Highlands Hospital in Connellsville will have the opportunity to be a part of a nationwide program to combat cancer at the Department of Defense’s Clinical Breast Care Project based at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda.

The organization’s Clinical Breast Care Project, according to its website, “utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to breast disease, integrating prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment with advances in risk reduction, tissue banking, research and informatics.”

Nick Jacobs, international director with SunStone Management Resources, whose relatives were the Beeson Brothers, the founders of Uniontown, said women who go to Highlands Hospital for breast cancer treatment will be able to donate their blood to be included in the project.

“It is a big deal because it gives people an opportunity to contribute to something that could find the cure for breast cancer. It is an amazing situation,” said Jacobs. “It is a great opportunity to help to lead to discoveries and cures and have an impact in the cures. There are a few hospitals in the country that are participating and Highlands is one of the them.”

Other organizations included in the Clinical Breast Care Project of the Department of Defense based at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda includes Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Maryland; Walter Reed; and the Chang Soon Shiong Institute for Molecular Medicine at Windber.

This style of research, where samples were collected and studied over a period of time was often conducted in the military.

“If they were in the military we can go back and look at their blood for five years and see if there were any early indicators. We can also see if there are changes due to treatment,” said Jacobs.

The Clinical Breast Care Project is also intertwined with the work of Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and the Cancer MoonShot 2020 program.

At the beginning of this year, this program was started to research and create next generation immunotherapy for cancer.

“Ultimately, the aim of the ‘moonshot’ is to win the war on cancer — to get to a point in the very near future when we are managing cancer the same way we might manage any chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma,” explained the organization’s website. “When we can finally stop the toxic therapies, such as chemotherapy and radiation that decimate the immune system, and instead, rally the full power of the immune system and the body’s natural killer cells to fight off the cancer the way they were designed to do, the patient is not only surviving the diagnosis, but living — even thriving — with cancer.”

Moonshot, which is a collaboration between pharmaceutical companies, the community, academic oncology, the scientific community and the government is headed by the richest physician in the world, Soon-Shiong, who is based in Los Angeles.

Soon-Shiong explained to Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a “60 Minutes” segment that he looks at cancers in a different way. He believes that “cancer is the inability of the cells to die” and that cancers should be treated based on their genetic mutations, not just their location.

The genesis for Cancer Moonshot 2020 lies in mapping the genomes of patients (their DNA and RNA) and finding out what treatment works best for them. Currently, treatment is often decided through a trial and error period.

The QUILT program (QUantitative Integrative Lifelong Trial) will work at assigning 20,000 patients, covering 20 different types of cancer, to next generation immunotherapy care.

The ultimate goal is to develop a vaccine that is tailored to the patient that will be available by 2020.

But, until that day comes, research and samples, from places like Highlands Hospital, will assist in the Clinical Breast Care Project in achieving their goal.

Jacobs believes that the program will be well supported by the breast cancer patients at Highlands Hospital.

“More importantly the percentage of women who participated when asked at Windber (Hospital) — it is a small town — we had a 97 percent participation rate,” he said. “Women really care about helping their sisters and their daughters and their future.”

Vicki Meier, director of development at Highlands Hospital says the hospital is also looking forward to the participation in the program.

“Highlands Hospital has been deeply involved in women’s issues on several fronts and this clinical research affiliation with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Clinical Breast Care Project will put us in the center of a meaningful program that will help scientists discover early detection opportunities, treatments and eventually cures for breast disease,” she said. “We are extremely excited to be one of only a few hospitals chosen to participate in this research, and with a 97 percent participation rate nationally, we are confident that women in our community will participate enthusiastically as we all contribute to ‘paying it forward’ to our loved ones.”

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