Five hours, 11 groups, $100,000 cancer research grant at stake at UC

CINCINNATI – Where do cancer breakthroughs come from?

The University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute is banking on a five-hour burst of inter-departmental creativity spurred on by a $100,000 prize.

The first-of-its-kind research retreat from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday will match UC doctors and medical researchers with UC engineers, physicists, pharmacists and possibly artists and designers to create – on the spot – new research to prevent, detect or treat cancer.

Eighty-eight UC professionals have signed on to be randomly divided into eight groups who will brainstorm on new research. The 88 will reconvene at lunch to choose the winning group, which will be awarded $100,000.

William Barrett, director of the UC Cancer Institute , said the prize is a gift from a late cancer patient who wanted to fund an innovative process. The donor wanted to remain anonymous.

"The whole idea here is to develop collaboration across the university," Barrett said during an interview with WCPO. "It will be an interesting dynamic in each room to see which ideas people will embrace."

Barrett said the idea was a novel one. He is not aware of another contest like it on university campuses.

Susan Waltz , a professor in UC's department of cancer biology, looks forward to exchanging ideas with a wider array of faculty than daily work usually provides.

"I'm really excited about this," she said. "There are a lot of great minds at the university, and I think it will stimulate collaboration between individuals around UC with the same interests at heart."

Waltz studies two types of proteins that direct how breast cancer cells grow, are inhibited or die. She said she looks forward to hearing about other people's ideas than pressing her own on Saturday.

"The outcomes will depend on the dynamics within the groups," she said. (They could have) clinical outcomes, new devices, the possibilities are potentially limitless."

Barrett said that's part of the idea.

"It has to be something new, never previously funded, and it can be relative to cancer detection, prevention or treatment," he said.

The winning idea could be a new drug, an architectural design more conducive to healing or anything else the groups conceive. 

Once a winner is chosen, the group will have 30 days to formalize their proposal, which will have to be approved by the dean. All eight creators need to participate in the research, but they can add anyone they want to help, Barrett said. They'll have a year to develop their project.

The goal is bigger than funding the winning idea. Barrett anticipates the runners up creating ideas worth pursuing, possibly with other grants. And the relationships among UC's diverse disciplines will be nurtured beyond the retreat, he hopes.

Beyond intra-campus collaboration, Barrett hopes the retreat is the start of something bigger, possibly involving other medical groups and professionals across the Tri-State.

"I'd like to see Cincinnati become a place where people travel for cancer treatment," he said. "There is no telling where it will go. We'll certainly learn a lot from this day.

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