The Iris Network hospitals have a rich history of innovation and advances in support of cancer patients. Belgium’s only integrated cancer centre, the Jules Bordet Institute, has been a pioneer since its inception. With its relocation to the ULB campus at Anderlecht being imminent, and in the midst of so many new technological discoveries, all cancer care within the Iris network is about to undergo a revolution.
Since the early 1950s, and under the impetus of Professor Albert Claude and Professor Henri Tagnon (who spent ten years at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York), the Jules Bordet Institute has been innovative in adopting a multidisciplinary approach to cancer patients, but also in insisting on the need to integrate research, teaching and treatment. Since then, the Institute has worked tirelessly towards the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic methods and new prevention techniques, with Iris Network patients being quick to benefit from innovations such as stem cell transplants and the use of Herceptin for the treatment of breast cancer.
The Brugmann University Hospital too has played its part: a few decades ago, Professor Naets’ discovery of erythropoietin revolutionised haematology and haemato-oncology. The haemato-oncology clinic at CHU Brugmann is now developing the HOPE project (Hemato-Oncology Project for Excellence) in order to offer patients a complete, comprehensive care programme in a pleasant,welcoming and humane environment , where emphasis lies on quality of life and multiculturalism.
This Iris Network initiative will be consolidated by the implementation of a project that is ambitious both in size and complexity: the Bordet-ULB-Erasmus Cancer Centre. In 2018, with the construction of the new Jules Bordet Institute, Brussels will be able to boast a brand new, internationally renowned oncology reference centre at the cutting edge of scientific advances and integrating clinical activities, research and teaching. The Jules Bordet Institute will then be in direct contact with the Free University of Brussels faculty research laboratories and with the Erasmus teaching hospital. This natural liaison will deliver an outstanding tool, ensuring that patients who require complex oncological care as well as other types of care, receive comprehensive treatment. Patients with cancer find themselves facing a range of problems and some cancer drugs, developed over the last decade, can lead to endocrinological, cardiac and infectious complications.
All the hospitals in the Iris Network treating cancer patients will naturally find that their level of collaboration increases both to meet the needs of modern oncology and to make diagnostic and therapeutic advances, which are moving forward at a considerable pace, beneficial to all.
New changes in breast cancer clinics
The four Iris Network breast clinics (Jules Bordet Institute, CHU Saint-Pierre, CHU Brugmann and Ixelles Hospital) are Belgium’s main centres for breast cancer care. They are about to undergo a revolution and a review of the way they collaborate. There has been an explosion of knowledge in this type of cancer, and others, over the last decade, leading the medical establishment to conclude that it is not up against just two forms of breast cancer (hormone-dependent and non-hormone-dependent) but may be facing twenty-five diseases each behaving differently.
When identifying what type of breast cancer they are dealing with, doctors will no longer be able to rely solely on the microscope – they will have to carry out advanced molecular testing. This new imperative will enable them to identify the tumour type correctly and to offer patients personalised, targeted treatment.
The complexity of this diagnostic approach to breast cancer will lead to even closer collaboration between the Iris Network clinics.
Breast cancer : Iris gets active on an international scale
Two complementary bodies, created in the late 1990s by Dr Martine Piccart and based at the Jules Bordet Institute, now play an important role in the implementation of complex clinical studies in the field of breast cancer: the Jules Bordet Institute Breast European Adjuvant Studies Team (BrEAST) and the international not-for-profit organisation, Breast International Group (BIG).
BrEAST seeks to implement some of the most rigorous international clinical studies in order to accelerate the availability of new drugs to breast cancer sufferers. This multidisciplinary body now includes more than 40 individuals, all specialists in these areas, from oncologists to data managers. BrEAST has already recruited more than 17,000 patients for the clinical studies it coordinates and maintains regular contact with 1,300 hospitals in more than 40 countries across the globe.
The international not-for-profit organisation BIG was created for the purpose not only of encouraging international collaboration with a view to implementing targeted clinical studies on breast cancer which could not be conducted in a smaller group, but also of reducing the amount of research duplication. The scope of this initiative makes it possible to collect and exchange a significant amount of data gathered from the patients recruited for these clinical studies. The BIG network now includes 50 clinical research groups across Europe, Canada, Latin America, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. These are linked to around 1,000 specialist hospitals and research centres around the world. More than 30 clinical studies have been conducted since BIG was created, thanks to the cooperation of tens of thousands of patients.
The great PET scan promise
Highly advanced tumour DNA analysis will revolutionise the therapeutic approach to cancer patients. During the next ten years, functional imaging tests for tumours should also be developed and will enable doctors to determine very quickly whether or not a prescribed treatment is effective.
Thanks to the new generation of PET scans, tusing radioactive tracers, that are more sophisticated than the marked glucose currently used, patients will no longer have to wait several weeks before receiving personalised treatment and this will help avoid exposure to toxicity. From the mainly diagnostic tool it is at present, the PET scan will become a key weapon in the oncologists’ armoury, helping them adapt treatment to patients more rapidly.
By working more closely together, the Jules Bordet Institute, the Erasmus Hospital and the Free University of Brussels Faculty of Medicine and Laboratory in Gosselies will unquestionably further these advances.