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Sylvester’s Course on Cancer Clinical Trials Goes National, International

When Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center began offering a continuing education course on clinical trials in 2019, organizers never imagined that professors would soon be teaching sessions online to physicians, scientists, clinical research staff, and trainees nationally and worldwide.

Headshot of Dr. Pollack
Alan Pollack, M.D., Ph.D.

But this year, the sessions attracted 325 participants from 15 U.S. states and territories and from six other countries — Colombia, Iran, Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines, and Portugal — according to organizers of the Design and Management of Cancer Clinical Trials Course, part of Sylvester’s NCI-funded K12 Clinical Oncology Research Career Development Program.

The COVID-19 pandemic first pushed the course online in 2020. Then, organizers extended invitations in 2021 to faculty and trainees in the Florida Academic Cancer Center Alliance, which includes Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and UF Health Cancer Center in Gainesville. This year, a reformatted version, providing up to 18 continuing medical education (CME) credits and lasting six weeks, was more widely marketed, especially to minority-serving institutions in the U.S. and even overseas.

Headshot of Vaughn Edelson, senior project manager in Sylvester’s Office of Education and Training
Vaughn Edelson

“There’s nothing we’ve seen that’s advertised broadly like this, offering external participation and CME credits,” said Vaughn Edelson, senior project manager in Sylvester’s Office of Education and Training.

Directing the course was Alan Pollack, M.D., Ph.D., chair and professor of radiation oncology at Sylvester. “The course has grown significantly over the four years it has been offered, reinforcing the need for such content across the institution, the state, the country, and beyond,” Dr. Pollack said.

Participants outside Sylvester appreciated the high-quality lessons and attention to diversity. Renee Reams, Ph.D., of Florida A&M University, called the course “outstanding and very applicable to my work as a basic, translational scientist.” Dr. Reams found the sessions “up to date,” with “extensive content on not only the need to increase efforts to reach out to minority populations who have higher incidence and mortality rates of cancer… [but also the need for] effective training for community outreach members to be culturally competent.

“One approach does not work for all minority groups,” she said.

Conducting Clinical Trials More Effectively

Organizers were encouraged by feedback showing that after the course, researchers feel more empowered to conduct clinical trials effectively — a development that ultimately should improve patient care and patient outcomes.

Headshot of Dr. Jaime Merchan in lab coat
Jaime Merchan, M.D.

“This course, and the workshops offered within the event, have helped junior investigators translate their pre-clinical concepts and observations to the clinic,” said Jaime R. Merchan, M.D., director of Sylvester’s Phase I Clinical Trials Program, Translational and Clinical Oncology Research Program co-leader, professor of medicine, and specialist in genitourinary cancers. Dr. Merchan led the homework portion of the course for Sylvester K12 scholars and students pursuing a Master of Science in Clinical and Translational Investigation (MSCTI) to develop their clinical research protocols.

Presenters saw multiple benefits in serving a wider, external audience.

Headshot of Dr. George in lab
Sophia George, Ph.D.

“The course’s platform allows for further reach to institutions that serve minorities and others that facilitate capacity building, bi-directionality, and true engagement as we increase our own capacity to design, launch, and conduct clinical trials in our communities,” said Sophia George, Ph.D., Sylvester’s associate director for diversity, equity and inclusion. Dr. George is also an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, and a member of the K12 recruitment and diversity committee.

The Sylvester K12 Design and Management of Cancer Clinical Trials Course began in 2019 and was modeled after the Methods in Clinical Cancer Research Workshop, a program offered annually in Vail, Colorado, by the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“The K12 program is a driver of education and training not just for K12 scholars, but for trainees from across the entire educational and cancer research training continuum,” said Dr. Pollack. “The clinical trials course is the linchpin of the K12 curriculum, and over the years it has evolved to meet the needs of our scholars and our community, in the ever-advancing research environment.”

Tags: CME, continuing medical education, Dr. Alan Pollack, Dr. Jaime Merchán, Dr. Sophia George, Phase 1 Clinical Trials Program, Vaughn Edelson