Health & Wellness

Loras CARES Lab Awarded Grant to Enhance Cancer Survivorship Programming

by James R. Naprstek

Dr. Keith Thraen-Borowski and the Loras College Cancer Research in Exercise Science Laboratory (CARES Lab) are the recipients of a $330,000 grant from a charitable trust deeply committed to health, education, and humanitarian causes.

The CARES Lab, founded and led by Thraen-Borowski, focuses on evaluating the relationship between physical activity, prognosis, and quality of life in individuals diagnosed with cancer. The grant comes prior to the start of the fourth year of the CARES Lab, which Thraen-Borowski started in the fall of 2016.

“Cancer survivors face many challenges specific to their cancer diagnosis and its associated treatment,” said Thraen-Borowski, assistant professor of kinesiology and biology. “Physical activity has been shown to mediate these challenges and improve a number of health outcomes in this population. Unfortunately, very few cancer patients are participating in physical activity, and most interventions attempting to increase physical activity in these individuals are typically conducted at major academic institutions and/or NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers.”

Yet, according to Thraen-Borowski, nearly 90% of those diagnosed with cancer that initially seek treatment typically do not do so at these institutions, but rather at community-based clinics and hospitals. Little work has been done to incorporate and/or evaluate the use of physical activity and clinical exercise programming as part of routine cancer care in a community setting, especially in cancer patients from rural areas or of lower income than those typically living around major cancer centers.

In an effort to remedy this situation, Thraen-Borowski founded the CARES Lab.

“We need to be doing this work as a scientific community,” he said, adding, “To be able to do it personally in a community that I hold so dearly is an opportunity that I am constantly thankful for.”

The mission of the CARES Lab is to not only evaluate the feasibility of enrolling individuals with cancer into clinical physical activity programs at the community level while assessing the effectiveness of these targeted interventions to improve quality of life outcomes in this population, but to also provide a much needed public health service in the form of evidence-based clinical exercise programming and support to individuals along the cancer continuum in the tri-state area.

“Ultimately, the goal of the CARES Lab is to provide the cancer-care team with a safe, effective, and feasible evidence-based service which they can use to simply and quickly refer patients, allowing physical activity and clinical exercise to be embedded into routine cancer care here in our community,” Thraen-Borowski stated. “This grant award gets us one step closer to making that objective a real possibility.”

The primary use of funds for this project will be used to renovate and expand a 2,550 square foot space in Keane Hall. This location was chosen because of its ability to provide a safe and private facility in which cancer patients can receive clinical exercise programming and testing as part of their routine cancer care.

“Dr. Thraen-Borowski is a great example of the Loras faculty as a whole,” Loras College President Jim Collins (’84) shared. “He is successful in his research, creative in his teaching, focused on providing students immersive learning experiences, and committed to combining these efforts to ensure that common good comes about in addressing societal needs.”

In this case, this generous grant and the ongoing work of the Loras CARES Lab will help to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

Imperative to this work are the partnerships forged by Thraen-Borowski with local health providers, namely Medical Associates Oncology and MercyOne Dubuque. The CARES Lab and Medical Associates Oncology, in conjunction with MercyOne, launched a clinical trial focusing on evaluating the effectiveness of physical activity programming on the prognosis and quality of life of cancer patients last year on the College’s campus. The clinical trial, which has enrolled nearly 30 patients currently, is the first of its kind in Dubuque County. This relationship helped lay the groundwork for the objectives outlined in the grant.

“It is highly unusual for patients at a community cancer setting to have the opportunity to participate in the type of clinical trials Dr. Thraen-Borowski is offering in Dubuque,” David Tatman, Executive Director of the MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center, shared. “Dr. Thraen-Borowski’s work has previously looked at how exercise can impact patients’ recovery from cancer treatment and its role in survivorship and is now extending this question into the peri-treatment phase of care. This type of innovative research is typically done at large universities with medical schools.”

“The Loras CARES Lab that Dr. Thraen-Borowski has developed provides an excellent complimentary program for our patients during their treatment and beyond,” Dr. Eric Engelman, doctor of osteopathic medicine, internal medicine, hematology and oncology at Medical Associates, said. “From my perspective, his work not only adds to the scientific knowledge of the role of exercise in cancer care, it provides a direct benefit to the wellbeing of our patients. We are very excited to be given the opportunity to work with the CARES Lab on such a cutting-edge experience for our cancer patients.”

This grant will build upon the foundation already started by Thraen-Borowski and his team of undergraduate students. Importantly, the funding associated with this grant will allow for the vetting of a cancer survivorship programming model for potential use in public health interventions in community settings across the Midwest and beyond. In addition, this project will provide a unique undergraduate research experience for students of the College, enhancing student learning while training the next generation of allied health professionals and clinical researchers.

The CARES Lab, which currently has nine undergraduate students working as a part of the lab, is dedicated to changing cancer care in the Dubuque area. Their approach to studying those living with cancer is unique and continues to help set Loras College apart from other institutions.

Visit or call 563.588.7215 for more information on the CARES Lab.

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