March 19, 2021:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights current research, innovations, appointments, publications, and general news across member institutions.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago want to learn whether a Mediterranean diet can reduce incidence of colorectal cancer in African Americans. They received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to study 200 African American designated as obese between the ages of 45 and 75 to complete one of four interventions. The study is led by principal investigator Marian Fitzgibbon, PhD, professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and co-principle investigator Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, MS, RD, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition at UIC and co-leader of University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control program.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

A new study from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has found that the liver maintains its metabolic and toxin-removing work during regeneration in mice, even if 70% of its mass is removed, thanks to a subset of cells that can expand their workload while other cells focus on multiplication. Additionally, these cells in the liver communicate with each other to coordinate regeneration from the center to the periphery of missing liver lobes. Auinash Kalsotra, PhD, who led the study published in Genome Research, said after a portion is surgically removed, regeneration begins, and within weeks, the liver is back to its original size and mass.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Indiana University School of Medicine researchers have developed a novel antibody-drug conjugate for treating triple-negative breast cancer. The study, led by Xiongbin Lu, PhD, senior author and Vera Bradley Foundation Professor of Breast Cancer Innovation at IU School of Medicine, was recently published in the interdisciplinary medical journal, Science Translational Medicine. Lu and his team combined the HER2-positive targeted cancer drug trastuzumab with α-amanitin, a small-molecule inhibitor to create a novel drug called T-Ama. The researchers found that T-Ama was effective at killing breast cancer cells with low HER2 levels in animal models during the study and also determined that the loss of chromosome 17p makes the tumor cells more likely to respond to α-amanitin.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers at the University of Iowa are examining how artificial intelligence (AI) can provide answers to some of the world’s most complex problems using advances in big data, precision sensors, and computational power. David M. Keuhn, MD, FACR, clinical associate professor of radiology – Division of Body Imaging at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, and Jinha Park, MD, PhD, a former UI professor of radiology, have examined how AI can be used to identify which patients with malignant melanoma tumors will respond to treatments, with the hope that AI may help in assessing CT scans and guide oncologists on a course of treatment. They hypothesize that by better predicting treatment outcomes, AI may not only help reduce the number of patients undergoing ineffective treatments, but also reduce side effects and lessen health care costs.


University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Elizabeth M. Nichols, MD, associate professor of radiation oncology and Clinical Director of University of Maryland Department of Radiation Oncology, was recognized in 2020 as Physician of the Year by The Daily Record and as a “Top Doctor” in Radiation Oncology by Baltimore Magazine. Dr. Nichol’s focus is on breast and gynecologic malignancies. She chairs the GammaPod Consortium, a collaboration of medical institutions dedicated to GammaPod research – a device developed at the University of Maryland for treating early-stage breast cancer.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

Reducing the initial screening age and including individuals with lower smoking exposures could help avert lung cancer-related deaths, according to a new study by the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network, led by a University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center researcher. “Expanding screening eligibility will help further curb lung cancer deaths, which account for 1 in 4 cancer deaths in the U.S. – more than colon, breast, and prostate cancer deaths combined,” said lead study author Rafael Meza, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health and coordinating principle investigator of the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network Lung Working Group, which conducted the modeling study. The results of the study were published recently in JAMA and helps inform new guidelines.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

A researcher from Michigan State University says more interventions are needed for patients after being screened with an abnormal cervical cancer finding to possibly prevent disease and cure them. Sabrina Ford, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology within MSU’s College of Human Medicine, said better education from screening to treatment is especially important among black women. When black women were informed about an abnormal Pap test, they often did not follow up with their medical provider. Dr. Ford’s research was recently published in the journal Gynecologic Oncology.


Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

A new cancer clinic has opened at M Health Fairview’s Clinic and Surgery Center on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota. The clinic, known as the Developmental Therapeutics Clinic (DTC), will offer Phase I cancer clinical trials and is a collaboration between University of Minnesota Medical School, M Health Fairview, and the Masonic Cancer Center, the Twin Cities’ only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Manish Patel, DO, associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation, and an M Health Fairview Hematologist/Oncologist, will lead the clinic.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Robin Lally, PhD, the Bertha L. Pankratz Professor of Nursing and interim associate dean for research, at the UNMC College of Nursing, was recently named a UNMC Distinguished Scientist along with other UNMC researchers during a virtual awards ceremony. Dr. Lally’s research focuses on cancer-related psychological distress. The Distinguished Scientist Award, sponsored by UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, recognizes researchers who have been among the most productive scientists at UNMC during the past five years.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

An early clinical trial in individuals with glioblastoma demonstrated an experimental spherical nucleic acid drug developed by Northwestern University scientists was able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and trigger the death of tumor cells. The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, marks this development as the first time a nanotherapeutic crossed the blood-brain barrier when given through intravenous infusion and altered the genetic machinery of a tumor to cause cell death. Results of the study show the drug reduced the level of a cancer-causing gene and supported cell death. The study was led by Priya Kumthekar, MD, associate professor of neurology in the Division of Neuro-Oncology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

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

Two new studies published by researchers at The Ohio State University and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center provide important evidence review and predictive modeling data to inform updated lung cancer screening guidelines implemented by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The studies and the new screening guidelines were published in JAMA on March 9. Daniel E. Jonas, MD, MPH, general medicine division director at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and former colleagues at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, completed a comprehensive review of clinical registry data and peer-reviewed publications from the past 20 years to look at lung cancer incidence, lung cancer mortality, all-cause mortality, test accuracy, and harms.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Biophysicists from Penn State College of Medicine and the University of Massachusetts Amherst studied how myosin, the molecular motor responsible for muscle contraction and other cellular processes, generates force. Together, they discovered mechanical events of myosin precede – rather than follow – biochemical events, which challenge the long-held view that biochemical events control and precede mechanical ones. Christopher Yengo, MS, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular physiology at Penn State College of Medicine, who led this research, said that if drugs were developed that could control myosin’s functions, it might be possible to enhance its force-generating capacity in a failing heart or stop it from driving cell division in a cancerous tumor.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

A new technology developed by the Purdue University startup GeniPhys may enhance tissue restoration outcomes for people with breast cancer and other diseases or traumatic injuries. Sherry L. Harbin, PhD, a professor at Purdue’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, collaborated with breast surgeon Carla S. Fisher, MD, associate professor of Surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine, to develop and perform preclinical studies on a regenerative tissue filler. The tissue filler is a first-of-a-kind, in situ scaffold-forming collagen, that when applied, could accelerate and improve tissue restoration outcomes. The team’s work was published in the Feb. 1, 2021 issue of Scientific Reports.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Denalee O’Malley, PhD, a researcher at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, was awarded $400,000 for research to help identify and overcome systemic, provider and societal factors impacting optimal use of colorectal cancer preventative screening options for patients with higher medical and social risks throughout the United States. The research is supported by the National Cancer Institute Pathway to Independence Award (1K99CA256043-01) and the Robert Leet Patterson and Clara Guthrie Patterson Trust Mentored Research Award.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

A study recently published in Science Translational Medicine shows how urinalysis could potentially be used to detect some forms of cancer. While urinalysis has been used to detect and manage many chronic diseases, it has not been used to detect cancer. The study was led by Muhammed Murtaza, MBBS, PhD, visiting associate professor of surgery and Center for Human Genomics and Precision Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The work was performed while Dr. Murtaza was at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona.

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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