Aug. 22, 2018:

12 prestigious cancer centers. 

2,600 cancer researchers.

1 mission.

In this month’s edition of Across the Consortium, we highlight the many ways our top-ranking members are pushing the boundaries of science and technology in order to improve diagnosis and treatment for all patients with cancer. 

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Previous research has revealed that patients with acute myeloid leukemia who also have a particular mutation in a gene called NPM1 have a higher rate of remission with chemotherapy. About one-third of leukemia patients possess this favorable mutation, but until now, how it helps improve outcomes has remained unknown.

Scientists from the University of Illinois at Chicago report on how this mutation helps improve sensitivity to chemotherapy in patients in the journal JCI Insight.

The protein coded for by the NPM1 gene affects the location and activity of another protein called FOXM1. FOXM1 activates other cancer-promoting genes and has been found to be elevated in cancer cells. The presence of FOXM1, especially at high levels, is a strong predictor of worse treatment outcomes and decreased survival in patients with cancer. When the NPM1 gene is mutated, FOXM1 can’t activate additional oncogenes, so patients with this mutation tend to respond better to chemotherapy. A drug that targets and incapacitates FOXM1 in patients without the beneficial NPM1 mutation may help improve the efficacy of chemotherapy.

Read more.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

The Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation has made its second major push to advance lung cancer research at Indiana University School of Medicine with a $2 million gift in memory of Indianapolis auto executive Tom Wood.

This gift will establish the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation Chair in Lung Cancer Clinical Research and will fund the work of IU researchers as they develop new treatments and test them in clinical trials. It will also fund research that will serve as a catalyst for other grants and collaborative efforts.

Named to serve as the first holder of the chair is Nasser Hanna, MD, a professor of medicine at IU School of Medicine, a practicing oncologist and a member of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. 

“I can’t even begin to tell you what a game changer this is,” Hanna said. “Money is critical to do research. No matter how great of an idea you have, if you don’t have the finances to run the experiment, it doesn’t matter.”

Read more.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

UI radiation oncologist Carryn Anderson, MD, has won the Steven M. Grunberg Memorial Award of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (MASCC) for her abstract examining early results from a phase 2b clinical trial of a drug designed to alleviate oral mucositis, a common and debilitating side effect of head and neck chemoradiation treatments.

Anderson led enrollment on a randomized, placebo-controlled trial testing placebo against a low dose versus a high dose of an investigational drug. The drug converts damaging particles created by radiation into particles that are more damaging to cancer cells and less damaging to normal tissue cells. The study was run by Galera Therapeutics and the University of Iowa and was offered at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center and 44 other U.S. and Canadian cancer centers.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

The Rogel Cancer Center was 15th (tied with Siteman Cancer Center) in the nation for cancer care by US News and World Report “Best Hospitals” rankings for 2018-19, an honor that measures excellence in patient care. Michigan Medicine, the academic medical center of the University of Michigan, also had 10 surgical and medical specialties ranked in the nation’s top 10. The annual rankings placed Michigan Medicine No. 1 in Michigan.

“This No. 5 ranking is a reflection of our relentless commitment to putting patients first,” said Marschall Runge, M.D., Ph.D., who is executive vice president for medical affairs at the University of Michigan, chief executive officer of Michigan Medicine and dean of the U-M Medical School.

“These rankings are heavily influenced by quality and safety measures. I am proud of the people in this organization who go above and beyond every day to ensure our high standards of quality and safety,” said Runge.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants, has awarded a nearly $100,000 grant to support a Michigan State University scientist’s study of a promising new treatment for neuroblastoma, an often-fatal pediatric cancer.

For 17 years, André Bachmann, professor of pediatrics and the College of Human Medicine’s associate chair for research, has spearheaded preclinical research on a drug called DFMO, or difluoromethylornithine, as a potential weapon against neuroblastoma. DFMO was developed in 1978 and is extremely effective as the front-line therapy against West African sleeping sickness.

Read more.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

The connection between the microbes and bacteria living in the human gastrointestinal tract and diseases such as cancer is still a mysterious one, but researchers are increasingly finding evidence that such a connection is real. In fact, exploring the relationship between the “gut microbiome” and cancer has become one of the hotter areas of private biotech investment.

