August 26, 2021:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, cancer investigators, program managers, and administrators share their progress in oncology research and maintaining their excellent standing through NCI-designation and association accreditation. Learn about new tools that may help identify patients who are at high risk of cancer progression and relapse, as well as promising pre-clinical results to treat human estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer and their metastases in bone, brain, liver, and lungs. Also, find out which of our Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium members increased clinical trial enrollment by 167 percent, and minority participation in clinical trials to 56 percent of total enrollment. Read on to discover what’s new across the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

In a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology, epidemiologist and University of Illinois Cancer Center member Garth Rauscher, PhD, an associate professor in the School of Public Health, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and his colleagues found that the place patients are initially diagnosed with breast cancer has implications for their subsequent diagnosis and treatment experiences. Dr. Rauscher’s research team and he found that Black and Hispanic patients are more likely to present at a health care facility with fewer resources – known as disproportionate share hospitals – that provide a large amount of undercompensated care. Using data from the Breast Cancer Care in Chicago study, the authors found that 47% of Hispanic and 37% of non-Hispanic Black patients presented initially at a disproportionate share hospital, compared to 11% of non-Hispanic white patients. Black and Hispanic patients were also less likely to present at highly accredited facilities, such as Breast Imaging Centers of Excellence.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

A new approach to treating breast cancer kills 95-100% of cancer cells in mouse models of human estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers and their metastases in bone, brain, liver, and lungs. The newly developed drug, called ErSO, quickly shrinks even large tumors to undetectable levels. Led by scientists at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the research team reports the findings in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

“Even when a few breast cancer cells do survive, enabling tumors to regrow over several months, the tumors that regrow remain completely sensitive to retreatment with ErSO,” said U. of I. biochemistry professor David Shapiro, PhD, who led the research with Illinois chemistry professor Paul Hergenrother, PhD. “It is striking that ErSO caused the rapid destruction of most lung, bone, and liver metastases and dramatic shrinkage of brain metastases, since tumors that have spread to other sites in the body are responsible for most breast cancer deaths,” Shapiro said.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

During the first Tyler Trent Foundation “Tee Off for Tyler” Charity Golf Classic in Carmel, Indiana, Jamie Renbarger, MD, the Caroline Symmes Professor of Pediatric Cancer Research at the IU School of Medicine, shared information about an upcoming clinical trial for children, adolescents, and young adults with aggressive sarcomas. The new maintenance therapy clinical trial will provide patients with the standard treatment and transition to a newer generation of anti-cancer drugs specifically selected for what drove patients’ tumor to grow at the time of  diagnosis. The clinical trial will first enroll about 20 patients from Riley Children’s Health and IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center to evaluate feasibility before possibly expanding to three other centers that are part of Big 10 institutions. Dr. Renbarger serves as division chief, Pediatric Hematology Oncology at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health and director of the Pediatric Cancer Precision Genomics Program at Riley Hospital for Children. The event supports work conducted by IU Precision Health Initiative pediatric sarcomas disease research team co-leaders, Dr. Renbarger and Karen Pollok, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics at the medical school.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

This spring, Gail Bishop, PhD, was one of four University of Iowa faculty members that were named winners of the inaugural Hubbard-Walder Award for Excellence in Teaching. Dr. Bishop is the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Holden Chair of Cancer Biology as well as the associate director for basic science research at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. In her 32-year tenure, her teaching has been consistently praised by students and peers in a variety of areas. Over the last five years, Dr. Bishop has taught 13 courses for graduate, medical, and health-professional students while also serving as the course director for Graduate Immunology and writing a scientific proposal. Her lab studies cell signaling of TRAF3 and CD40.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) has earned renewal of its National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center for another five years. This distinction recognizes the cancer center’s high caliber of scientific leadership and robust programs in basic, clinical and population science research. “The renewal of our designation is a tremendous achievement for our entire team – a process made even more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kevin J. Cullen, MD, the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Distinguished Professor in Oncology at UMSOM and the cancer center’s director. “I am very proud of the hard work and dedication of our staff, who embraced our renewal bid while continuing to provide lifesaving care to our patients under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.” Dr. Cullen noted that between their last submission and this renewal, cancer funding increased 69 percent, clinical trial enrollment increased 167 percent, and minority participation in clinical trials increased to 56 percent of total enrollment.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

