something unique and novel here at UNC.”

Frye said he plans to start with two teams of five scientists each that will examine biological drug targets identified by UNC researchers. The teams will work to develop molecules that interact with those targets, the first step in developing a drug. The center will definitely focus some of its efforts on cancer research because there is such a huge need and significant expertise at UNC in oncology, he said.

Frye said he is very much looking forward to starting work, but he knows it won’t be easy.

“Keep in mind that the only people less successful at drug discovery than Big Pharma are everybody else,” he said.

School of Pharmacy contact: David Etchison, (919) 966-7744 or david_etchison@unc.edu

News Services contact: Clinton Colmenares (919) 843-1991 or clinton_colmenares@unc.edu