Scholar Info

Mark Kelley

Betty and Earl Herr Professor in Pediatric Oncolog

Betty and Earl Herr Professor in Pediatric Oncology Research and Professor, Departments of Pediatrics, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Pharmacology & Toxicology Associate Director, HB Wells Center for Pediatric Research Associate Director of Basic Science Research, Indiana University Simon Cancer Center Director, Program in Molecular Pediatric Oncology Chair, Preclinical Project Development Team, iCTSI


ITRAC; IU Simon Cancer Center Translation Research Acceleration Collab

Researchers and doctors long have faced the specter of "chemo brain," which affects about half of all cancer patients. Its symptoms can include partial loss of memory or cognitive function and tingling in the hands and feet. It is serious enough to force some patients to discontinue otherwise successful treatment. "We don't know the underlying mechanics in that," said Mark Kelley, associate director for basic science research at Indiana University's Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. "How are you going to treat it if you don't know?" Kelley and a team of pharmacologists, psychologists and physicians have been striving to unlock the secrets of "chemo brain," as well as possible cures for the disease itself. But they realized their efforts often were disconnected from related research at IU and other institutions. So, in 2007, administrators and researchers at the center looked to the business world and the local life-sciences sector for a model to help organize research efforts and increase efficiency at translating successful lab work into profitable businesses. The result is the IU Translational Research Acceleration Collaboration. The IU Simon Cancer Center, through the ITRAC process, is providing rapid response funding and expertise to enable the acceleration of early discoveries to improve patient care, solve perplexing treatment problems, and lead the way to future therapies. Academic environments that foster interaction between laboratory and clinical researchers provide the greatest opportunities to translate basic science discoveries into clinically relevant research. It was the difficulty of moving through this process that has been scrutinized at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center (IUSCC), and as a result, ITRAC was created for optimizing/creating an environment that enables the conduct of clinical and translational science research. Essentially, ITRAC resources help researchers map out their projects (experimental design/protocol), and provide coordination of expertise to scientists who have made significant discoveries in their labs but aren't sure what steps and resources are necessary to turn those discoveries into products that will improve patient care. Using ITRAC resources decreases the amount of time the scientists have to spend running around trying to find out how to accomplish the next step in their projects and/or coordinate certain expertise necessary to advance their effort. This initiative also helps investigators forge new collaborations, share costly resources such as reagents, and develop interactions internally and externally. Since its inception (2007), they have handed out approximately $1.5 million in pilot funding. "ITRAC is a business approach. It's an approach that Lilly, Pfizer and Roche use every day for project management," said David Johnson, chief executive at BioCrossroads and an ITRAC advisory board member. "That's a very different approach to research from the norm." The program aims to break down what Kelley calls "silo-based research." IU administrators approached BioCrossroads for help in setting up the program and hired Mary Murray, who had been working as a project manager at Eli Lilly and Co., as its translational coordinator. In 2008, they added another coordinator, Crystal Banks, who also came from Eli Lilly and Company. By applying the Six Sigma total quality management approach to the center's projects, Murray and her team help scientists organize research -- and stay focused on their work. ITRAC has now mapped more than 200 projects, and the maps used to organize research design have been developed to get funding, both through internal pilot mechanisms as well as funding at a national level. In fact, the IUSCC has a $6.50 return on investment since the inception of ITRAC, which does not include IP such as patents, licensing or new startups. "We also get a broad sense of many projects including the infrastructure needs. Not only is using ITRAC helping the scientific teams meet their goals, but we are also able to influence the necessary infrastructure needed to enable translational research at IUSCC.” Mark Kelley said as Associate Director of Basic Science Research, Indiana University Simon Cancer Center. “Scientists really need to be at the bench doing the science and not worrying about the process," Murray said. By bringing together researchers who otherwise might not have worked together, ITRAC also tries to offer new perspectives on research and identify potential bottlenecks. For instance, Kelley said multiple researchers needed to hire more resources to do human xenograft models for many different types of cancers. "So let's get it built. Let's get it ready, so the investigators don't miss a beat," he said, "rather than hitting a brick wall (and) all of a sudden the project grinds to a halt." One beneficiary of the program is Brittney-Shea Herbert. She studies telomerase, an enzyme that prevents chromosomes from aging. Through ITRAC, she works with clinicians, a pathologist and other investigators to better understand how certain drugs work to fight cancer. "(ITRAC) helps us find collaborators around campus to help us," she said. "It's like standing on the pedestal and looking down and seeing the whole congregation." The emphasis on organization also helped Herbert and her clinical collaborator, Kathy Miller, with a Phase I, investigator-initiated study entitled, “Inhibiting Telomerase to Reverse Trastuzumab Resistance in HER2+ Breast Cancer”. Kelley said the ITRAC program was instrumental in building the process for the Product Development Teams of the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute (ICSTI, which was established to encompass a statewide initiative with other state academic institutions, such as Purdue and Notre Dame Universities as well as many private businesses, such as Eli Lilly and Co, Cook Group, Inc, and Biocrossroads. "Through ITRAC and ICTSI, we're uniting the cancer researchers in Indiana, so the money's being used the most efficient way to treat and cure cancer," he said.