Aug. 17, 2016:

Barriers: to win this war against cancer, they all must come down.  In this month’s edition of Across the Consortium, discover how members of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium are bringing down barriers.  Interdisciplinary partnerships are overcoming obstacles to inoperable cancers; laser-imaging and creative tests are being leveraged to break down barriers to early diagnosis; immunotherapies are breaking down barriers to once-and-for-all remission; new predictive screening models and population-specific cancer programs are breaking down barriers to treatment of certain populations; volunteers and grants are breaking down barriers to research.  All this and more, in this month’s edition of Across the Consortium! 

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Many people share their homes with their pet dogs. Spending years under the same roof with the same environmental exposures, people and dogs have something else in common that sometimes gets overlooked. They can share some of the same diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. By studying these diseases in dogs, researchers can learn not only to improve care for people but for their canine friends as well.

As a case in point, an NIH-funded team of researchers recently tested a new method of delivering chemotherapy drugs for osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that affects dogs and people, typically teenagers and older adults. Their studies in dogs undergoing treatment for osteosarcoma suggest that specially engineered, bone-seeking nanoparticles might safely deliver anti-cancer drugs precisely to the places where they are most needed. These early findings come as encouraging news for the targeted treatment of inoperable bone cancers and other malignancies that spread to bone.

As published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, veterinary researcher Timothy Fan and materials scientist Jianjun Cheng, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and members of University of Illinois Cancer Center, teamed up to overcome these obstacles. They did it by taking a nanoparticle developed in Cheng’s lab and testing it in pet dogs being treated for this cancer at Fan’s veterinary research clinic.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

While the incidence of colon cancer has been declining in individuals 50 years old and older in the United States, it is steadily rising in those under age 50. With funding from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Thomas F. Imperiale, M.D., a VA and Regenstrief Institute clinician-researcher, is developing and validating a model to predict risk for colon cancer in those under 50 with no family history of the disease.

“We should be moving from an age-based system of screening for colon cancer to one that is risk-based because age is only one factor that contributes to risk,” said Dr. Imperiale. “In our study we are identifying demographic, physical, and clinical factors that are different in people younger than 50 with colon cancer compared to those without colon cancer. These factors make them more comparable to those 50 and over.”

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Getting Adolescents and Young Adults Through Sarcoma: By William Terry, MD, MPH

“I came to work at the University of Iowa last year to start an adolescent and young adult cancer program. Since then, many people have asked me why it’s so important to have a program devoted to this group of patients. Although I am a pediatric sarcoma specialist, my fellowship training was in a hospital that took care of patients based on their type of cancer and not just on their age. Because of that, the majority of my patients with sarcoma were teens and young adults, and I found that there are needs that are specific to this age group that need to be addressed.”

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Immunotherapy, or the use of the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, is the new buzzword in cancer care.

Simply put, immunotherapy is a growing area of cancer research and treatment that uses the body’s immune system to fight or kill cancer cells. Some immunotherapies work by marking cancer cells so they can’t hide from treatments. Other immunotherapies help strengthen your immune system so it can detect and destroy cancer cells.

Recently, this approach has been introduced for the treatment of advanced cancer and cancer that is refractory, or difficult to treat. As a result, I have received multiple phone calls from patients and family members over the past few months asking about the latest treatments using this new therapeutic option.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Marcos Dantus uses ultrafast lasers to study microscopic chemical and biological interactions that are impossible to observe with any other tool. Ultrafast lasers have pulse durations that are shorter than one millionth of a millionth of a second, which is faster than atoms can actually move. Breakthroughs in ultrafast lasers have led to two Nobel Prizes, one of which is related to Dantus’ Ph.D. research. This laser expertise fuels exploration in the Dantus Research Group.

“Let’s say you go to the doctor and the doctor says, I don’t like this lesion, let me look at it under this new laser microscope,” Dantus said. “Ultrafast lasers can go deep through the layers to find out if it’s cancer, find out what kind is it, and see how far it’s progressed.”

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Facing a life-threatening ailment is a challenge for anyone, and travel arrangements often add an unnecessary layer to the stress.

