July 15, 2018:

The unified goal of the Big Ten cancer centers is improving the lives of all patients with cancer. In their union is the teamwork of 2,600 cancer researchers and 20,000 patient volunteers, all bringing unique perspectives and strengths to the multi-disciplinary mission. Every breakthrough, every grant, every life touched is a victory that belongs to us all. In the fight against cancer, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium stands as one. See why we are stronger together in this month’s Across the Consortium!

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Caucasian men accounted for about 106 new cases of prostate cancer per 100,000 men for the years 2011-2015. For African American men, that number jumped to nearly 179 per 100,000. University of Illinois Cancer Center member Alan Diamond has received a U.S. Department of Defense grant to study the accuracy of his hypothesis that the gene SELENOF is a contributing factor in the disparity.

The combination of genetics and environmental factors likely play a role in why African American men experience a higher incidence of prostate cancer, as well as having a worse clinical outcome, said Diamond, PhD, pathology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. In prior studies, Diamond has compared the amount of SELENOF in prostate cancer to normal tissue, and the gene is expressed at significantly lower levels in African American men compared to Caucasian men.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

A major breast cancer study, recently published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine and announced at the world’s leading meeting for oncology professionals, caught the attention of the national news media and, naturally, women, because it found that chemotherapy does not significantly improve disease-free survival rates in some women with early stage breast cancer. IU Simon Cancer Center researcher Sunil Badve, MBBS, was one of the co-authors of the study. The study’s results were announced during the 2018 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Dr. Badve, the Joshua Edwards Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and professor of medicine at IU School of Medicine, answered questions about this significant research.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

The FDA has approved CAR T-cell therapy, a treatment for some types of cancer at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.

The UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only hospital in Iowa and one of the few institutions nationwide that is certified to deliver CAR T-cell therapy, which genetically alters patients’ T-cells in their immune systems to target and then fight off cancer cells.

Right now, the unique cancer treatment is only approved for specific types of cancers, but experts say there is enormous potential for the treatment.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, genetic testing can offer important information that might guide treatment choices. But studies have shown that only about half of women who could benefit receive genetic testing.

A new study finds that surgeons are a key influence.

“The surge of genetic testing in cancer care is a major challenge for surgeons,” says Steven J. Katz, M.D., MPH, professor of general medicine and of health management and policy at the University of Michigan. “There is a lack of consensus around guidelines and approach to testing, and legitimate uncertainty about its value in guiding treatment, especially with newer genes whose cancer risks are not well defined.”

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

New research into a genetic mutation’s role in breast cancer could open new treatment options for an even more deadly disease, according to a Michigan State University scientist.

“We sequenced the whole genome of tumor samples and found a driving mutation that has previously not been recognized as important,” said Eran Andrechek, a College of Human Medicine physiology professor. “This mutation, once we validate and confirm it with ongoing work in our laboratory, has clear potential to identify lung cancer patients who should be receiving therapy that’s already approved by the FDA.”

Andrechek presented his research to MSU’s Board of Trustees Friday.

Using lab mice and computational analysis of sequenced genes, he and his colleagues learned that a mutation present—but apparently not consequential—in breast cancer turns out to inhibit growth of certain human lung cancer tumors. About 5 percent of lung cancer cases carry this mutation, he said.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

In 2015, engineer Brian Braun endured an invasive brain cancer surgery that required a three-week recovery in intensive care. When his tumors came back in 2018, he thought he would have to undergo the harsh procedure once again.

However, cutting-edge clinical trials at the University of Minnesota allowed him to undergo a less taxing laser treatment with a shorter recovery time instead. After the new surgery, Braun was back to work in two weeks.

The laser treatment is part of a series of clinical trials being held by the Department of Neurosurgery to treat glioblastoma— an aggressive brain cancer. The trials include laser treatment, engineered viruses and a drug that helps identify where tumors are located.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Two UNMC scientists and their novel Easi-CRISPR genome-editing technology have contributed to a significant breakthrough in the fight against cancer.

