April 29, 2021:

Researchers across the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium are shedding light on new discoveries that could improve the health and lives of many in years to come through a host of precision medicine strategies. From boosting mitochondrial function in a subpopulation of T cells to analyzing vast amounts of data in populations, and synthesizing a rare compound found in a Native America shrub to combat a protein found in many cancers, these researchers are covering all the bases to make a difference. Learn about them and other investigators on the move in this issue of Across the Consortium.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Analysis of single cancer cells may allow for highly individualized cancer therapy, according to a new paper in Nature Communications published by researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago. Using tissues from patients who underwent cancer surgery, researchers have shown that individual cancer cells reveal information about potential tumor responses to therapies that can help physicians prescribe more effective, targeted cancer treatment. The study was co-authored by Elizaveta Benevolenskaya, PhD, a professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics at UIC.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

A paper titled, “Breast cancer histopathology using infrared spectroscopic imaging: The impact of instrumental configurations,” was recently published in Clinical Spectroscopy, and extension of previous work by Beckman Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Shachi Mittal, PhD and Rohit Bhargava, PhD, professor of bioengineering and director of the Cancer Center at Illinois. Two alumni of the Beckman Postdoctoral Fellows program, Michael Walsh, PhD and Tomasz Wrobel, PhD, are co-authors. “The goal of the study was to give people a roadmap of how to plan and design an infrared imaging-based study for clinical work like digital histopathology,” Mittal said. “In one scenario, you determine what instrument configuration will be better, and then you determine what types of methodologies you can use to develop accurate models with that instrument.”

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Indiana residents with multiple myeloma can now provide essential information to researchers at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center via the cancer center’s Indiana Myeloma Registry. The purpose of the Indiana Myeloma Registry is to help researchers better understand who is likely to get multiple myeloma, what treatments work for which people, and what causes multiple myeloma. “Myeloma is a very heterogeneous disease, meaning every patient story is unique to them—the way the disease presents itself, the way it affects them, and the way they respond to treatment,” said Mohammad Abu Zaid, MD, a physician-scientist at the cancer center, assistant professor at IU School of Medicine and principal investigator for the registry. “With the Indiana Myeloma Registry, we’re trying to write the story for each patient with myeloma from the time of their diagnosis and all through their treatments in real-time, so that we are capturing accurate data and all the data points that we believe are important. We can then use all of that information to answer some of the most important questions in myeloma with the goal of finding a cure for myeloma.”

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers of a new study at the University of Iowa College of Public Health want to determine the optimal sequencing of treatments for people with neuroendocrine tumors. The $5 million, three-year study will be led by Michael O’Rorke, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology, and will enroll nearly 3,000 patients from 14 participating research centers throughout the United States. The project is funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), a nonprofit organization established by Congress.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Maria R. Baer, MD, director, Hematologic Malignancies and Professor Feyruz V. Rassool, PhD, are co-leaders of the Experimental Therapeutics Program at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center. Together, they lead, develop, and test new therapies for solid tumors and hematologic malignancies. The program consists of members from five University of Maryland schools, including the School of Medicine and the School of Pharmacy.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

Researchers at University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center have learned that the long-pursued drug target in cancer may be within immune cells. The findings, which were published in Nature Immunology, sheds new light on cancer immunology as well as suggests clinical trials related to immune cells – an interaction that destabilizes the p53 tumor suppression protein – may unnecessarily exclude a large number of patients. Senior Study Author Weiping Zou, MD, PhD, the Charles B. de Nancrede Professor of Pathology, Surgery, Immunology and Biology at the University of Michigan, said they decided to look within the immune system to better understand what is happening in T-cells.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

A new collaboration between Lansing, Michigan-based Niowave, Spectrum Health, and Michigan State University have joined forces to develop new strategies to improve the health of patients with cancer in a first phase of clinical trials. MSU’s Kurt Zinn, DVM, MS, PhD, a professor of biomedical engineering, radiology, and small animal clinical sciences, is leading the effort to validate an innovative radiotherapy as part of a safe, more effective, and potentially less costly treatment for bladder cancer.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Ilana Chefetz, PhD, head of the Cancer Stem Cells & Necroptosis lab at The Hormel Institute at the University of Minnesota, recently published two scientific papers on possible new treatments for primary ovarian insufficiency—a condition affecting some women who undergo chemotherapy treatment. Primary ovarian insufficiency (POI) is defined as a reduction in ovarian function before the expected age of menopause in young women. “Some cancer treatments can affect the way ovaries work,” Dr. Chefetz said. “Our goal is to restore ovarian function and improve quality of life in young cancer survivors.”

