More than half of all Minnesotans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, and one out of four will die from it. Yet many clinics around the state lack the resources to conduct clinical trials on potentially lifesaving therapies. This creates barriers to participation for at-risk individuals.
To break down these barriers, the Masonic Cancer Center teamed up with health systems statewide to launch the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network (MNCCTN). The network has made major strides in bringing clinical trials to people in all corners of Minnesota, thanks in part to support from Minnesota Masonic Charities.
Expanding clinical trials across the state
Today, just two-and-a-half years after its launch, the MNCCTN is making an impact across Minnesota. So far, clinical trials led or facilitated by the MNCCTN have focused on everything from breast and prostate cancers to colorectal, gastrointestinal, and blood cancers.
Of the network’s 17 clinical trial sites throughout the state, ALL are either in or near cities where Masonic lodges are located.
Masonic support fuels colorectal cancer prevention trial
Marie Rahne, M.B.A., the U’s administrative manager for the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network, says that Masonic support has played a pivotal role in the success so far of a clinical trial focused on colorectal cancer prevention.
Led by Anna Prizment, Ph.D., part of the U’s medicine faculty, the GINGER study is looking at how ginger extract affects the gut microbiomes of people at risk for colorectal cancer. Specifically, Prizment believes that the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger may impact gut bacteria in a way that reduces one’s risk for developing the disease.
Today, GINGER is nearing the finish line. The study closed for enrollment at the end of March 2020 with a total of 69 participants who have had a type of polyp called an adenoma removed from their colon. After giving daily doses of ginger extract to a portion of the participants, Prizment’s team will compare changes in their gut microbiomes to changes in the microbiomes of those who get a placebo. If Prizment’s hunch is correct, ginger extract will reduce key groups of gut bacteria linked to colorectal cancer, while increasing protective bacteria.
“Before Masonic and MNCCTN support, the GINGER study would not have been possible. The sample size wouldn’t have been large enough,” Prizment says. “With this crucial support, we’ve been able to enroll a significant number of participants. The results will be much more meaningful.”
Building a lasting model
Rahne says that one of the MNCCTN’s biggest milestones so far has been leading the GINGER study from start to finish.
In the process, her team has built a model for what works well and what can be replicated in many clinical trials to come. When it becomes safe to do so, they are especially eager to apply much of what they’ve learned to a future trial that will focus on the role of a breast cancer drug called exemestane in treating women with lung cancer. The trial, which was poised to launch in spring 2020 and to be led by Masonic pilot grant recipient Manish Patel, D.O., was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Taking the GINGER trial from start to finish is a huge accomplishment,” Rahne says. “It has helped us to work through challenges in leading trials with five different health care organizations, and to build the infrastructure we need to do this again and again.”
Completing the process feels great, Rahne reflects, and will ultimately pay dividends toward the goal that matters most—bringing the lifesaving research of the U and other key institutions to communities across the state.
“Sometimes with the University, things just happen in our small research community or within the metro areas. We’re really proud of that work, but I think a lot of people get left behind,” says Rahne. “The MNCCTN provides a wonderful opportunity to people living across the state to directly benefit from what’s happening.”