Supportive Oncology

Walther Supportive Oncology Program
Indiana University School of Medicine

Supportive oncology encompasses the spectrum of care that a patient with cancer and their loved ones may need over and above their oncological care. Supportive oncology includes “palliative care,” a discipline that provides additional layers of care for seriously ill individuals. Supportive oncology aims to provide individualized care for cancer patients through all phases of their illness, from diagnosis to treatments aimed at easing symptoms — and into survivorship. This distinction is important. Patients and families often perceive palliative care negatively as a last step before hospice. Supportive Oncology focuses on the breadth of challenges faced by patients and families with cancer in order to help them meet their goals.

Read More

A supportive oncology team may include specialists in nutrition, psychology, chaplaincy, physical therapy and rehabilitative care, as well as pain management and others. Also valuable are specialists who address common symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and neuropathy. It is
delivered parallel to traditional cancer therapies but in collaboration with the patient’s oncologist. The supportive oncology team may include physicians, nurses, psychologists and/or chaplains experienced in hospice and end-of-life care.

In 2018, the Walther Cancer Foundation funded a large comprehensive supportive oncology program at the Indiana University School of Medicine. This commitment established the Walther Supportive Oncology Program with five endowed chairs that will serve to recruit academic leaders who will grow a robust supportive oncology program in Indiana.

Click to enlarge

American Society of Clinical Oncology
Conquer Cancer – The ASCO Foundation

The Walther Cancer Foundation started a relationship in 2016 with the American Society of Clinical Oncology to help further promote the area of supportive oncology. In 2017 we partnered with ASCO to create the Walther Cancer Foundation Supportive Oncology Award. This endowed award and lecture recognizes a leader in palliative and supportive care in oncology. The annual award recipient presents their research at the ASCO Annual Meeting. To further the career of a young investigator the Foundation also established funding to support the Walther Cancer Foundation Career DevelopmentAward in Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology to clinical investigators early in their research career. This 3-year patient-oriented focus mentored award will help to advance their clinical cancer research program.


Bioinformatics – A Purdue University and Indiana University Collaboration

In modern biological science technology allows generation of immense amounts of data in short periods of time. The only way to analyze and interpret such data is through bioinformatics. As applied to cancer this might involve something like the following. A cancer center has a laboratory with a focus on breast cancer. Over time it has collected many samples of breast cancer tissue from unfortunate patients who have been diagnosed with this disease.  In order to better understand the biology that has gone wrong and caused the cancer, one can now measure the activity of every gene in the sample of tissue. In fact, this can be done for individual cells in a sample of tissue. Armed with this huge amount of data, bioinformatics is the tool that takes that information and condenses it to say for example that in this individual patient, genes a, d and f are acting differently than they do in healthy tissue. In a different patient maybe, the abnormal pattern involves genes m, o and z—and so on.
Read More

From this type of data, one may then be able to conclude that the diagnosis “breast cancer” is really an umbrella under which there are different types of breast cancer. Further bioinformatics analysis might reveal that one type is very aggressive whereas another is less so. Diving deeper into the data ideally then allows one to offer patients a more specific diagnosis as to the type of breast cancer she has. Even more exciting is that bioinformatics analysis of these same data can be used to delineate abnormal biological pathways that are amenable to drugs targeted toward them. The end result is one patient with aggressive disease needs equally aggressive treatment with a cocktail of drugs that have been developed to affect the specific pathways that have gone awry. Another patient with non-aggressive disease may be served better with a totally different approach and/or a different set of drugs. This potential for bioinformatics in cancer research is not just theoretical. Today if a person is diagnosed with Melanoma, genetic analysis of the individual’s cancer is performed and if a specific genetic abnormality is found, a specific drug treatment ensues. The same is true for lung cancer and will be increasingly the case in all cancers.

Because of the importance of bioinformatics in cancer research and because the Walther Cancer Foundation strives to enable cancer centers in Indiana to be at the cutting edge, we have worked with the cancer centers at IU and Purdue to create a joint bioinformatics program. The goal is that through the Foundation’s support, these cancer programs will be able to provide cutting edge care to patients and be able to define the care of the future.