June 27, 2021:

In this edition of Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights cancer research ranging from scientists studying links between high cholesterol and breast cancer recurrence to “brain fog” and cognitive dysfunction after chemotherapy. We also share a study on the use of a robotic breast surgery option that may result in improved cosmetic outcomes without compromising cancer control, and how social media is influencing parents’ decisions about whether their children will or will not get the HPV Vaccine. Explore these studies, new appointments, publications, and other general news across the Big Ten CRC.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

A new University of Illinois Cancer Center study is assessing the dramatic disruption to cancer screening caused by COVID-19 and finds minority patients are among the most affected. Researchers compared cancer screening counts for breast, cervical, colon, lung, and prostate cancer for each month between February and August 2020 to the number of patients screened for those cancers in January 2020. Volume plummeted after January 2020, with the sharpest decline occurring in April 2020. Shikha Jain, MD, the study’s senior author, of University of Illinois Cancer Center, said there were no differences in screening trends by gender, but disparities in breast cancer screening were found among black and Hispanic patients.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Scientists studying the cellular processes linking high cholesterol to breast cancer recurrence and metastasis report that a byproduct of cholesterol metabolism causes some cells to send out cancer-promoting signals to other cells. These signals are packaged in membrane-bound compartments called extracellular vesicles. Researchers say the discovery, which was reported in the journal Endocrinology, could lead to the development of new anti-cancer therapies. “Extracellular vesicles play an important role in normal physiology, but they also have been implicated before in cancer biology,” said study lead, Erik R. Nelson, PhD, a professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Very little is known about what regulates the vesicles. These particles carry cargo from one cell to another. This cargo is important because it’s diverse and acts as a communication network.”

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Cancer researchers at Indiana University and University of Pittsburgh received a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study cognitive dysfunction following chemotherapy. After undergoing chemotherapy, survivors often find it more challenging to learn new tasks, remember words, or do things as efficiently or quickly as they did previously. A cognitive behavioral therapy called Memory and Attention Adaptation Training, or MAAT, developed by Robert Ferguson, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the Behavioral Cancer Control Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, will be the focus of the first large-scale, multi-center study using the grant. Ferguson is collaborating with Brenna McDonald, PsyD, a member of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, to test MAAT and supportive therapy to determine the effects of both improving memory problems and emotional resilience among breast cancer survivors.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

When the Pediatric Brain Tumor Clinic at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital opened in 2015, it was the first of its kind in Iowa to offer a multidisciplinary approach to streamline care. This type of approach to care makes a major difference to patients such as Brady Jorgensen, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor before his first birthday in 2007. After neurosurgeons in Omaha removed 70% of the mass years ago, the tumor came back. At 10 months old, Brady had an 18-month chemotherapy regimen and continued chemotherapy off and on through 2014, and then turned to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Clinic for further care. “All members of the team — from neurosurgery, neuro-oncology, radiation oncology, endocrinology, ophthalmology, neurology, and psychology, as well as social work, child life, and nursing—work together for patients and their families,” said Mariko Sato, UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital pediatric neuro-oncologist.”


University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) is working to reduce disparities in patient care for black women diagnosed with breast cancer – a group at significantly higher risk of dying from breast cancer than white women. The academic cancer center is one of eight oncology practices nationwide selected to help reduce breast cancer disparities in urban areas where disparities are the greatest. “We welcome this opportunity to work with ASCO and Susan G. Komen to help eliminate barriers and improve access to care for black women diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Kevin J. Cullen, MD, the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Distinguished Professor in Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) and UMGCCC’s director. “Breast Cancer affects many women in the communities we serve, and black women are often diagnosed at a later stage and experience poorer outcomes.”

