December 7, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 67—Volunteering to advance medical research, and pandemic impact on manufacturing

The crucial role of volunteers in advancing medicine has been made clear recently by the many thousands of people who are participating in COVID-19 vaccine trials. Tissue donations, like the tumor tissue donation made by the late Indiana college student Tyler Trent, are another way individuals can volunteer to help medical researchers. In fact, Trent’s donation allowed IU School of Medicine researchers to identify a new therapy that significantly slows tumor growth in models. That research was recently published in the international journal Cancers as the first scientific paper based on Trent’s donation. Before he died in January 2019 after a long fight against aggressive bone cancer, Trent donated several tumor samples to cancer researchers at IU School of Medicine. He also encouraged other people to do the same, becoming a national advocate for cancer research. Using cells taken from Trent’s donated tumors, the IU research team found that a combination therapy of two drugs together blocked tumor growth substantially during a four-week treatment. The research team also determined that the combination treatment was well-tolerated. The research opens up a new path to improving outcomes for children, adolescents, and young adults with very aggressive bone cancer, says Jamie Renbarger, one of the lead researchers who also was one of Trent’s doctors and is a member of IU’s Precision Health Initiative Grand Challenge. Future research topics include learning to understand how the tumors adapt to treatments and finding ways to optimize the combination therapy. Meanwhile, the IU researchers are deeply grateful to Trent for his passion for cancer advocacy and the generous donation of his tumor tissue to advance research.

In other news, as the economic turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic continues, IU experts from the Kelley School of Business have co-authored a special study evaluating the impact of the pandemic on manufacturing. In a survey of a variety of manufacturers in Indiana, a state with one of America’s highest concentrations of manufacturing jobs, the researchers found that while the majority of respondents indicated they expected their companies to survive the pandemic, 62% also said that the pandemic’s impact was very serious, involving losses. One problem area revealed by the pandemic was the vulnerability of supply chains that are designed primarily to minimize costs. The results of this year’s study suggest that although it may be more costly, manufacturers are now looking to build more resilient, geographically diverse supply chains. Researchers also found 44% of survey respondents credit the federal Paycheck Protection Program as the primary means by which they have been able to manage and survive. The critical role of the program and other federal loan programs was even more apparent as 57% of respondents said these were the most helpful among the various federal programs intended to help firms deal with the pandemic. The report also shows that the pandemic accelerated a long-term trend toward automation, and not just in manufacturing processes. IUPUI professor and report co-author Mark Frohlich says COVID-19 is accelerating a shift toward using automation to support and assist workers in areas such as marketing, engineering, accounting, and finance, and to help out when those workers are absent. As companies recover from the pandemic, Frohlich says, for every one company that automates to reduce its workforce, several more are automating to hire more people and meet demand for products..