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Joshua Mammen, MD, PhD, has been named the Merle M. Musselman Centennial Professor of Surgery, chief of surgical oncology and vice chair of academic affairs for the department of surgery. He will also serve as a permanent member of the Nebraska Medicine/Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center Clinical Program Executive Committee. Dr. Mammen began his new role at the medical center on March 1. He previously served as chief of the oncology surgery division and chair of the cancer committee at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Boosting mitochondrial function in a subpopulation of T cells could make cancer immunotherapy more effective, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). These cells, known as CD1 d-restricted natural killer T (NKT) cells, are much more reliant on mitochondrial metabolism during development compared to conventional CD4+ T cells. According to Senior Author Chyung-Ru Wang, PhD, professor of Microbiology-Immunology, that makes those cells an attractive target for boosting immune function in cancer immunotherapy.

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The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute

On April 1, Marcos J. de Lima, MD, joined The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) to lead its Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy programs, two key leadership positions within the NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center and hospital. The team includes more than 67 hematologists and researchers working in subspecialized, cross-functional clinical care and research teams within the Division of Hematology at Ohio State’s College of Medicine.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in the state, the majority from rural northern Pennsylvania counties. Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Cancer Institute conducted a study to examine the association between the number of colorectal cancer deaths and the location of ambulatory surgery centers in the state. Nathaniel Geyer, a research support assistant for the Department of Public Health Sciences, examined the spatial relationship between colorectal cancer deaths and ambulatory surgery centers and uncovered disparities between what patients needed and what services were accessible across the state. Jennifer Moss, PhD, Ming Wang, MS, PhD, and Eugene Lengerich, VMD, MS, of Penn State Cancer Institute and Penn State College of Medicine contributed to the study, published in the Journal of Public Health.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

A chemist from Purdue University has found a way to synthesize a compound to fight a previously “undruggable” cancer protein with benefits across a myriad of cancer types. Inspired by a rare compound found in a shrub to Native America, Mingji Dai, PhD, professor of chemistry and a scientist at the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, studied the compound and discovered a cost-effective way to synthesize it in the lab. The compound – curcusone D – has the potential to help combat a protein found in many cancers, including some forms of breast cancer, prostate, brain, colorectal, lung and liver cancers, among others. The protein, dubbed BRAT1, had previously been deemed “undruggable” for its chemical properties. In collaboration with Alexander Adibekian’s group at the Scripps Research Institute, they linked curcusone D to BRAT1 and validated curcusone D as the first BRAT1 inhibitor.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey has received a $1.3 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (1T32CA257957) to support the Cancer Metabolism and Growth and Tumor Host Interactions Training Program. The program focuses on providing postdoctoral candidates the highest quality training and research experience, by leveraging the unique research strengths and resources available at the NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center to support translational research training in cancer metabolism. Principal investigators of the grant include Wei-Xing Zong, PhD, co-leader of the Cancer Metabolism and Growth Research Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute, the John L. Colaizzi Professor at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University, and Yibin Kang, PhD, associate director for Consortium Research at Rutgers Cancer Institute and Warner-Lambert/Parke Davis Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Nataliya Uboha, MD, PhD, has been selected to lead the Cancer Therapy Discovery and Development (CTD2) program at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center. As faculty leader of CTD2, formerly known as “Phase I,” she will oversee UW Carbone’s ongoing efforts to launch first-in-human clinical trials, bringing novel cancer therapies to the patients who need them most. Dr. Uboha is an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, with expertise in gastrointestinal cancers, particularly hepatobiliary and gastroesophageal cancers. She is also co-chair of Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium’s Gastrointestinal Clinical Trial Working Group.

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Information for these stories was compiled from Big Ten CRC member websites, online publications, 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 more than 9,800 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.