FOX 34 Your Health: Cancer Center behind the scenes

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Updated: 4/27/2012 4:57 pm
When it comes to finding a cure for cancer, it is unlikely a super hero will swoop in to save the day, but one team of super scientists just might.

FOX 34 checked in with the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center School of Medicine's Cancer Center. Its leaders are nationally recognized for their work but the community rarely gets a behind the scenes look like this.

Dr. Patrick Reynolds and his team of University of Southern California researchers first landed in Lubbock in 2008 thanks to state funds made possible by Proposition 15.

"Roughly 25 percent of all the people in the United States are going to encounter cancer personally, and virtually everyone encounters it within the sphere of their family," said Reynolds when asked why the community should care about his research.

He and his partners have extensive backgrounds in pediatric oncology, but they have discovered that working to develop new therapies for the treatment of cancer in children and adults proves to be more marketable.

"And we do that all the way from the process of laboratory development, all the way through to clinical trials. And in pediatric oncology, we actually develop on through late phase clinical trials with our national consortia," he said.

The center houses the national repository for pediatric cancer cell lines which Dr. Reynolds oversees.

"You can store lots of cells in there. They're all coded so we can keep them for years and years and still be able to use them," explained fellow pediatric oncologist, Dr. Barry Maurer.

To discover which drug combinations work best to treat cancer, the scientists also grow cancer cells to test on.

"When we get a piece of tumor from a patient, we chop up that tumor and get single cancer cells, and put them in petri dishes to grow in incubators," Maurer said.

The incubators provide a low oxygen environment for the cells, closer to what it would be like inside of the human body.

"We can also grow these cells in special mice that don't have immune systems to kill the cancer cells," he said.

When it comes to clinical trials, all of this research would be null without one of the top pharmacologists in the country, Dr. Min H. Kang.

"So what we basically do is we get a lot of clinical trial samples. So meaning that some cancer patients are enrolled in some clinical trials, so we receive those blood samples, an we're trying to analyze the drug concentrations in those patient samples. And then once we get that information, that kinetic information is incorporated into the clinical trial outcome," she explained.

In addition to the more localized research, Kang's lab receives samples from all over the nation.

"As a pharmacology laboratory for retinoids, we receive all of the phase three clinical trial samples from North America who are enrolled in phase three clinical trials of neuroblastoma," she said.

For an institute that houses equipment as impressive as that of which is only found in the biggest pharmaceutical companies, all of this research doesn't come cheap.

"In a time when federal resources for cancer research is going down, it is visionary for the State of Texas to invest in Texas institutions and Texas scientists, physicians, and community hospitals to get this kind of work done," Dr. Maurer said.

The doctors also credit the C.U.R.E. Cancer Foundation and Texas Tech University for support but hope that more charitable causes will assist in the future.
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