May 22, 2017:

Across the Consortium is your chance to catch the latest news in Big Ten oncology as it happens each month. We handpick the breaking stories that keep you informed and inspired. This month’s edition highlights major breakthroughs in diagnostics, therapeutics, and discovery.  

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Nationwide, counties with the poorest quality across five domains – air, water, land, the built environment and sociodemographic – had the highest incidence of cancer, according to a new study published in the journal Cancer.

Poor air quality and factors of the built environment — such as the presence of major highways and the availability of public transit and housing – – were the most strongly associated with high cancer rates, while water quality and land pollution had no measurable effect.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Almost a year ago, IU launched the Precision Health Initiative, a research initiative focused on patient-centered precision medicine therapies. Researchers and physicians at the IU Simon Cancer Center and Riley Hospital for Children are decoding genetic variations leading to major breakthroughs in medicine. WNDU-TV takes a look at the work.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Adding the investigational immunotherapy indoximod to the FDA-approved immunotherapy pembrolizumab (Keytruda) increased the proportion of patients with advanced melanoma who responded to treatment compared with previously reported response rates for pembrolizumab monotherapy, according to interim results from a phase I/II clinical trial.

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

As thyroid cancer rates rise, more people are having surgery to remove all or part of their thyroid. A new study suggests complications from these procedures are more common than previously believed.

Overall, 6.5 percent of thyroid cancer patients had general postoperative complications in the month after surgery, and 12 percent had complications specific to thyroid surgery within a year of the operation. But the risks were significantly higher for certain groups, suggesting the opportunity for targeted interventions and education to improve outcomes.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Michigan State University Extension has partnered with the Michigan State University Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Program. MSU Extension educators with backgrounds in health education are talking to groups throughout Michigan regarding MSU research focused on environmental factors that impact breast cancer in women.

The research is exploring whether exposure to certain chemicals and foods, specifically foods high in saturated fat, may change how girls’ bodies mature during puberty. While it is too early to say for sure that avoiding certain chemicals or some foods will lower the risk of breast cancer, there are some steps that parents may wish to take that could potentially help protect their daughters from developing breast cancer later in life.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Why is brain cancer so difficult to treat? It’s a simple question that comes with many not-so-simple answers. 

For decades, medical advancements have improved outcomes for patients diagnosed with a variety of cancers. Despite this substantial research and innovation, treating brain tumors are still a challenging target.

The five-year survival rate for all brain tumors—including benign tumors—is roughly 33 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Lynn Knuth hoped the only time he would see the inside of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center was through his work for a building supply company contracted to provide and install drywall for the new hospital.

But then Knuth, 54, was diagnosed with cancer. A multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow gnawing at 45 percent of the bones in his body, discovered after what should have been a fun weekend golfing with friends in 2014.

“I could hardly put a shirt on it hurt so bad, I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t lay flat,” said Knuth, 54.

 At the urging of a friend, Knuth saw a doctor after the tournament on a Sunday. On Tuesday, he received the test results and elected to begin treatment at University of Nebraska Medical Center immediately.

The enormous tower crane looming over the construction site was the only indication of the Buffett Cancer Center at that time, Knuth said.

Three years later, construction at the $323 million cancer care and research hospital is drawing to a close. It will open its doors June 5 to patients like Knuth with a new strategy to treat cancer.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A team of scientists has demonstrated the mechanism by which ETO2-GLIS2, a gene fusion, promotes the development of an aggressive form of pediatric leukemia. The findings, published in Cancer Cell, also reveal an opportunity for the development of therapeutics.

The study was co-authored by John Crispino, PhD, the Robert I. Lurie, MD, and Lora S. Lurie Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

 A nanoscale product of human cells that was once considered junk is now known to play an important role in intercellular communication and in many disease processes, including cancer metastasis. Researchers at Penn State have developed nanoprobes to rapidly isolate these rare markers, called extracellular vesicles (EVs), for potential development of precision cancer diagnoses and personalized anticancer treatments.

“Most cells generate and secrete extracellular vesicles,” says Siyang Zheng, associate professor of biomedical engineering and electrical engineering. “But they are difficult for us to study. They are sub-micrometer particles, so we really need an electron microscope to see them. There are many technical challenges in the isolation of nanoscale EVs that we are trying to overcome for point-of-care cancer diagnostics.”

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Drug compounds being developed at Purdue University could effectively target and inhibit protein kinase enzymes and secondary mutated versions that drive multiple types of cancers. The compounds are non-toxic compared to conventional drugs, potentially eliminating adverse patient side effects.

“Protein kinases are an important class of proteins that are involved in cell signaling. They regulate a variety of processes such as cell growth, death (apoptosis) and migration. There are about 600 different protein kinases in a human cell,” said Herman Sintim, a professor in Purdue’s Department of Chemistry and developer of the innovation. “Because of their involvement in cell signaling, protein kinases are also involved in cancer formation. For a variety of cancers, these protein kinases either become mutated and cause abnormal cell growth or they undergo kinase duplication, both inevitably causing cancer.”

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

 Improvements in chemotherapy and liver surgery have resulted in increased overall survival in patients with advanced stage colorectal cancer in recent decades. In order to better predict outcomes for these patients, researchers at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey conducted a retrospective analysis and found that stage IV colorectal cancer patients who survived at least two years have a better prognosis than originally thought. Results of the work will be presented as part of a poster presentation at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting being held in Chicago early next month.

“With patients in this population living longer, it is imperative we refine prognostic information to more accurately predict survival.  This data will assist multi-disciplinary cancer management teams in making treatment decisions that ultimately will impact a patient’s quality of life,” notes Darren Carpizo, MD, PhD, surgical oncologist and director of the Hepatobiliary Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute and senior investigator of the work.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Diego Hernando, PhD and Alejandro Roldan-Alzate, PhD, were both awarded grants administered through the Department of Urology’s Multidisciplinary K12 Urologic Research Career Development Program. These awards cover $75K per year in salary and an additional $50K per year in additional expenses. The program’s goal is to prepare investigators to establish independent careers of research that will address issues of benign urological disorders such as urinary tract infection, overactive bladder, incontinence, and benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). 

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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.

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