March 19, 2017:

Each month, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights advances in research and treatment led by our member institutions. Get up to date on the latest discoveries and breakthroughs from Across the Consortium! 

University of Illinois Cancer Center

A chemical found in tumors may help stop tumor growth, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago report that increasing expression of a chemical cytokine called LIGHT in mice with colon cancer activated the immune system’s natural cancer-killing T-cells and caused primary tumors and metastatic tumors in the liver to shrink.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

The search for effective therapy for pancreatic cancer has long bedeviled researchers and physicians, as well as the countless people it has stricken, robbing them of their lives. Most patients with pancreatic cancer have no symptoms until it’s too late, seeking medical attention only after the cancer is wide-spread and untreatable.

However, there is hope that the work of Mark Kelley, Ph.D., associate director for basic science research at the IU Simon Cancer Center, will make inroads against the devastating disease.

With almost three decades of cancer research under his belt – he started studying the genetics of fruit flies while an undergraduate – Dr. Kelley and his colleagues are moving science from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside. In early 2017, a phase I clinical trial will open at the IU Simon Cancer Center in which study participants – those with solid tumors that are no longer treatable by standard therapy – will take pills twice a day. The clinical trial will help to determine the drug’s safe dosage. Once that’s been determined, it will be evaluated in a number of different cancer patients including those with pancreatic cancer.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Findings in female rats may eventually help patients receiving chemotherapy

A new study in rats suggests that nicotinamide riboside (NR), a form of vitamin B3, may be useful for treating or preventing nerve pain (neuropathy) caused by chemotherapy drugs. The findings by researchers at the University of Iowa were published recently in the Journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain (PAIN) and lay the groundwork for testing whether this nutritional supplement can reduce nerve pain in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

Although chemotherapies have improved cancer survival rates, many of these drugs also cause debilitating side effects that decrease the quality of life of patients and survivors. In particular, many anti-cancer drugs cause chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN)—nerve damage and pain.

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Women with locally advanced cervical cancer whose treatment follows national guidelines for care have better survival, regardless of race, ethnicity or stage of cancer.

But fewer than three out of five women received guideline-based care. For black and Hispanic women, it’s just over half, a new study finds. And that could help explain why cervical cancer outcomes tend to be worse for these women.

Researchers looked at records from 16,195 patients treated between 2004 and 2012 for locally advanced cervical cancer. Patient information was reported to the National Cancer Database, which represents 96 percent of the cervical cancer cases in the United States.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

New research from Michigan State University indicates that embryonic tissue, key to the development of a baby’s gender, could contribute to an enlarged prostate, or BPH, in men later in life.

It’s estimated that up to 90 percent of older men experience BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia, and quality of life can be severely affected.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Survivors of childhood cancers have fewer secondary cancers, according to new research from the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Compared with those diagnosed in the 1970s, patients diagnosed after 1990 are experiencing better outcomes. Researchers believe the difference comes from a reduction in exposure to therapeutic radiation.
The results are published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Work was led by the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota in partnership with investigators at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. It utilized data from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS).
“It’s quite exciting. We’ve known for several years that radiation therapy puts survivors at high-risk for secondary cancers, and treatments have been modified to reduce radiation exposure,” said Lucie Turcotte, M.D., lead researcher, assistant professor of pediatrics in the University of Minnesota Medical School and member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. “Still, no one has shown reducing the exposure has reduced subsequent cancer risk. That’s what we’ve done in this paper.”

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. As a woman, your risk of developing colorectal cancer in your lifetime is about 1 in 23. It’s a common misconception that colorectal cancer only occurs in older men, however the risk is about the same for men and women. While most colorectal cancer occurs after the age of 50, the incidence of colorectal cancer in younger adults age 20-49 is rising for unclear reasons.

Cancer screening is the process of looking for a cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. Colon cancer screening reduces the risk of developing a colorectal cancer and allows diagnosis of early colorectal cancers, which are easier to cure.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A team of scientists has developed a new safety index for a common group of chemotherapy drugs, by using a stem cell model to screen such therapies for their potential to damage patients’ hearts.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, was co-authored by , assistant professor of .

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs), a class of chemotherapy drugs, have become increasingly important in treating many types of cancer. But almost all TKIs are also associated with cardiovascular side effects — ranging from arrhythmias to heart failure — and there has not yet been an effective tool to predict this cardiotoxicity.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

What if your family’s DNA could become the blueprint for your very own precise and personalized treatment for colorectal cancer? Or, better yet, what if it could be used to help doctors screen you earlier for the disease, before it has a chance to strike?

This isn’t a science-fictional, futuristic ideal. Cutting-edge research at Penn State College of Medicine and the Penn State Colorectal Diseases Biobank is revealing how genetics play a role in treating this disease.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Doctors may soon be able to detect and monitor a patient’s cancer with a simple blood test, reducing or eliminating the need for more invasive procedures, according to Purdue University research.

W. Andy Tao, a professor of biochemistry and member of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research and colleagues identified a series of proteins in blood plasma that, when elevated, signify that the patient has cancer. Their findings were published in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tao’s work was done with samples from breast cancer patients, but it is possible the method could work for any type of cancer and other types of diseases. The work relies on analysis of microvesicles and exosomes in blood plasma.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Several physicians at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey have earned recognition as a ‘Top Doctor for Women’s Health’ by Inside Jersey magazine. 

Inside Jersey recently released its list of the state’s top physicians devoted to women’s healthcare. Under the direction of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., which publishes America’s Top Doctors, peer nominations are reviewed and assessed by a physician-led research team.  Attributes considered include board certification, medical education, training, hospital appointments, years in practice and professional achievements. Thousands of physicians and other healthcare professionals from across the state were asked to take part in the nomination process, resulting in the selection of 272 doctors for this year’s honor.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

The University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center is launching a clinical trial that will create a customized vaccine using a patient’s own tumor and immune cells, in order to prevent myeloma relapse.

This is one of the first, large-scale, clinical trials in an exciting new area in oncology — making tumor-specific vaccines using both cancer and cancer-fighting cells collected from the patient.

“This trial is taking personalized medicine to the next level, by making a vaccine from the patient’s own tumors,’’ says Dr. Natalie Callander, associate professor of medicine. She will be heading the UW Carbone effort, which is one of 15 cancer centers nationwide who are part of the study.

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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