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

A protein involved in cholesterol metabolism plays a previously unknown role in suppressing the body’s natural immune defenders in and around pancreatic tumors, research led by University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center finds. ApoE, an apolipoprotein known to play roles in cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, is elevated in the blood of people with pancreatic adenocarcinoma, with higher levels of ApoE correlating with poorer survival, according to the team’s findings, which appear in Cancer Research. Contributors to the study include first author Samantha Kemp, PhD, who recently graduated from U-M and is now pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, and co-senior authors Marina Pasca di Magliano, PhD, a professor of surgery and cell and developmental biology at the U-M Medical School, and Howard Crawford, PhD, who recently moved from U-M to the Henry Ford Health System.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Thomas O’Halloran, PhD, was recently appointed as Michigan State University Foundation Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics and Chemistry at MSU. “I cut my teeth studying the chemistry of platinum anticancer drugs,” he said, reflecting on early research by MSU biophysicist Barney Rosenberg, whose development of cisplatin was a source of inspiration for Dr. O’Halloran’s dissertation at Columbia University. “I am delighted to become a part of the legacy that Barney’s discoveries have created at Michigan State University and for cancer survivors all lover the world.” An MSU Foundation grant will allow O’Halloran to conduct high-risk, high-reward research into new inorganic compounds that could lead to a treatment for certain types of blood, breast, and brain cancers.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Jeffrey Miller, MD, deputy director of the Masonic Cancer Center, and his research team have been awarded a $9 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) P01 Program Project Grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for his program titled, “NK cells, their receptors, and cancer therapy.” The focus of the grant is to target acute myeloid leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and ovarian cancer with natural killer (NK) cells. “The overall goal is to make universal and cancer-specific NK cells products that can be frozen and thawed for immediate use that are amenable to repeat dosing, much like the schedule for cancer antibodies or chemotherapy,” Dr. Miller said.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Grinu Mathew, PhD, assistant professor, at the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, recently joined University of Nebraska. Her research interests include leveraging functional genomics and preclinical models to decode cancer metastasis, with a focus on prostate and skin cancer; cellular plasticity in cancer and therapy resistance; tumor microenvironment; and the mechanisms of whole genome duplication in cancer.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Luisa Iruela-Arispe, PhD, an internationally recognized vascular biologist, has been named co-leader of the Tumor Environment and Metastasis (TEAM) Program at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. The goal of the Team Program is to articulate how interactions between tumor cells, immune cells, and components of the host stromal microenvironment impact tumor development and progression. Dr. Iruela-Arispe is chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology and is the Stephen Walter Ranson Professor. Her current cancer research interests include the molecular mechanisms that result in the emergence of angiosarcomas and the cross-talk between endothelial and tumor cells in the process of metastasis.

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

A new clinical trial at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James) offers women with certain forms of early-stage breast cancer and inherited genetic risk factors a new breast surgery option with potential to result in improved cosmetic outcomes without compromising cancer control and recurrence risk. Led by OSUCCC – James breast surgical oncologist Ko Un (Clara) Park, MD, this clinical trial will enroll up to 20 women who will undergo a robotic-assisted, nipple-sparing mastectomy.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Studies by Penn State College of Medicine researchers demonstrate that misinformation on social media may affect parents’ willingness to have their children vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV). They also found that some parents are in favor of establishing standards for combating HPV vaccine misinformation on social media. In the first study, a group of investigators conducted an experimental comparison of vaccine-related tweets. In the second study, researchers assessed parental support for implementing social media standards to combat misinformation. “Our study is among the first to identify which combination of messaging elements from tweets is most effective to motivate parents to get their children vaccinated against HPV,” said William Calo, PhD, JD, MPH, lead author of one of the studies, and assistant professor at the College of Medicine’s Department of Public Health Sciences and Penn State Cancer Institute.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Herman O. Sintim, PhD, Drug Discovery Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, is studying new anticancer agents, including kinase inhibitors against acute myeloid leukemia, bladder, and lung cancers; cancer immunotherapy with bacterial signaling molecules; and inhibitors of epigenetic machinery, such as demethylases, enzymes that transfer methyl groups from one compound to another. Dr. Sintim arrived at Purdue in October 2015, when he was awarded an endowed professorship in drug discovery. He held postdoctoral positions at Oxford and Stanford Universities before serving at University of Maryland at College Park (UMD) as assistant professor, associate professor, and professor.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School discovered a phage display-based approach to halt tumor growth that could be used to treat breast cancer. The findings were published online in the scientific journal eLife. Their study shows this can be accomplished by using a distinct molecule on the surface of tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) and another one that can target it. The lead author of the study is Fernanda I. Staquicini, PhD, who conducted the work while a resident member of Rutgers Cancer Institute, and assistant professor of radiation oncology in the Division of Cancer Biology, Department of Radiation Oncology at Rutgers NJMS. Other contributors are senior authors Renata Pasqualini, PhD, a resident member of Rutgers Cancer Institute and professor and founding chief of the Division of Cancer Biology, Department of Radiation Oncology at Rutgers NJMS and Wadih Arap, PhD, director of Rutgers Cancers Institute at University Hospital Newark and professor and chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, Rutgers NJMS.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Christian Capitini, MD, associate professor, Hematology, Oncology, and Bone Marrow Transplant at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and Krishanu Saha, PhD, Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering, will serve as co-PIs on a new project funded by the UW Grainger Institute for Engineering. During the one-year, $50,000 seed project, titled “Virus-free biomanufacturing of cell therapies,” the team will develop novel, safe, scalable virus-free technologies for genome editing within human cells.

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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.