A new, University of Michigan-led study analyzing data from more than 850 patients across the state of Michigan found a commercially available genomic test known as Decipher Biopsy may help identify patients who are at high risk of cancer progression. “We have long needed better tools to reduce the uncertainty of these initial treatment decisions,” said study first author Randy Vince, Jr., MD, MS, an oncology fellow at U-M. Another clinical trial called G-MAJOR led by senior author Todd Morgan, MD, a member of the U-M Rogel Cancer Center who heads urologic oncology at U-M, is evaluating the use of Decipher and other molecular classifying tests in lower-risk prostate cancer to more fully evaluate their clinical utility.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Masako Harada, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Michigan State University, devotes her research to understanding the biology and function of extracellular vesicles (EVs) both in the physiological and pathophysiological condition, aiming to develop a novel tool for diagnostics and treatment. Dr. Harada and her colleagues investigate engineered EVS for visualization, monitoring, and targeted delivery of oligonucleotide therapeutics, including non-coding RNAs, DNAs and CRISPR-CAS9, as well as low-molecular-weight drugs.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

A new program led by the Masonic Cancer and the University of Minnesota Medical School Program in Health Disparities Research is applying new ways to teach and interest students in cancer and cancer research. The MN Advancing Science, Enhancing Diversity (M-ASCEND) program, which launched earlier this year with funding from a National Cancer Institute R25 grant, recruits high school and college undergraduate students to a program that engages them in the science of cancer and its prevention, while introducing them to career development skills and career opportunities in the field. Christopher Pennell, PhD, and Michele Allen, MD, MS, are the principal investigators leading the M-ASCEND initiative, and Susan Everson-Rose, PhD, MPH, is a co-investigator and the faculty mentoring lead for M-ASCEND.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Memorial services for James Edney, MD a top breast cancer specialist and UNMC surgeon were held earlier this month. Dr. Edney died on Aug. 7 in a plane accident in Victoria, Minn. He was dedicated to finding new and innovative surgical treatments for breast cancer that were less invasive and made the disease more survivable. Dr. Edney was a professor emeritus of surgery, a former chief of surgical oncology and led the residency program where he trained scores of surgeons who have gone on to surgical careers throughout the country.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Using circulating tumor DNA to identify patients at risk of urothelial cancer relapse after surgical resection could help improve post-surgery treatment, according to a study published in Nature. Patients who test positive for circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) after surgery and who were treated with immunotherapy had improved disease-free survival compared to patients who were positive for ctDNA but did not receive immunotherapy. These results demonstrate the power of personalized medicine in cancer therapy, according to Maha Hussein, MBChB, the Genevieve E. Teuton Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, and a co-author of the study.

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

The oral targeted therapy drug ibrutinib is effective treatment option for high-risk hairy cell leukemia, according to a new study conducted by researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). “There is a critical unmet need for therapy options in this subset of patients to achieve long-term cancer control,” said Kerry Rogers, MD, principal investigator of the clinical trial and a hematologist/scientist at the OSUCCC – James. “Our study shows that ibrutinib is a safe, effective and well-tolerated option for patients with relapsed or variant forms of hairy cell leukemia. It is a very important discovery for patients facing this diagnosis.”

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Cancer Institute’s bone marrow transplant program earned renewed accreditation in June from the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). The institute has received the accreditation over the last 20 years. Accreditation is required to perform stem cell transplants and to remain part of the international network of donors which patients depend on for potentially lifesaving procedures for many blood cancers and blood diseases. Accreditation is awarded by FACT every three years. Hematologist/medical oncologist, Shin Mineishi, MD, provides clinical direction for the program while Roxann Conrad, RN, serves as program manager.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Tiffany Lyle, DVM, PhD, DACVP, assistant professor of veterinary anatomic pathology at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, is the first scientist to map changes to the brain’s barrier during metastases of lung cancer. And recently, she has produced the first comprehensive, molecular mapping of the network in relation to blast-induced traumatic brain injuries. An initial study identified which parts of the blood-tumor barrier structure may offer useful pathways for improving therapeutic delivery. Further research will encompass classifying if and how the barrier can be penetrated, and Lyle said she and her research team have discovered correlations between tumor and membrane permeability.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey resident researcher Daniel Herranz Benito, PhD, was recently awarded a 2021 AACR-Bayer Innovation and Discovery Grant (21 -80-44-HERR) from the American Association for Cancer Research in the amount of $50,000 to further explore a novel mitochondrial uncoupling drug in the treatment of leukemia and a potential therapeutic strategy against T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), an aggressive form of leukemia. “We have recently demonstrated that MB1-47, a newly developed mitochondrial uncoupling drug, shows very significant antileukemic effects in vivo, thus offering a novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of T-ALL patients,” Dr. Herranz said. “Still leukemic mice treated with MB1-47 as a single-agent invariably relapse.”

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists reported last month in the journal Science Translational Medicine that combining targeted radiopharmaceutical therapy with immunotherapy significantly boosts eradication of metastatic cancer in mice, even when the radiation is given in doses too low to destroy the cancer outright. Zachary Morris, MD, PhD, a professor of human oncology in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, lead author Ravi Patel, MD, assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, a radiation oncologist at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, and their colleagues designed a study to give mice with immunologically cold metastatic cancer varying doses of targeted radionuclide therapy alongside immunotherapy.

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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