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GAP Summit Deemed a Success by Attendees and Faculty

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Appearing more like a United Nations expert group meeting than a typical stateside academic research gathering, the 2010 Global Academic Program Summit brought together representatives from 12 countries and 16 of GAP's 22 sister institutions (SIs).

The two-day event in mid-December was the first of its kind hosted by MD Anderson's Global Academic Programs. The summit was organized to launch the Sister Institution Network Fund (SINF) and the Collexis Research Profiles tool, both intended to accelerate and enable collaborative research between faculty at MD Anderson and the SIs.

SINF is a newly created seed fund that will provide $100,000 to faculty at MD Anderson who collaboratively engage with researchers at one or more of GAP's sister institutions. This is the first time MD Anderson is dedicating resources to spark work specifically with collaborating SIs. Sister Institutions would ideally match MD Anderson's investment by providing similar funding to their researchers. The most important consideration is that the resources to engage in the proposed work are present at all participating institutions.

Since MD Anderson and SI faculty may not yet be aware of all research partners with whom they could pursue projects and SINF funding, GAP has also deployed the Collexis Research Profiles tool. This database allows investigators to identify experts by research concepts and to see networks of collaborating scientists. In the near future, the tool will include information pertaining to researchers at the SIs.

Together, the two resources are the newest programs from the Center for Global Oncology and underline the dedication of MD Anderson to energize our network of collaborating institutions to reach beyond meetings, symposiums and conferences, which have been the historic bedrock of SI relationships.
 
SIs with lengthy affiliations attended the summit, as well as representatives from GAP's newest sister institutions -- Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Neoplasicas (INEN) of Lima, Peru, and King Hussein Cancer Center of Amman, Jordan -- and possible future sister institution, Barretos Cancer Hospital of Barretos, Brazil.

To Mahmoud Sarhan, M.D., CEO and general director of the King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC), the summit was an important opportunity to meet with members of MD Anderson and the sister institutions while gaining a better understanding of the changing emphasis of GAP toward one of active research collaboration.

"We (KHCC) have a wonderful cancer treatment program, but there are two areas we hope to improve by working with MD Anderson: our integrative medicine and personalized cancer care."  Sarhan adds, "We will definitely be applying to the Sister Institution Network Fund and already have the matching funds to begin research."

Carlos Vallejos, M.D., director of Peru's INEN, also expressed his enthusiasm for participating in the SI network and promised to bring his center's strength in clinical trials to the group. Vallejos went on to convey his desire to collaborate on research involving understudied U.S. cancers that are also important public health problems in Peru.

Many at the summit echoed similar objectives, although most recognized the infancy of the program and the inevitable unforeseen kinks to work through over the next year as the SINF assesses and supports its first research programs.

"We are planning on funding at least 10 research projects in the first year," explains Oliver Bogler, Ph.D., vice president for Global Academic Programs. "But if we receive additional high quality applications, we will try to fund more."

Each sister institution presented a 10-minute overview of their cancer research efforts, emphasizing opportunities for collaboration. These research briefs allowed newer SIs to gain a better understanding of the objectives and focus of their fellow sister institutions, as well as inform MD Anderson faculty of SI pursuits.

Perhaps the most productive portion of the summit occurred in the closing hour when John Mendelsohn, M.D., president of MD Anderson, and Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., provost and executive vice president, joined Bogler and the summit participants for wrap-up discussions focused on the big picture.

Productive suggestions included: development of cross-institutional workshops focused on specific disease sites; additional leadership provided by MD Anderson to enable communication and dissemination of information between developing research groups; and dedication to working toward cooperative design of clinical research studies.

Bogler is pleased with the results of the summit. "I think we were able to reach an agreement on how to move ahead together, and that our faculty and the faculty at our sister institutions are excited about the new fund and conducting collaborative research."

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