The discovery may lead to new and safer treatments for autoimmune and other diseases, including rare inherited disorders.

UNMC’s Channabasavaiah Gurumurthy, D.V.M., Ph.D., associate professor of developmental neuroscience at Munroe-Meyer Institute, and Rolen Quadros, transgenic researcher in the Mouse Genome Engineering Core Facility, collaborated with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to develop a technique in which they genetically reprogrammed T cells, the body’s foremost immune system fighter, to find and destroy cancer cells in mice.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

An existing drug significantly lowered the risk of metastasis or death when used in men with non-metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer and a rising PSA level, according to a new clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Men with non-metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer and a quickly rising PSA level present a medical dilemma. The rising PSA (prostate-specific antigen) means there is cancer activity, but no visible metastasis in a scan.

These men are receiving hormone treatments to reduce the testosterone on which their cancer feeds, but their cancers have become resistant to that treatment. Until recently, there were limited treatment options.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

he Penn State Cancer Institute is now the first and only oncology center in central Pennsylvania to offer patients CAR T-cell therapy, a cutting-edge treatment that has been successful in treating a common type of lymphoma. The CAR T-cell therapy, called Yescarta, uses the body’s own immune system to treat patients who have not responded to other treatments or who have relapsed after at least two other types of treatment.

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy changes the patient’s immune system to improve its ability to fight cancer. It takes T-cells from the patient and modifies them by adding a receptor that targets and kills cancer cells. The reprogrammed cells are then infused into the patient to find and attack cancer cells. The therapy has shown to be very effective, even in cancers that don’t respond to chemotherapy.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Some level of molecules linked to oxidative stress may be essential to health and development, according to new animal studies.

Reactive molecules derived from molecular oxygen, known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), increase dramatically in the body during times of environmental stress or disease. This stress can result in significant damage to cells and is associated with negative health consequences such as aging, male infertility, degenerative diseases and cancer.

“We think there’s an ideal intermediate concentration, but neither extreme is good,” said Daniel Suter, a professor of biological sciences at Purdue University.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey researchers have elucidated the mechanism behind an ‘on/off’ switch in the the most commonly mutated gene in human cancer – p53 – findings which senior investigator Darren R. Carpizo, MD, PhD, director of the Hepatobiliary/Liver Cancer Program and member of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program, says could lead to a new paradigm in cancer therapeutics. The effort builds on the Carpizo Laboratory’s previous research in the development of a new class of anti-cancer drug known as zinc metallochaperones and their role in reactivating the tumor suppressor function of p53.

Dr. Carpizo, who is also an associate professor of surgery and pharmacology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, describes the work which was published in the online first version of Clinical Cancer Research (doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-18-0822) on June 18. 

Q: Why is this topic important to explore?

A: p53 is the most commonly mutated gene in cancer for which no effective targeted anti-cancer drug exists. The p53 protein is the most important protein in our cells that protects us from getting cancer.  A number of cancers have to disable p53 by mutating its gene in order to progress into clinically detectable cancers. The majority of the mutations in the p53 gene are subtle changes to the protein that make it unable to function properly. 

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

A five-year, $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute will support UW Carbone Cancer Center physician-researcher Dusty Deming, MD, and colleagues in their pursuit of more effective treatments for colorectal-cancer patients.

With the funding, researchers at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research and UW Carbone will grow colon cancer cells from patient-derived tissue to help predict how an individual patient’s cancer will respond to various treatments. By growing tissues from individual patients in three-dimensional, or organotypic, cultures, the researchers will be able to better simulate a given patient’s cancer in a laboratory setting.

“The organotypic cultures allow us to take a patient tissue sample from the clinic, test the treatments that are being considered for the patients, and use the lab results to find the best therapy for those patients,” Deming said. “Specifically, we are looking at whether we can predict the response to chemotherapy and radiation for patients with colorectal cancers.”

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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.