Apr. 19, 2016:

The fight against cancer is greatly defined by the sheer multitude of challenges involved, the victory over which requires unique capabilities. In this month’s edition of Across the Consortium, see shining examples of the unique skills, expertise, knowledge, and passion of each member institution, and be reminded why we are stronger together.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Certain cancer drugs now in clinical trials may actually increase the risk for liver cancer, according to a new study by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers published in the journal Cancer Cell.

The drugs target a family of molecules called Akt proteins that are known to drive the uncontrolled growth, division, and immortality of cancer cells. Akt proteins exist in three known variations, called isoforms – Akt1, Akt2 and Akt3 – and are activated in almost every cancer.

A handful of new drugs that target the Akt proteins are already in clinical trials, but researchers don’t know what to expect about their potential for side effects – especially if two or all three Akt proteins are suppressed simultaneously.

Read more.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

A pancreatic cancer diagnosis can mean a lot of things, but for too many patients, it’s a death sentence.

Thanks to research being done in Indiana, doctors are only a few years away from using genetics to diagnose the disease earlier.

Watch video.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Twenty-five years ago a nationally renowned cancer expert told George Weiner there was little future in cancer treatments using a particular kind of immunology from cloned antibodies.

But Weiner stuck with it. Now, as director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, he is at the forefront of finding targeted ways to treat a variety of cancers.

Weiner and Keith Knutson, a professor of immunology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, discussed the latest in cancer research at the Ignite the Cancer Conversation event Thursday night in Cedar Falls.

Read more.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

For patients with head and neck cancer, responses to treatment vary. Some do well with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. Others have better outcomes with surgery.

The question for clinicians is how to make the right choice before treatment. New evidence suggests a patient’s immune system may be a deciding factor.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center looked at tumor tissue samples from 278 patients treated for head and neck cancer. The goal: to assess the number of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and determine whether that number corresponded with patient survival. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are a type of immune cell found within a tumor.

Read more.

Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

What does Brad Pitt have in common with a fruit fly? His Hollywood hairstyles cover a prominent cowlick – the swirl of hair that is caused by a patterning mechanism also active in our two-winged friends – that similarly feature “polarized” hair patterns.

In new research led by Michigan State University and featured in the current issue of Scientific Reports, researchers have discovered that these polarity genes, which do more than create cowlicks, are regulated by a tumor suppressor protein. On the macro scale, their presence can be seen in feather and fish scale patterns. On the cellular level, they are directly regulated by a cancer protein, the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein.

Read more.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

What does it take to get to that moment in a clinic when a doctor gives a patient a compound never before used in modern medicine? The story of Minnelide, an investigational drug for pancreatic cancer patients now in a Phase IA clinical trial at the University of Minnesota, illustrates just how complex and exhilarating that journey can be.

“What we did here with Minnelide, we did at the speed of light,” says Gunda Georg, Ph.D., director of the College of Pharmacy’s Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development and a member of the Masonic Cancer Center. “Going from drug design to clinical trial in just five years is almost unheard of. Ten years is more typical.”

While Georg played a key role, the Minnelide team stretched across campus and beyond, encompassing laboratory investigators, veterinarians, clinical physicians, attorneys, administrators, philanthropists … the group would need a pretty big stage if they all gathered together.

Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

New research at Nebraska Medicine may change the way cancer patients receive care.

Scientists said it has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of side effects patients experience during treatment.

The new treatment uses targeting technology to help a protein molecule pinpoint cancer. That protein molecule has two separate jobs: imaging and delivering treatment.

Watch video.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Lifang Hou, MD, PhD, chief of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention in the Department of Preventive Medicine, has been named a member of a Blue Ribbon Panel of scientific experts, cancer leaders and patient advocates that will inform the scientific direction and goals at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of Vice President Joe Biden’s National Cancer Moonshot Initiative to accelerate cancer research.

As a member of the panel, she will serve as a part of a working group of the presidentially appointed National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB), which will make recommendations to the NCI. NCI will also seek guidance from thought-leaders throughout the cancer community.

Read more.

Penn State Cancer Institute

Omega-3 fatty acids may lower the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal obese women, according to researchers.

The protection likely comes from the fatty acids’ anti-inflammatory effects, said Andrea Manni, professor and division chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, Penn State College of Medicine.

Obesity is a major breast cancer risk factor in postmenopausal women, and scientists believe increased inflammation is an important underlying cause in this population.

Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Endocyte, Inc., a leader in developing targeted small molecule drug conjugates and companion imaging agents for personalized therapy, today announced in a late-breaking poster session the presentation of new research from investigators and faculty at the Purdue University Center for Drug Discovery on the application of Endocyte’s SMDC technology in a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) therapy setting (Poster #LB-254 – A Universal Remedy for CAR T cell limitations) at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2016 in New Orleans.

“This technology and these data reflect a potentially significant advance in overcoming several challenges specific to CAR therapies as well as the powerful versatility of Endocyte’s SMDC platform,” said Ron Ellis, president and CEO at Endocyte. “This is still in the early stages of research, and we look forward to our continued collaboration with Phil Low and his lab at the Purdue Drug Discovery Center to further explore the potential of this CAR therapeutic approach as we look to build our SMDC platform in immuno-oncology.”

Read more.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Research from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey examining gynecologic cancers that poorly respond to therapy shows genomic profiling can help identify alternate and targeted treatments.  The findings are being presented as part of a poster presentation by members of the Rutgers Cancer Institute precision medicine team at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research which begins this weekend in New Orleans.

Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Two of the world’s leading medical journals recently turned to the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health’s (SMPH) palliative-care leaders to frame important end-of-life care issues.

Toby Campbell, MD, MSCI (PG ’04), went first, writing an editorial for the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2015 about how his views have evolved as he has learned from patients. He explains that the “bucket list” approach to life’s end can exhaust everyone.

“Now I understand that fighting for a moment of ‘normal,’ for a minute that doesn’t matter, is relevant and valuable,’’ wrote Campbell, an SMPH assistant professor of medicine. “I’ve since handwritten a prescription for ‘a cancer-free weekend.’ (A clinician) could be more like a coach giving permission to call a time out, during life’s two-minute drill, for a moment of normal amidst the noise of a life at its end.”

Read more.

Information for this story was compiled from Big Ten CRC member websites, news releases, and social media.

About the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium: The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium was created in 2013 to transform the conduct of cancer research through collaborative, hypothesis-driven, highly translational oncology trials that leverage the scientific and clinical expertise of Big Ten universities. The goal of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium is to create a unique team-research culture to drive science rapidly from ideas to new approaches to cancer treatment. Within this innovative environment, today’s research leaders collaborate with and mentor the research leaders of tomorrow with the unified goal of improving the lives of all patients with cancer.

About the Big Ten Conference: The Big Ten Conference is an association of world-class universities whose member institutions share a common mission of research, graduate, professional and undergraduate teaching and public service. Founded in 1896, the Big Ten has sustained a comprehensive set of shared practices and policies that enforce the priority of academics in the lives of students competing in intercollegiate athletics and emphasize the values of integrity, fairness and competitiveness. The broad-based programs of the 14 Big Ten institutions will provide over $200 million in direct financial support to almost 9,500 students for more than 11,000 participation opportunities on 350 teams in 42 different sports. The Big Ten sponsors 28 official conference sports, 14 for men and 14 for women, including the addition of men’s ice hockey and men’s and women’s lacrosse since 2013. For more information, visit www.bigten.org.