February 17, 2021:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights current research, appointments, publications, general news, and expansions across member campuses.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

For cancer patients, losing weight could lead to loss of muscle mass. Young-Mee Kim, PhD, research assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine’s Department of Cardiology, believes improving blood flow to the body’s muscles will alleviate cancer cachexia – muscle wasting in cancer patients – and help restore their muscle strength. Dr. Kim, a member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center, is currently using genetically modified animal models to understand the mechanisms of cancer cachexia and how treatments can prevent the occurrence, or even reverse it.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

A University of Illinois research team testing potential toxicities of new agents, developed a gene biomarker identification technique that will cut lengthy and expensive testing down to a few days while maintaining a high level of accuracy. Zeynep Madak-Erdogen, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I, and lead author of the recent study, said the goal of this research was to identify the smallest set of indicators from the liver to predict toxicity and potential liver cancer. Results show that they could identify potential liver toxicity in animals within 24 hours after exposure. The findings were published in Scientific Reports.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center identified how breast cancer cells hide from immune cells to stay alive. The finding could lead to improved immunotherapy treatment for patients. Xinna Zhang, PhD, assistant professor of Medical & Molecular Genetics at the IU School of Medicine, and her colleagues discovered when breast cancer cells have an increased level of a protein called MAL2 on the cell surface, the cancer cells can evade immune attacks and continue to grow. The finding was published in the January issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation and featured on the journal cover.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

People with rare cancers will have greater access to a drug enabling targeted diagnosis and treatment, thanks to work led by researchers at University of Iowa Health Care’s PET Imaging Center. The University of Iowa received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a new process that can produce double the quantity of radioactive isotope gallium-68 in a cyclotron compared to current devices. The isotope is a key ingredient in Ga-68 DOTATOC, a drug that pinpoints the source of neuroendocrine tumors. Lead scientist David W. Dick, PhD, clinical associate professor of radiology in the Division of Nuclear Medicine at the UI Carver College of Medicine, said the new process will double their capacity in scanning patients and facilitate monitoring patients before and after treatment.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of Maryland Medical Center’s proposed $185 million expansion of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center would expand cancer programs and relieve some congestion and reconfigure the entrance and drop-off area. UMMC officials say, on average, more than 1,300 vehicles converge at the drop-off circle at the entrance of UMGCCC daily. The expansion is pending approval from the Maryland Health Care Commission.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

As University of Michigan researchers were analyzing more than 1,000 genes, they recognized that stanniocalcin-1 (STC1), a glycoprotein, did not respond to immune checkpoint therapy in many patient and mouse models. Through their analysis, the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center team uncovered how STC1 works inside the cell to block a cellular “eat-me” signal that often triggers the immune system to produce T cells to fight the tumor. The findings, which were recently published in Cancer Cell, offer a potential target to improve immune responses to cancer. Senior Author Weiping Zou, MD, PhD, the Charles B. de Nancrede Professor of Pathology, Immunology, Biology, and Surgery at the University of Michigan, said the research team hypothesizes that if they target the STC1 pathway, it may release the blocked signal.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Michigan State University recently announced a 30-year partnership with the Henry Ford Health System that includes a campus for Michigan State students to train and conduct research at the Henry Ford Campus in Detroit. The goals of the partnership are to allow MSU students to participate in research, world-class cancer care, and to increase diversity in the next generation of health care providers in Michigan. The partnership includes a cancer research program that aims to improve cancer research in the state and create international access to cancer therapies and research.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Shujun Liu, PhD, head of the Cancer Epigenetics & Experimental Therapeutics lab and an associate professor at The Hormel Institute at University of Minnesota, was awarded a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study and identify targets to stop disease progression in leukemia. The goals of this research are to study how the pattern of DNA methylation is altered by molecular signaling controlled by the HIF1A gene and the DNA methyltransferase protein 3a, and to use this information to develop new treatments.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Shannon Buckley, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Anatomy, was recently selected to receive the American Society of Hematology’s 2021 ASH Scholar Award, which financially supports fellows and junior faculty dedicated to hematology research. Dr. Buckley, who was recruited to the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in 2015, served as project lead on the UNMC Center for Molecular Target Discovery and Development COBRE, which demonstrated a key role in tumor development in an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The finding identifies a potential therapeutic target for this deadly cancer. Dr. Buckley and her team shared their project in the July 16, 2020 issue of the journal Blood.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A team of Northwestern Medicine researchers have identified a potential combined targeted therapy for treating glioblastoma, the most common and lethal type of brain cancer in adults. Information on the approach was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, senior author and director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, said researchers hope to eventually introduce this targeted therapy to clinical trials to test its efficacy. Other research contributors included lead author Frank Eckerdt, PhD, research assistant professor of Neurosurgery, study co-author Stewart Goldman, MD, chief of Hematology, Oncology, and Stem Cell Transplantation in the Department of Pediatrics, and co-author Mariafausta Fischietti, PhD, research assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology.

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

A new targeted RNA nanoparticle designed to carry a chemotherapy drug along with a therapeutic oligonucleotide against chemical efflux gene might provide an effective treatment for liver cancer, according to study researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James). The study was published in the Journal of Controlled Release and led by Peixuan Guo, PhD, professor at Ohio State’s College of Pharmacy and the Sylvan G. Frank Endowed Chair in Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery, who is a member of OSUCCC-James’ Translational Therapeutics Program. Their findings show that RNA nanoparticles effectively target hepatocellular carcinoma cells and are stable, safe, and effective in both laboratory and animal studies.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

A combination of genetic mutations may explain the higher incidence of and poorer outcomes from pediatric leukemia in Hispanic and Latino children, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers. Sinisa Dovat, MD, PhD, a researcher professor and pediatric oncologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital and Penn State Cancer Institute collaborated with Gordana Raca, MD, PhD, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Kimberly J. Pane, PhD of Loma Linda University, to understand the biology behind the health disparity after prior research suggested that there may be an increased frequency of a genetic mutation in Hispanic and Latino children with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The researchers found that 11% of Hispanic and Latino children had both mutations compared to 0% of their counterparts.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

The Purdue University Board of Trustees approved the naming of a new veterinary hospital as the David and Bonnie Brunner Purdue Veterinary Medical Hospital Complex in recognition of a $10 million leadership commitment from David and Bonnie Brunner. David is a Purdue University alumnus, who earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1979. The 162,500-square-foot complex will include three facilities just east of the Lynn Hall of Veterinary Medicine. In addition to treating animals, the hospital complex will support interdisciplinary research, including cancer drug discovery and the development of treatments for paralysis.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, a RWJBarnabas Health facility, have named James K. Aikins, Jr., MD, FACOG, FACS, as chief of gynecologic oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute and chief of gynecologic oncology services at RWJUH, New Jersey’s largest academic medical center. He will also serve as program director for the Gynecologic Oncology Fellowship Program at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium recently appointed Elisavet Paplomata, MD, assistant professor of hematology/oncology at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine as a co-chair of the Big Ten CRC’s Gynecological Clinical Trial Working Group. She will serve as co-chair alongside Eugenia Girda, MD, FACOG, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Their leadership supports collaboration and mentoring opportunities within the working group and will guide the development of the Big Ten CRC gynecological clinical trials.

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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.