January 24, 2021:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights emerging research, new appointments and initiatives that support advancement in the health and treatment of those with cancer.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Shikha Jain, MD, a GI oncologist at the University of Illinois Cancer Center and director of the communications strategy and innovations at the Center, was recently recognized by MedScape as one of 25 young physicians who are poised to become future leaders in medicine. Dr. Jain collaborates with her colleagues to learn where patients get their information and then targets television segments, social media, and email campaigns to reach them.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Jun Song, PhD, a professor of physics at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is applying his background in high-energy physics to cancer-related high-throughput genomics analysis, to see how this type of research could help improve the lives of cancer patients. This type of analysis uses sequencing assays to infer the geometry of DNA as it wraps around proteins and folds into a condensed structure called chromatin. Depending on the arrangement of the DNA, certain areas of the genome are made accessible or inaccessible to other proteins in the cell.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

An investigator and medical oncologist from Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center found using the drug, sitagliptin, a drug approved for Type 2 diabetes, reduces the risk of acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), one of the most serious complications of blood stem cell transplantation in leukemia. The results were shared earlier this month in the New England Journal of Medicine. Principal Investigator Sherif Farag, MD, PhD, the Lawrence H. Einhorn Professor of Oncology and professor of medicine at IU School of Medicine, said the response rate looks very encouraging and can be achieved with a simple and relatively inexpensive intervention.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Pashtoon Kasi, MBBS, MS, a clinical oncologist at University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, was recently quoted in Survivor.net about the urgency of keeping up with cancer treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study finds long-term survival falls dramatically for each 60 days of delay when cancer treatments and screening are put off. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Christian Rolfo, MD, PhD, MBA, professor of medicine at University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of Thoracic Medical Oncology and Early Clinical Trials at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC), discusses the use of liquid biopsy tests to detect blood in cancer, including specific gene mutations that could be treated with targeted therapies in Clinical Laboratory News on the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (AACC) website.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

Michael Green, MD, PhD, a radiation oncologist at University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center, noticed when his patients had cancer spread to the liver, they fared poorly compared to when cancer spread to other parts of the body. Moreover, transformative immunotherapy treatments had little impact for these patients. Uncovering the reason and possible solution, a new study in Nature Medicine, shows that tumors in the liver siphon off critical immune cells, rendering immunotherapy ineffective. However, when coupling immunotherapy and radiotherapy to the liver in mice, immune cell function was restored and led to better outcomes.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Craig Emmitt Cole, MD, director of Clinical Research in Hematology/Oncology and Multiple Myeloma at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and a board-certified hematologist Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center, is one of three new board members serving the Cancer Support Community, a global nonprofit that provides $50 million in free support and navigation services to cancer patients and their loved ones. Dr. Cole has served as an onsite primary investigator for more than 30 clinical trials and participated in more than 50 clinical trials in multiple myeloma and blood cancer.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Physicians and scientists at the University of Minnesota have opened its phase I, first-in-human trial for patients with a specific type of brain cancer – glioblastoma. The development for this innovative treatment is based on years of research from Michael Olin, PhD, and Christopher Moertel, MD, researchers within the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Division of Hematology and Oncology, Department of Pediatrics, as well as a high-grade canine clinical trial conducted by G. Elizabeth Pluhar, DVM, PhD, DACVS, in the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences. The study is led by Elizabeth Neil, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

In a letter published in Clinical and Translational Medicine, investigators from the University of Nebraska report that their recent study results show that bromelain, an enzyme extract derived from pineapple stems, can inhibit SARS-CoV-infection via targeting ACE-2, TMPRSS2, and SARS-CoV-2 S-protein. They also found that thrombosis development is a significant risk factor in multiorgan failure and death in COVID-19 patients. Currently, bromelain is used as a dietary supplement for treating patients with pain, inflammation, thrombosis, and cancer. Their research suggests that given bromelain’s fibrinolytic activity, bromelain could be used as an antiviral against SARS-CoV-2 and future outbreaks of other coronaviruses.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Melissa Simon, MD, MPH, vice chair for research, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine – Center for Health Equity Transformation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, will be the first to tell you that she wasn’t supposed to succeed, having grown up in a family that was in the bottom 1%. Seeing her own family members treated unfairly in health care gave Simon the resolve to become a doctor and change healthcare from the inside. She combines research and community outreach to reduce gaps in health care services for medically underserved communities. Two of her main initiatives focus on preventing and treating cancer and decreasing maternal mortality among low-income women.

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

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) launched its fourth statewide cancer research initiative. The fourth initiative, Turning the Page on Breast Cancer in Ohio, will focus on increasing breast cancer education, facilitating access to genetic counseling, and ensuring appropriate screening and follow-up for abnormalities and treatment for black women who are at an increased risk for breast cancer. Electra Diane Paskett, PhD, MSPH, Marion N. Rowley Chair in Cancer Research, Ohio State College of Medicine, and Heather Hampel, MS, LGC, associate director, Division of Human Genetics, Ohio State College of Medicine, serve as principal investigators.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Investigators from Penn State College of Medicine and Penn State Cancer Institute studied and found nearly 13,000 stage four breast cancer patients who had surgery in addition to other therapies had a survival advantage over those who had other treatments alone. Kelly Stahl, MD, lead author of the study and a surgical resident at Penn State College of Medicine, said previous trials evaluating surgical benefit in metastatic breast cancer patients had a small number of participants and did not go into specifics about survival rates in relation to surgical intervention for certain subtypes of breast cancer. This latest study was published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology. To make it possible, Dr. Stahl worked with Daleela Dodge, MD, associate professor from the Department of Surgery, and Chan Shen, MD, PhD, associate professor from the Department of Surgery and chief, Division of Outcomes, Research and Quality, to identify stage four breast cancer patients from the National Cancer Database from 2010-2015.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

A new approach to cancer immunotherapy has the potential to be a universal treatment for solid tumors, according to researchers at Purdue University. Researchers Philip Low, PhD, Purdue’s Presidential Scholar for Drug Discovery and Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, and Timothy L. Ratliff, PhD, the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue Center for Cancer Research and Distinguished Professor of Comparative Pathobiology, shared details of this approach in AACR’s Cancer Research.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey has named Christian Hinrichs, MD, as chief of the section of Cancer Immunotherapy and co-director of the Cancer Immunology and Metabolism Center of Excellence, along with Eileen White, PhD, deputy director and chief scientific officer at Rutgers Cancer Institute. Dr. Hinrichs, whose expertise is immunotherapy exploration, was recruited from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) where he most recently served as a tenured senior investigator in the Genitourinary Malignancies Branch. He began his new role earlier this month.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Researchers like Paul Ellison, PhD, assistant professor of medical physics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, develop new small molecules that can be used for medical imaging as well as for targeted therapies to treat cancer. He and his colleagues at the UW-Madison Cyclotron Lab take advantage of the properties of radioactive molecules. Their research will help guide and understand fundamental radiobiology of electron emitting radiopharmaceuticals.

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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.