August 19, 2020:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (Big Ten CRC) highlights investigators focusing on breast cancer research and recent grants awarded to researchers and cancer centers across the Big Ten CRC.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

A pandemic has not stopped University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student Katherine Zink from trying to find a cure for ovarian cancer, or from simultaneously earning a doctorate degree in natural products chemistry. The recipient of the Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Zink was forced to physically distance herself from the laboratory of her mentor, Laura Sanchez, for nearly three months due to COVID-19. But with her one-year grant scheduled to expire in August 2020, she was not going to sit idly at home.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Breast cancer patients are 60 percent more likely to die of cancer after surviving a heart attack, according to a new study published in Nature Medicine. Researchers reported that heart attacks, by blocking blood flow through arteries, trigger a specific, pro-cancer immune reaction. The team of scientists included University of Illinois cancer researcher Erik Nelson and was led by New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers Milan Radovich, PhD, and Bryan Schneider, MD, have discovered that the presence of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the plasma of women’s blood who have undergone chemotherapy prior to surgery for the treatment of stage 1, 2, or 3 triple negative breast cancer are critical indicators for the prediction of disease recurrence and disease-free survival. Their findings, published today in the prestigious international peer-reviewed journal, JAMA Oncology, allow for a stratification of patients in clinical trials around the world that didn’t exist prior to their discovery. The pair also spoke about their findings as part of a JAMA Oncology podcast.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Nolan Ford spent much of his childhood at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital watching his sister fight cancer. The experience motivated him to pursue a medical career — and he’s starting his journey at the hospital whose staff treated his sister with dedication and compassion. Nolan Ford grew up in Rockwell City, Iowa, and is currently living in Cedar Falls, Iowa. But a big part of the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) student’s heart is in Iowa City, particularly at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Barry Stoler, president of Len Stoler Automotive Group, has been named chair of the Board of Advisors of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC). Stoler, 59, of Owings Mills, Md., is the son of Roslyn and Leonard Stoler, who made an historic $25 million gift in October 2018 to help fund a major expansion of UMGCCC. Their generous gift was the largest philanthropic donation in the history of the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC).

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

A $1.4 million grant from the American Cancer Society will allow a team of researchers led by the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center to survey a diverse group of breast cancer patients and their relatives about their experience with genetic testing and their understanding of hereditary cancer risk and prevention. There is growing support for all women diagnosed with breast cancer to undergo genetic risk evaluation, which can help guide treatment decisions and identify other family members at risk of developing breast cancer. But as genetic testing panels have become more sophisticated, often testing for 20 or more genetic variants, results can be complex.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Henry Ford Health System and Michigan State University recently announced the two organizations signed a letter of intent to significantly expand their long-term partnership, a unique primary affiliation among the first of its kind for the region between a fully integrated academic health system and major state university. Committed to redesigning care around patients and communities through education, research and clinical care, the enhanced collaboration will focus on improving access, affordability, and outcomes, especially for Detroit’s and Michigan’s most vulnerable populations.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Kolawole S. Okuyemi, MD, MPH, and David Horne, PhD, will join the External Advisory Board of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. “We are very excited to have Drs. Okuyemi and Horne join our External Advisory Board,” said Douglas Yee, MD, director of the Masonic Cancer Center. “Dr. Okuyemi’s familiarity with our center and the state of Minnesota will provide the Board with a unique insight into efforts focused on the cancer burden in our community. Dr. Horne is a renowned researcher with expertise in drug discovery. He will provide important advice and direction in our program in cancer experimental therapeutics.”

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

The University of Nebraska Medical Center says 13 scientists received a cumulative $650,000 grant to fund further research into cancer and diseases related to smoking. Each research project is supported by a $50,000 grant from the Nebraska Cancer and Smoking Disease Research Program through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). In addition, two University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientists also received $50,000 each in grants.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Northwestern Medicine investigators have discovered the growth of cancerous tumors requires the activation of a specific biochemical process within the mitochondria of tumor cells, according to findings published in Nature, showing potential as a new target for cancer therapy. The cell’s mitochondria is responsible for generating chemical energy needed to power biochemical functions within the cell. Its inner membrane is embedded with a series of five enzyme complexes called the electron transport chain (ETC), which is responsible for generating energy production via adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to drive various processes and functions within the cell.

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

Glioblastoma (GBM) is a lethal form of brain cancer that accumulates fats in lipid droplets and uses them as energy for rapid cell division. Blocking an enzyme that GBM cells use to form the lipid droplets might offer a new way to treat this deadly disease, according to a study led by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

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Penn State Cancer Institute

From the beginning of January to the end of April 2020, researchers at Penn State College of Medicine received 172 awards totaling nearly $30 million to support their studies. Projects receiving funding include investigations into the development of diagnostics and treatment strategies for conditions ranging from autism spectrum disorder to various types of cancer.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Accurately diagnosing the spread of cancer often involves painful and invasive biopsy procedures. The use of a “liquid biopsy,” which involves a simple blood draw, has been shown in a five-year clinical trial to accurately detect and monitor certain kinds of breast cancer. The study involves circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and circulating tumor cells (CTC), genetic and cellular material from tumors that find their way into the patient’s bloodstream. A paper on the clinical trial’s results is published in JAMA Oncology.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Marking a major milestone in what has become a standard of care in prostate cancer surgery, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Urologic Oncology Chief Isaac Yi Kim, MD, PhD, has completed his 2,000th robotic prostatectomy at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, an RWJBarnabas Health facility and one of the few hospitals in the state designated to teach surgeons about this technique.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Most people think of metabolism as the process by which the body converts food into energy it needs. But when new UW Carbone Cancer Center member Jing Fan, PhD, thinks about metabolism, she is focused on the complicated network of biochemical reactions. These biochemical reactions and metabolites – the small molecules created in the process – are at the center of many dynamic cellular functions.

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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 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