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The Front Line
The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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A Major Stride for our SWOG Latin America Initiative

March 11, 2016 - Greetings from Mexico City! I’ve been here with leaders from our statistical center and our partners at CRAB, as well as Dana Sparks, our director of operations and protocols. I came down and across to make two presentations. One, the “Panorama de SWOG,” was delivered at a SWOG clinical trials training course. The other talk focused on furthering our international efforts, and was given to 300 Latin American cancer leaders and investigators.

The two-day meeting here is historic – our first-ever training session under our SWOG Latin America Initiative.

The training course was the dream of John Crowley, our former group statistician, who developed and sought funding for it through our very own The Hope Foundation. This was a classic education session, with SWOG and CRAB staff covering the basics of cancer trials – statistical design, information technology, software systems, and data management. About 170 Latin American investigators and research staff attended.

The other lecture was for, and a subsequent meeting was with, cancer leaders from Mexico, Columbia and Peru. Their presence was the result of weeks of work by Dr. Manuel Valdivieso, who put together the sessions with INCan, Mexico’s National Cancer Institute.

SWOG’s overarching goal here was simple: Support cancer clinical trials. SWOG and other NCI studies in this region benefit Latin American patients. They also benefit us by generating findings that can translate to the large U.S. Latino population.

The SWOG Latin America Initiative offers many levels of collaboration. SWOG statisticians serve as mentors, bringing years of experience running large-scale cancer trials to the table. Our expert clinicians and investigators offer advice on developing protocols. In turn, we get to be students and learn about cancer treatment and research in Latin America, and the challenges and opportunities they face. Much of the effort, and the payoff, is educational.

I’ve learned that Mexico’s cancer burden is increasing. According to INCan estimates, the number of new cancer cases will double to 250,000 annually by 2030, a result of increasingly common factors such as obesity and smoking. At the same time, the country lacks a cancer registry and a cooperative network akin to our National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). As a result, at any given time, only a handful of cancer trials are available to Mexican residents.

We talked extensively about SWOG membership – the benefits and the responsibilities. Here in the rain-soaked capital (I can’t escape Pacific Northwest weather!) we also shared ideas and meals and hopes of running more trials together. I expect that new partners – and members – will come from this trip.

Other possible international collaborations are cropping up. In January, I traveled to Israel at the invitation (and expense) of the Israeli Society for Clinical Oncology and Radiation Therapy – a group akin to ASCO. At their annual meeting, I spoke about SWOG and the NCTN model. We’ve already discussed several potential epidemiologic and therapeutic projects to tackle together.

Both travel experiences remind me that cancer is a universal problem. New treatments and prevention strategies are needed worldwide. I also know we can go farther, and faster, together.

Thanks to The Hope Foundation, which funded the Mexican training workshop and future follow-up visits. Thanks also to Manuel Valdivieso, Mike LeBlanc, John Crowley, Evonne Lackey, Dana Sparks, Veronica Garcia, Nilsa Ramirez, and Chris Cook for taking time away from family and work to share their expertise. They made SWOG history – and are charting a new course for our future.


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