Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey and RUCDR Infinite Biologics funded for key scientific and educational roles
A $10 million anonymous pledge to the Rutgers University Foundation will help advance the treatment of patients with rare and virulent cancers that don’t respond to standard therapies.
The gift will strengthen the university’s research and clinical practice of identifying genetic abnormalities that make tumors cancerous and using those details to fine-tune treatment. This rapidly growing approach to research and care is known as precision medicine.
The gift includes support for advanced genomic analyses of cancers within the Clinical Genomics Laboratories of RUCDR Infinite Biologics, a unit of the Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey. The donation, to be given over two years, will increase the number of patients that Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey can serve in clinical trials of targeted therapies. It will enhance their care by quickly and more precisely identifying the genetic mutations that cause or accelerate the growth of their cancers.
“We will be able to analyze patients’ tumors – their individual tumors – in a way we never could before,” said Robert DiPaola, director of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. “We will do that by bringing together expertise across many disciplines at Rutgers, from physicians who take care of patients to laboratories that do research on genetic abnormalities.”
Working with the Cancer Institute’s physicians and researchers, RUCDR Infinite Biologics will use state-of-the-art genetic and genomic technologies to develop tests for the diagnosis and management of several types of cancer.
“Cancer is a disease where you can’t wait a long time between diagnosis and treatment,” said Jay Tischfield, CEO and scientific director of RUCDR Infinite Biologics and the Duncan and Nancy MacMillan Distinguished Professor of Genetics at Rutgers. “We will provide very rapid turnaround – typically 72 to 96 hours – to our Cancer Institute colleagues, who will examine the data to determine their clinical response. Our capability is unique, and there is nothing comparable to it at any university.”
The gift also supports teaching within the university’s Department of Genetics. It includes a $1 million endowment for cancer biology curriculum development to support undergraduate education in cancer genetics, preparing students to pursue research and clinical careers in precision medicine. It also will fund two new faculty positions, one of which will be an endowed chair in genetics. The gift provides $1.5 million in funding for the chair, with a matching $1.5 million coming from an earlier $27 million challenge grant to establish 18 new endowed chairs at the university.
“On a personal level, I think everyone has been touched by cancer – if not themselves, then a close family member or friend,” said Linda Brzustowicz, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics. “The educational component of this gift is going to be a tremendous asset, to bring people together to work on these projects and develop a new breed of cancer researchers and oncologists.”
“The Department of Genetics has an especially deeply engrained commitment to teaching,” Brzustowicz said. The funds will permit expansion of student opportunities, including the summer research program that allows undergrads to work alongside Rutgers scientists. The funding also will support laboratories and facilties dedicated to teaching, such as computer work stations and advanced software needed for DNA sequence analysis.
The opportunity to combine clinical research and treatment with academic research and education has been strengthened by the integration of Rutgers University with schools, centers and institutes that were part of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. RUCDR Infinite Biologics – the world’s largest university-based biorepository – is providing services that extend beyond third-party laboratories or the limited internal facilities that many university medical centers use for similar clinical trials. Those often provide a fixed panel of tests with little flexibility to incorporate new genetic discoveries.
“As new genetic markers evolve, we can put them in our panels very quickly,” Tischfield said. “We can tailor our panels to the kinds of cancers seen by the physicans at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey.”
Shridar Ganesan, medical oncologist, associate director of translational science and principal investigator of the precision medicine clinical trial at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, says the gift will allow him and his colleagues to put theoretical principles into practice.
“I’m personally excited to see what this will do for patients,” he said. “This should allow not only more clinical trials, but better, more effective and more efficient trials. The capabilities we develop will eventually be integrated into the routine care of our patients.”
This gift is part of the largest fundraising year in Rutgers’ history and supports Our Rutgers, Our Future, a $1 billion campaign publicly launched in 2010 to broaden and enhance the myriad ways the university serves students, the state, and the world.
In conjunction with its work with the Cancer Institute, RUCDR Infinite Biologics recently earned its initial certification from the federal Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments program. CLIA, as it’s commonly known in health care, is run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CMS mandates that all tests for the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of disease in human subjects be carried out in a CLIA-certified laboratory. Certification is granted only after an operation undergoes a rigorous review, including on-site inspections. The State of New Jersey also recently awarded the new lab at Rutgers a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Services license.
Clinical testing for the Cancer Institute of New Jersey will be carried out under the direction of staff who are board-certified in clinical molecular genetics, clinical cytogenetics and medical genetics. The laboratory data will be reviewed by and correlated with the clinical data by Cancer Institute oncologists.
September 8, 2014
Photos by Nick Romanenko, Rutgers.