Windber Research - "Diamonds in your own Backyard"

One of my work assignments was altered this year, and I was reassigned to what had been my original dream, the Windber Research Institute, which is now the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute in Windber. If that’s too much of a mouthful for you, just call it CSSI Windber. (Kind of like CSI New Orleans with an extra S.)

This week I had an opportunity to catch up on what has been happening there over the previous ten years, and, even though none of it is because of me, the buttons on my shirt were, for the first time not due to excessive caloric intake, bursting.

Dr. Craig Shriver who co-founded WRI with me in 1999, gave a summary overview of the progress and growth that has occurred on this the 20th anniversary of the opening of WRI, and I couldn’t write fast enough or listen hard enough to consume it all.

Let me just give you a brief peek under the tent of this magnificent center of science that is located in Windber, Pennsylvania.

The Murtha Cancer Center which is the official cancer program at Walter Reed National Military Medicine is one participant in CSSI Windber. As part of the Murtha Center in Bethesda, the Clinical Breast Care Project still utilizes the scientists and the bio-repository at Windber for their research in breast cancer cures and prevention for the Department of Defense, but that is only the tip of the proverbial scientific iceberg.

The Murtha Cancer Center Research Program under the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and Walter Reed Surgery are also “customers” of CSSI Windber. And they have some good company with places participating like Palo Alto, San Antonio, San Diego. Within the next few years up to 60 or so military hospitals and medical centers are looking to be added. Under what is referred to as the Multi-Federal Cancer Institute, CSSI-Windber provides research tissue, services, and science to places like the NIH, NCI, the VA, and Uniformed Services University.

Not only is there research and tissue preservation for the breast cancer prevention program, there is also now an entire storage center for prostate cancer and gynecological cancers under the Murtha Center at Walter Reed, which is the single Department of Defense Cancer Center.

Not unlike the direction we were given in 1999, the mission of this research is directed toward prevention, wellness, and early cures that allow military personnel to return to active duty as soon as possible. To put this in prospective, only 13% of those soldiers suffering from ulcerative colitis return to active duty, but 40% of those who have dealt with cancer are able to resume their careers.

The military has a plan that embraces 64 requirements that need to be met to address the risk factors associated with cancer to protect our fighting men and women, and the work being done in Windber addresses these risks scientifically in multiple ways. Dr. Shriver indicated that CSSI Windber is one of the foremost bio-repositories in the United States which is a fancy term for a place where 100’s of thousands of donated tissue are collected, categorized, and stored in liquid nitrogen so they can be studied by scientists all over the world.

Not only is CSSI Windber involved with the aforementioned programs, they now are participants in programs such as Federal Precision Oncology Initiative, the Apollo (Applied Proteogenomics Organizational Learning and Outcomes) program, and the Orien (Oncology Research Information Exchange Network) Alliance with organizations like Rutgers, Roswell Park, City of Hope, Ohio State, Moffitt Cancer Center, University of Colorado, and University of Virginia, to name a few.

Dr. Craig Shriver, Tom Kurtz, Windber CEO, Chief Scientific Officer, Hai Hu, and Dr. Stella Somiari are just a few of the dozens of scientists, administrators, physicians, and researchers who have grown the reputation, strength, and celebrity of CSSI Windber in our own backyard.