Jan. 21, 2017:

This month’s handpicked stories from across the consortium highlight major breakthroughs in diagnostics and treatment; spotlight emerging leaders; and celebrate milestones in funding and expansion. The Big Ten CRC members will continue asking tough questions in 2018; resolve to catch the play-by-play Across the Consortium!

University of Illinois Cancer Center

The University of Illinois at Chicago has received $6.75 million from the National Institutes of Health to establish a specialized Center of Excellence in minority health and health disparities research.

Called the Center for Health Equity Research, or CHER, the new UIC center will investigate how various social structures and determinants contribute to the health of marginalized groups.

“The reality is that the vast majority of preventable disease in the U.S. happens in a small group of minority communities and it’s not always because of biology alone,” said Dr. Robert Winn, associate vice chancellor for community based practice at UIC and director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Community leaders, Indiana University faculty, staff and students, and health care providers gathered Tuesday to celebrate the official ceremonial groundbreaking of the new IU Health Regional Academic Health Center on the campus of Indiana University Bloomington.

Expected to be completed in 2020, work is underway to secure and prep the site, and moving earth will begin in the next few weeks.

The more than 700,000-square-foot complex will serve Bloomington and the surrounding region and will include a cancer center, surgical services, a women’s center, neonatal intensive care, physician offices and a trauma center. A state-of-the-art healthcare simulation center used to train students and clinicians on new patient care techniques will be shared by IU Health and IU.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Tumor-targeting nanoparticles loaded with a drug that makes cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy’s toxicity could be used to treat an aggressive and often deadly form of endometrial cancer, according to new research by the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy.

For the first time, researchers combined traditional chemotherapy with a relatively new cancer drug that attacks chemo-resistant tumor cells, loaded both into tiny nanoparticles, and created an extremely selective and lethal cancer treatment. Results of the three-year lab study were published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

The idea of precision medicine has inspired cancer scientists and spurred a new type of cancer clinical trials — based on genes and biomarkers rather than tumor type.

But the uncertain promise of precision medicine in cancer care can be seen in two examples.

Woods Brown came to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center with prostate cancer that had spread to his bones, lung and liver. Genetic sequencing uncovered a mutation in the BRCA2 gene. He enrolled in a clinical trial in which he received abiraterone, a standard therapy for prostate cancer, plus a PARP inhibitor, a new targeted therapy that has shown success against BRCA2 mutations.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

A new Michigan State University study is helping to answer a pressing question among scientists of just how close mice are to people when it comes to cancer.

The findings, now published in PLOS Genetics, reveal how mice can actually mimic human breast cancer tissue and its genes, even more so than previously thought, as well as other cancers including lung, oral and esophagus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cancer is the second leading cause of death among Americans next to heart disease.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

The Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, received a check for $1.389 million for cancer research from the inaugural Chainbreaker bike ride that took place in August 2017.

Chainbreaker, a cycling and fundraising event which directs 100% of rider-raised funds to research at the Masonic Cancer Center, attracted 1,021 riders, 400 volunteers, and 9,775 donors to the first-ever event.

The Masonic Cancer Center, in collaboration with research deans from the University of Minnesota schools of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Veterinary Medicine, Public Health, and Dentistry, determined that these funds will be put towards one of the most promising areas of research for cancer – studying the relationship between cancer and the microorganisms we live with.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

It’s not a very common cancer, affecting just 1 percent of the population, but pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest.

“Pancreatic cancer is predicted to be one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in the next 10 years,” says Kelsey Klute, MD, Nebraska Medicine hematologist and medical oncologist, who specializes in cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. “Pancreatic cancer is a very complex cancer for several reasons and requires a team of physicians with experience and expertise in treating this type of cancer to achieve the best outcome.”

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Northwestern Medicine investigators developed a technique to catalog how cells dispose of unnecessary proteins, a process that has implications for cancer and autism-spectrum diseases, according to findings published in Nature Communications.

Defects in ubiquitination, or how cells dispose of unneeded proteins, have been implicated in a variety of diseases, but scientists have previously lacked a reliable method for tracking the enzymes involved in this disposal process, according to Hiroaki Kiyokawa, MD, PhD, professor of Pharmacology and co-senior author on the study.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

A common, inexpensive drug that is used to prevent heart attacks and lower blood pressure may also help melanoma patients live longer, according to researchers.

Researchers at Penn State found that melanoma patients who received immunotherapy while taking a specific type of beta blocker lived longer than patients who received immunotherapy alone. In a follow-up experiment with mice, the researchers saw the same results.

Dr. Todd Schell, professor of microbiology and immunology at Penn State College of Medicine, said that because beta blockers are already widely available, the findings — published in the journal OncoImmunology — could indicate a simple way for physicians to better treat their patients.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Researchers at Purdue University just made high throughput screening, a process often used in drug discovery, 10 times faster than previous methods.

“The area of high-throughput library screening reached a plateau, where the fastest screens took about eight seconds per target,” said Graham Cooks, the Henry B. Hass Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry at Purdue, who led the research. “If you can reduce that time by a factor of ten, which is what we’re reporting, then you can potentially do library screens that might have taken months in days.”

High-throughput screening uses robotics, data processing software, liquid handling devices and sensitive detectors to quickly conduct millions of chemical, genetic and pharmacological tests. It allows researchers to identify active compounds, antibodies or genes that modulate a particular biomolecular pathway, which is especially useful for drug discovery.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health have named Andrew M. Evens, DO, MSc, FACP as a new oncology leader responsible for the delivery of integrated cancer care across both entities in servicing the region. Dr. Evens, whose clinical expertise is in hematologic malignancies, most recently was the director of the Cancer Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

As associate director for clinical services at Rutgers Cancer Institute, Evens will oversee and facilitate the integration of all multidisciplinary clinical programs across the Institute, including those focused on survivorship, palliative care and navigational support. He also will serve as the director of the Lymphoma Program in the Division of Blood Disorders at Rutgers Cancer Institute, where he will lead a translational lymphoma laboratory that utilizes systems biology analyses and investigates novel targeted therapeutic agents for lymphoma. As medical director of the oncology service line at RWJBarnabas Health, Evens will help build an integrated cancer care delivery platform that spans the health system. He also has an appointment as a professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Mary Jane Staab, RN was an oncology nurse 23 years ago, when she was approached with an offer to join the genitourinary clinical research team at UW Carbone Cancer Center, focusing on prostate, kidney and bladder cancer.

As a clinical research nurse, she works with patients to enroll them in clinical trials to find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancers. These trials are designed to help physicians and research teams more rapidly answer clinical questions that lead to improved patient outcomes.

“When I first started, we just weren’t seeing a benefit for many of the trials,” Staab says. “I had to change my perspective early on, because maybe the treatment wasn’t helping, but I knew I was making a difference on an individual basis by offering hope to the patient.”

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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 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 www.bigten.org.