Medical Oncologist Gautam Jha, MD, is very familiar with the difficulties confronting his patients during cancer treatment, including—in some cases—limited access to nearby treatments and specialists.

A member of University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care, Jha specializes in genitourinary cancers involving the kidney, bladder, prostate and testes. To bring advanced treatments and leading-edge clinical trials closer to where his patients live and work, Jha recently expanded his practice to University of Minnesota Health Maple Grove Clinics and Fairview Ridges Specialty Care Center.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. More than 62,400 cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Cancer Society. All ages are at risk and women are three times more at risk than men. Diagnosis most commonly occurs between 20 and 55 years old. Risk factors for thyroid cancer include: Family history of thyroid cancer as well as previous radiation to the neck.

Thyroid cancer usually develops in a nodule or growth in the thyroid, however, there are often no symptoms from thyroid cancer. Thyroid blood tests are not recommended to identify thyroid cancer. Initial evaluation is to have a thyroid and neck examination to identify thyroid enlargement or nodules or abnormal lymph nodes or neck masses. Rarely, thyroid cancer can be associated with symptoms which can include: difficulty swallowing, breathing, and hoarseness. People can also notice a swollen lymph node or lump in the front or side of the neck themselves.

FREE thyroid evaluations will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 14 from 3 to 6 p.m. at Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center, 42nd and Emile streets.

Learn more about this event.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

The most important tool in treating cancer is finding it early, but many tumors go unnoticed until it’s too late. Vadim Backman, a biomedical engineer and professor at Northwestern University, is working to improve early cancer detection using a noninvasive diagnostic test.

Lung tumors can be difficult to spot early on without expensive imaging scans, which often aren’t recommended for low-risk patients. Dr. Backman’s test can detect changes in the structure of cell samples, taken from patients’ cheeks, that indicate lung cancer may be developing.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Tens of thousands of children across Pennsylvania are leading multi-million-dollar fundraising efforts to support pediatric cancer research. More than 70,000 student volunteers in 235 schools across five states teamed up to raise $5,526,281.63 to fight childhood cancer through Four Diamonds Mini-THONs during the 2015-2016 school year, a $1.3 million increase from the previous year. The announcement was made this morning at the Mini-THON Leadership Summit.

Mini-THONs are modeled after Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THONTM, the world’s largest student-run charity. This new wave of philanthropy has raised more than $23 million since 1993. The money is used to drive the discovery of new and improved treatments for childhood cancer, through funding more than 70 pediatric cancer research team members at Penn State College of Medicine; and to ensure that every child is treated for cancer at Penn State Children’s Hospital without any out-of-pocket costs for their families.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

A new tumor model has been shown to predict how certain types of cancer cells react differently to a commonly used chemotherapy drug, a potential tool for “precision medicine,” in which drug treatment is tailored to individual patients and certain cancer types.

Drug resistance and various subtypes of tumors represent critical bottlenecks for effective chemotherapy.

“This means rapid and accurate screening of effective drugs and drug combinations can be extremely useful to realize precision medicine for cancer therapy,” said Bumsoo Han, a Purdue University professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Research from investigators at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Princeton University has identified a new approach to cancer therapy in cutting off a cancer cell’s ‘fuel supply’ by targeting a cellular survival mechanism known as autophagy.  Rutgers Cancer Institute Deputy Director Eileen P. White, PhD, distinguished professor of molecular biology and biochemistry in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and Rutgers Cancer Institute researcher ‘Jessie’ Yanxiang Guo, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, are the co-corresponding authors of the work published in the August 10 edition of Genes & Development (doi: 10.1101/gad.283416.116).

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

The University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center has been awarded a five-year, $12 million Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute to improve treatments and outcomes for head and neck cancer patients.

This is Wisconsin’s first SPORE grant, and UW-Madison is just one of three institutions currently funded by this prestigious grant for head and neck cancer research.

With an additional $3 million in matching funds from UW-Madison, this grant will spur collaborations between scientists and clinicians to bring advances made in the laboratory to the clinic.

“This is a terrific milestone,” says Dr. Paul Harari, chair of human oncology and project leader. “We have a powerful and innovative team that will develop innovative therapies for head and neck cancer patients focused on increasing cure rates and diminishing side effects.”

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