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 has teamed up with health systems statewide to launch the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network (MNCCTN).
And with help from Minnesota Masonic Charities, the U’s first-ever clinical trial through MNCCTN is now open across the state.
Preventing colorectal cancer naturally, the GINGER study
Led by Masonic Cancer Center member Anna Prizment, Ph.D., the study will look at how ginger extract affects the gut microbiomes of people at risk for colorectal cancer. Specifically, she believes that the anti-inflammatory properties of ginger may impact gut bacteria in a way that reduces one’s risk for developing the disease.
A year ago, Prizment completed a clinical trial studying the effect of aspirin on the gut microbiome. Her team found that aspirin decreases the abundance of gut microbes that are more prevalent in colorectal cancer patients compared to those without the disease. However, the serious side effects that aspirin can cause—from stomach bleeding to ulcers—prompted her to look to other anti-inflammatory therapies. Ginger had already been shown by researchers at the Hormel Institute to decrease colorectal cancer risk in mouse studies and seemed like a promising intervention.
For the GINGER study, Prizment’s team is enrolling people who have had a type of polyp called an adenoma removed from their colon. The participants will be given daily doses of ginger extract over the course of six weeks and changes in their gut microbiome will be compared to changes in those who get a placebo. If Prizment’s hunch is correct, ginger extract will reduce the same groups of gut bacteria linked to colorectal cancer that aspirin does, while increasing protective bacteria.
“We hope that this can develop into new strategies for colorectal cancer prevention,” says Prizment. “Because colorectal cancer develops slowly, there ought to be stages during which we can prevent it.”
MNCCTN and Minnesota Masonic Charities, a crucial combination
Without the crucial support of the MNCCTN and Minnesota Masonic Charities, Prizment’s GINGER study would not be possible.
The resources provided by both are giving her study strength in numbers and diversity in participants from across the state, which will lead to more reliable results and greater success. As of February 2019, MNCCTN sites included nearly 20 clinics throughout Minnesota that are part of five major health systems.
What’s more, the MNCCTN is equipped with professionals who are helping researchers like Prizment navigate the complex and often time-consuming process of launching a clinical trial
Marie Rahne, M.B.A., the U’s administrative manager for the MNCCTN, plays a key role in this work. “There are so many pieces that need to come together to open a clinical study—from accounting and sponsorships to contracting and legal work,” says Rahne. “With the vast network of clinics that participate in MNCCTN, this complexity is amplified. But these tiny gears fit together, and relatively seamlessly, considering how many things need to happen.”
When all is said and done, this support will allow Prizment to increase the number of participants she recruits to the GINGER study fivefold—from just 20 to more than 100.
“Before Masonic and MNCCTN support, the GINGER study would not have been possible. The sample size wouldn’t have been large enough,” she says. “With this crucial support, we will now be able to enroll about 100 participants from clinics across the state. The results will be much more meaningful.”
Prizment and her team plan to complete the GINGER study within the next year or two. After that, they hope their results will help them secure an NIH grant for an even larger study that tests ginger extract in people nationwide with colorectal adenoma.
As for MNCCTN trials led by the U, this is just the tip of the iceberg, Rahne says. In addition to the GINGER study, she and her team are preparing to launch two more clinical trials across Minnesota in the near future. They will explore:
- A breast cancer drug for lung cancer: The hormone estrogen is thought to play a role in the growth of lung tumors. This study will look at whether Exemestane, a breast cancer drug that suppresses estrogen, is also an effective treatment for women with lung cancer. A gel for breast cancer prevention: Women with more dense breast tissue are at higher risk for developing breast cancer. This prevention trial, which will be part of a national study led by MD Anderson Cancer Center, will examine whether a topical gel form of the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen can decrease the density of breast tissue.
- With these and more clinical trials coming soon, Minnesotans statewide will continue to gain access to some of the state’s most trusted cancer experts in their own backyard. And, ultimately, this translates into a healthier, more vibrant future for all.
“There’s often the idea that because the U of M is prominent in the metro area, it doesn’t have as much contact with the majority of the state,” Rahne says. “The MNCCTN is a wonderful opportunity for people living across the state to directly benefit from what’s happening at the University.”
Questions about clinical trials near you? Contact our Cancer Information Line nurse at email@example.com or 612-624-2620.
Click here to learn more about the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network.
Click here to watch this TPT Original about the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network.
A passion for stopping cancer, and a second career
Anna Prizment, Masonic Cancer Center member and leader of the MNCCTN’s first clinical trial at the U, has always been interested in cancer.
But when several of her friends were diagnosed with the disease at a young age, she became laser-focused. So much so that she went back to school mid-career for degrees that allow her to conduct clinical research. Now, with a master’s and Ph.D. from the U under her belt, she is poised to make a difference.
“This is my second career. Before this I worked in basic science labs,” Prizment says.
“There are so many people around with cancer, especially colorectal cancer. While we’ve seen a lot of improvements, it’s still far from being where cardiovascular disease is, for example. I wanted to use my skills and see results. When someone beats cancer, I feel like I’ve made a small contribution.”