COMPPARE Consortium Spotlight: The Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Jack and Sheryl Morris Cancer CenterIn an area that ranks among the highest in the nation for cancer incidence, it is fortunate that more than 100,000 patients each year are served by the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ), the only NCI-designated cancer center in the state and one recognized in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Hospital rankings. 

It is also fortunate for the COMPPARE study that CINJ’s Rahul R. Parikh, MD, MBA, Medical Director, Laurie Proton Therapy Center, and Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at CINJ; Christian Misdary, Research Study Manager, CINJ Clinical Research Operations; and Manideepika Katta, Primary Coordinator, CINJ, lead research efforts as a dedicated COMPPARE partner site.  

Dr. Parikh’s hard-working team is well known to the COMPPARE Coordinating Center for their responsiveness and dedicated patient follow-up, despite the challenges presented by a study like COMPPARE. 

“Retention becomes harder when patients feel like they are cured,” said Misdary. “We can lose touch with them as they follow up only with their local physicians or are resistant to travelling to see us.” 

The team believes patient retention and the retention of CINJ research team members are closely linked, stressing the importance of principal investigator and study coordinator continuity in creating successful patient follow-up.  

“Whenever there’s a change in staff, it takes six months to a year to get things up and running again to a point where everyone feels comfortable, especially in smaller institutions,” Misdary remarked. “We have found that you have to create tools and plans to transfer patients, follow patients, and ensure that timelines are being met, with the coordinator as the backstop.” 

Katta agrees. “I know there are certain times when patients may postpone a visit, but when I call and remind them about the importance of our research, I feel like we have an equal role in retention with the physician,” she observed. 

Katta and Misdary name four specific components related to successful, long-term follow up and patient retention:  

  • An electronic or paper tracking system that allows any team member to immediately pick up where another has left off; 
  • PI involvement throughout the study’s life cycle, which encourages patient relationships and an understanding of issues that may occur; 
  • up-front patient communications that clearly outline a study participant’s responsibilities and expectations; and 
  • an online platform that allows for remote data entry and survey completion, like COMPPARE’s VTOC, which will accommodate patients as their circumstances change over three, five, and perhaps ten years. 

Another important element of retention may be related more to personal touch than protocol.  

“Patients will respond when I simply take the time to remember something about their lives, and then mention it to them in later conversations,” Katta points out. “I learned this from Christian [Misdary], and it’s absolutely true.” 

The opening of the Jack & Sheryl Morris Cancer Center (shown above) in early 2025 will further strengthen CINJ cancer research efforts. The center, a $750 million, 12-story, 510,000-square-foot facility located in New Brunswick, is designed to offer research, prevention, and clinical care at a single location and will be the state’s first and only freestanding cancer hospital.