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Alistar a compassionate innovator in GI cancer research

Angela Alistar, MD, has long considered both the emotional and physical well-being of patients as mutually paramount. A medical oncologist with Atlantic Hematology Oncology, Atlantic Medical Group, and the medical director of GI Medical Oncology at Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Medical Center, Dr. Alistar held this conviction even before she pursued a career in medicine.

“Throughout my training and my career I have gravitated towards trying to understand the impact that illness has on patients and their families,” Dr. Alistar said. “Oncology seemed the appropriate fit for me because patients with cancer have high emotional needs and require tremendous support from their families and from their doctors,” she reflects. “This is why oncology is my path in medicine.”

For Dr. Alistar, compassion walks hand-in-hand with scientific passion. Before assuming her current role, she developed a research portfolio for GI cancers at Wake Forest School of Medicine, including investigator-initiated studies and Phase I studies in pancreatic cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, and colon cancer.

At Morristown Medical Center, she now serves as medical director of GI oncology.

“My current role is to develop a center of excellence in GI cancers, provide opportunities for easy access to clinical trials with novel investigational agents and offer to this community the same resources or exposure that they would have in a comprehensive cancer center,” Dr. Alistar said. “What attracted me to Morristown was the unique community setting with a very organic relationships with pharmaceutical companies that foster easy collaborations. The opportunity to create and develop a new program is very exciting as well.”

Dr. Alistar demonstrates a deep understanding of and appreciation for community and academic collaboration. Working with HCRN was a natural fit. “I started working with HCRN about three years ago on a study [HCRN GI14-191],” she said. “The experience led me to appreciate what HCRN has to offer, from a team standpoint. I like HCRN’s approach, which is mostly investigator-initiated, and the fact that investigators have a lot of say in the development and design of those studies.

“The environment is very supportive and collaborative. We all are passionate investigators. However, I feel that HCRN members are rather interested in the team approach. It is a unique setting where collaboration and the fostering of community efforts is more important rather than individual efforts.”

In 2016, HCRN honored Dr. Alistar with the Danny Danielson Translational Innovation Award. Donald C. “Danny” Danielson established the award, granted by the Walther Cancer Foundation, in 2013. The award is given twice each year to investigators working in partnership with Hoosier Cancer Research Network to support the correlative components of clinical trial protocols when financial support is not otherwise available. The correlatives under investigation must have a future clinical application, such as the development of new treatment strategies or identification of patient subsets for specific treatment therapies, or to provide hypotheses for future clinical trials.

“I’m always grateful for any support that comes from the community,” Dr. Alistar said. “I think we cannot accomplish anything without our patients. Their involvement in any capacity is vital to cancer research; involvement can be enrollment in clinical trials, funding support, enthusiasm about clinical research and what oncology has to offer; it is very meaningful to my work and grateful for it.”

The monetary award will directly impact Dr. Alistar’s research. “The funding is adding to the level of the budget that I am planning to invest in the clinical studies that I am opening,” Dr. Alistar said. “I am planning to investigate the role of predictive biomarkers for the two early phase studies in pancreatic cancer investigating chemotherapy in combination with a novel agent CPI 613. Another area of interest is immunotherapy biomarkers. I think that immunotherapy is fascinating and has made a tremendous impact in cancer care and for eligible patients holds great promise. However, not every patient responds to the treatment and we also do not know enough about sequence with chemotherapy or other treatments. So I am planning to position this award towards a translational investigation in pancreatic cancer in particular and immunotherapy.”

Dr. Alistar sees a bright outlook for research. “I think in the next five to ten years we’re going to start moving away from chemotherapy and towards another treatment,” she said. “Immunotherapy is the most exciting new wave of treatment followed immediately by treatments that target cancer metabolism. I believe that the landscape of cancer treatments will change dramatically in the next five to ten years, and I’m happy contribute my energy and passion.”

About Hoosier Cancer Research Network:

Hoosier Cancer Research Network (formerly known as Hoosier Oncology Group) conducts innovative cancer research in partnership with academic and community physicians and scientists across the United States and internationally. The organization provides comprehensive clinical trial management and support, from conception through publication. Created in 1984 as a program of the Walther Cancer Institute, Hoosier Cancer Research Network became an independent nonprofit clinical research organization in 2007. Since its founding, Hoosier Cancer Research Network has initiated more than 160 trials in a variety of cancer types and supportive care, resulting in more than 350 publications. More than 5,000 subjects have participated in Hoosier Cancer Research Network clinical trials.