Now, with new possibilities of treating cancer through the human microbiome quickly emerging, the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota is ramping up its own commitment to the booming field with the establishment of a team of 13 faculty members who will “study the role of the microorganisms as a cause of cancer and a major influence on the success of cancer therapy.”

The new Masonic Center microbiome team is being funded by a grant for an unspecified amount raised by the Chainbreaker charity bike ride, which held its inaugural event last year, the U of M Medical School announced.

Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

U.S. News & World Report evaluates nearly 5,000 hospitals nationwide to come up with its annual list of Best Hospitals. And once again, Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center is the #1 rated hospital in the state of Nebraska. Additionally, the Nebraska Medical Center’s Gynecology Program received a national ranking, the only hospital in the state to have a nationally ranked specialty.

U.S. News also rated Nebraska Medical Center as high performing in eight other specialties, receiving more high-performing rankings than any other facility in Nebraska. Those specialties are:                                                                                                                                                              

  • Cancer
  • Gastroenterology and GI Surgery
  • Geriatrics
  • Nephrology
  • Neurology and Neurosurgery
  • Orthopaedics
  • Pulmonology
  • Urology

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University received the highest rating possible from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), an overall “exceptional,” on the competitive renewal of its Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG).

The grant award will provide nearly $31.5 million in core funding, a significant increase of 36 percent over the previous award. The CCSG provides essential support for Lurie Cancer Center’s dynamic research programs, as well as infrastructure that includes 14 shared research facilities, resources and technology.

In addition to receiving the highest rating in its history for the excellence of its research programs and patient care, Lurie Cancer Center received a near-perfect impact score of 12. Numerical scores are assigned on a scale from 10 to 90, with 10 being a perfect score. 

Read more.

Penn State Cancer Institute

The mechanics behind how an important process within the cell traps material before recycling it has puzzled scientists for years. But Penn State researchers have gained new insight into how this process seals off waste, much like a trash bag.

The process, called autophagy, allows cell waste and damaged material in the cell to be recycled into energy or new proteins. But while scientists know that a membrane called the phagophore must close around this waste material before it can be recycled, the exact mechanisms behind how these membranes close has been a mystery.

In a recent study published in Nature Communications, the researchers designed a special process called an assay that allowed them to study the several stages of autophagy as the autophagosomes — like trash bags — open and seal around cell waste. Using this process, they found key insights into how phagophores close, sealing off the autophagosome.

Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Purdue University researchers have developed a new class of optical nanotweezers that can trap and detect biomolecules, viruses and DNA more rapidly. The technology can also use light to promptly detect cancer or improve the production of medications, an important step forward as nearly half of Americans have used at least one prescription drug within the past month.

The researchers developed a nanostructured plasmonic metafilm by perforating nanoscale holes in a gold film. Then, the metafilm acts as tweezers to capture and trap tiny particles by focusing light onto specific spots on the film and by heating up those spots and creating local thermal gradients in the ambient liquid. This produces a small tornado-like effect.

Read more.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only Comprehensive Cancer Center as designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has successfully renewed this designation. Held by only 49 such centers across the country, the prestigious designation is granted competitively to institutions characterized by the highest level of scientific excellence in cancer research and the ability to bring research discoveries to patients through novel treatments and clinical practice.  A rigorous on-site review of the Institute’s programs earlier this year by the NCI recognized Rutgers Cancer Institute’s value as a collaborative matrix/consortium cancer center with Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey and Princeton University, as well as its commitment to cancer prevention, education and outreach.

Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

The numbers don’t lie: Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest form of the pernicious disease. Its five-year survival rate of 8.5 percent, per the most recent data from the National Cancer Institute, is the worst among all cancer sites.

“It is the most lethal cancer because we have no really effective way to treat it,” says Melissa Skala, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a principal investigator at the Morgridge Institute for Research.

Skala and Paul Campagnola, a professor of biomedical engineering at UW-Madison, hope to make inroads toward improved drug therapies through a two-year National Institutes of Health Exploratory/Developmental Research Grant. They plan to use Campagnola’s novel imaging and micropatterning techniques to create a 3D model of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, which will improve their ability to identify effective drugs.

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