July 20, 2019:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (Big Ten CRC) highlights some of the outdoor events that support cancer research. Meanwhile, researchers indoors are making progress with new treatments that show improvements in survival for certain cancers while working toward a better understanding of cancers with low survival rates.

University of Illinois Cancer Center (University of Illinois at Chicago)

It’s in the mitochondria. That’s where University of Illinois Cancer Center member Elizaveta Benevolenskaya, PhD, believes the secret lies in how the retinoblastoma protein (pRB) stops cancer. Throughout her career, Benevolenskaya has been searching for a protein that explains the differentiation block seen in Rb-deficient cells. “Restoration of normal pRB function is important to stopping cancer from growing,” said Benevolenskaya, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics. “This explains why there is so much interest in this protein. Prior studies have shown that Rb-deficient cells were unable to properly grow, which mechanistically has been linked to the protein family E2F.

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University of Illinois Cancer Center (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Scientists at the University of Illinois have found that free fatty acids in the blood appear to boost proliferation and growth of breast cancer cells. The finding could help explain obese women’s elevated risk of developing breast cancer after menopause. “When taken up by estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer cells, these fatty acids activated pathways that increased tumor cell growth, survival and proliferation,” said food science and human nutrition professor Zeynep Madak-Erdogan, PhD, who led the study.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative recently announced that a team of Indiana University School of Medicine researchers is joining a select group of scientists, computational biologists, software engineers and physicians as winners of the CZI Seed Networks for the Human Cell Atlas awards. The research group is led by Harikrishna Nakshatri, PhD, the Marian J. Morrison Professor of Breast Cancer Research and Professor of Surgery.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

In a recent blog post, George Weiner, MD, director of the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, writes: “I was sitting in the airport waiting for a flight recently (something I do all too often) when I overheard the beginning of what appeared to be a conversation between a grandfather and his teenage granddaughter about choosing a career. The conversation started with the grandfather giving thoughtful, if somewhat standard advice. First, the grandfather advised his granddaughter to pick a career that would provide enough financial return to consistently put food on the table. Second, he suggested finding a field that would not get boring even after many years on the job. Third, he recommended finding work that had meaning. I suspect the conversation went on from there but I had to leave to catch my plane. This got me thinking about my own career choice and what advice I would provide in a similar situation.”

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

A large, randomized immunotherapy clinical trial continues to show improved overall survival and progression-free survival in advanced lung cancer patients, researchers reported at this year’s American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting. The update on the KEYNOTE-189 trial provides nearly two years data on use of the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab in combination with platinum-based chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. “The primary takeaway is that we saw continued benefit, even with longer follow-up,” says Shirish M. Gadgeel, MBBS, Mary Lou Kennedy Research Professor in Thoracic Oncology at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Gadgeel serves on the steering committee for KEYNOTE-189 and participated with a global team on two prior studies.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

On June 22, more than 2,000 cyclists rode through scenic West Michigan for the seventh annual MSU Gran Fondo, a timed, non-competitive event, that has raised more than $1 million toward skin cancer awareness, prevention and research within the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) recently announced the recipients of its 2019 research grants. Through a highly competitive peer-review process, seven researchers across the U.S. were selected, bringing PanCAN’s total projected research investment to approximately $104 million, including its grants program and clinical and scientific initiatives. Ingunn Stromnes, PhD, with the Masonic Cancer Center and the University of Minnesota Medical School, was awarded the 2019 Julia Stagliano Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Catalyst Grant for her research project “Overcoming Immunotherapy Resistance in Pancreas Cancer.”

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

The survival statistics of adults older than 60 with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are not good, due to age factors and the nature of the disease. A clinical research study at UNMC is trying to improve survival. “This is a tough disease,” said Vijaya Raj Bhatt, MD, UNMC associate professor and medical director of the leukemia program for Nebraska Medicine, UNMC’s clinical partner. “One of the biggest challenges is how to determine what treatment patients should get.”

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

The standard of care for women with stage III/IVA endometrial cancer following surgery has been chemotherapy and radiation to prevent recurrence. But in a surprising new finding, radiation combined with chemotherapy did not increase recurrence-free survival in these women. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the results of a National Cancer Institute-sponsored Gynecology Oncology Group study led by Daniela Matei, MD, the Diana, Princess of Wales Professor of Cancer Research, a professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, and a Northwestern Medicine gynecologic oncologist.

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

Four individuals who have demonstrated unmatched support for patients with cancer during their treatment and recovery received the Champion Award as part of the annual Step Up for Stefanie’s Champions event, an honor bestowed annually by The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). The award program coincides with the annual Step Up for Stefanie’s Champions run/walk, a family-friendly community event that will take place from 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. on Saturday, June 8. The event includes four-mile and one-mile routes that begin and conclude at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center, 1145 Olentangy River Road. All proceeds from the event benefit the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research at the OSUCCC – James. The fund has generated more than $22 million since its inception in 1998.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

To diagnose and treat diseases like cancer, scientists and doctors must understand how cells respond to different medical conditions and treatments. Researchers have developed a new way to study disease at the cellular level. Keith Cheng, MD,PhD, distinguished professor of pathology, pharmacology and biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State College of Medicine, and a team of X-ray imaging physicists at the University of Chicago, have developed a new 3D tissue imaging technique called X-ray histotomography. The technique allows researchers to study the details of cells in a tissue sample without having to cut it into slices. And that could lead to better diagnosis and treatment for a variety of diseases, including cancer.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

For advanced stages of head and neck cancer, one of the best treatments is so aggressive that it could bring tooth decay, speech loss, constant nausea, or all of the above. That’s because the treatment combines two therapies – chemotherapy and radiation – which means double the cancer-killing power, but also double the side effects. A large proportion of the 63,000 Americans diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year are ineligible for this treatment because they are too old or too sick, but most don’t know they have the cancer until after the age of 50. Purdue University researchers in collaboration with the Indiana University School of Medicine have created a new chemoradiotherapy formulation that they predict should be even more effective than what is available commercially. The formulation shouldn’t produce side effects because all its toxins stay within tumors, rather than leaking into the bloodstream and harming the whole body.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Investigators at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey have developed a computational method that uncovers clinically relevant gene expression patterns in large cohorts of breast cancer patients. This method, which is applicable to the analysis of all cancers, can robustly describe molecular processes that are associated with tumor subtypes and can identify predictive markers of response to treatment or disease recurrence. Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey research member Hossein Khiabanian, PhD, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School is the senior author of the work.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

A research team at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center has found a new tumor-causing mechanism that contributes to the development of the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) originates from a B lymphocyte (B cell). Receptors on B cells send signals that direct the production of antibodies required for clearing viral or bacterial infections. DLBCL currently has a cure rate of less than 50 percent. During normal immune responses, B-cell receptor signaling is tightly regulated and only occurs during a short window of time. In DLBCL, B-cell receptor signaling is unregulated, driving tumor formation, explained Lixin Rui, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

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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.