Women get new access to research

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An affiliation between the division of gynecologic oncology in the West Penn Allegheny Health System and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation will give WPAHS's female cancer patients the opportunity to participate in some of the national clinical trials sponsored by the Gynecologic Oncology Group.

"The GOG is a national cooperative group that is specifically dedicated to gynecological cancers and specializing in clinical research, specifically phase 1, 2 and 3 trials," said Dr. John Comerci, director of West Penn Allegheny's division of gynecologic oncology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Some 50 clinics, including Cleveland, are designated as parent institutions in the GOG, which means they are able to institute phase 1 trials, the first level of testing new drugs and treatments for effectiveness and safety in humans, as well as phase 2 and 3 trials, which test in larger groups, Dr. Comerci said. Supported by the National Cancer Institute, the GOG also includes dozens of affiliates like WPAHS, also eligible to participate in larger trials.

"The other advantage [to being an affiliate] is that it's a first steppingstone to being a parent institution," Dr. Comerci said.

"We wanted our patients to have the same access [to national trials] as the patients seen at UPMC [a GOG parent]. Now they do, which wasn't the case before."

To become an affiliate, he said, "we had to apply through Cleveland Clinic. I have a relationship with Peter Rose, who is director of gynecology/oncology at Cleveland Clinic."

He said their research coordinator, Michaelene Bianchi, also has a long history with GOG: "They knew me, and they knew her, and they were comfortable with that affiliation."

The first trials at West Penn Allegheny, both phase 3, will target ovarian cancer and are expected to begin this fall.

One of them involves testing of a drug called Avastin, an antiangiogenic agent, which means it blocks the growth of new blood vessels that otherwise would help the cancers grow.

The other trial will compare intravenous chemotherapy to intraperitoneal therapy, in which the chemotherapy is delivered by a catheter into the abdominal cavity. Each patient is randomized to three different types of chemotherapy followed by a course of Avastin.

Besides Pittsburgh, the West Penn Allegheny Health System Division of Gynecologic Oncology serves patients at offices in Sharon, Johnstown, Upper St. Clair, Canonsburg and Monroeville.

For more information, call 412-578-5534.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Oct. 30, 2009) Michaelene Bianchi is a research coordinator in the division of gynecologic oncology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the West Penn Allegheny Health System. Her title was misstated in this article as originally pubished Oct. 28, 2009.

Pohla Smith can be reached at psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.


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