May 21, 2018:

On your MARK, get SET, GO Across the Consortium! Get up to date on recent clinical trial outcomes; big leaps in funding; and diagnostic breakthroughs with far-reaching implications. Be inspired by the Big Ten CRC Member Institutions as you witness researchers tackling the toughest questions in oncology as a team.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

University of Illinois Cancer Center member Larisa Nonn has received a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct research to determine whether the lack of vitamin D in African American men increases the amount of testosterone and estrogen within the prostate, leading to a higher risk of cancer.

“Although the disparity of vitamin D deficiency in African Americans is well known, the clinical significance is often questioned because African American men do not have soft bones, which is a classic symptom of vitamin D deficiency,” said Nonn, PhD, associate professor of pathology in the University of Illinois College of Medicine. “If clinicians are aware of a direct mechanism by which these men are increasing their risk of prostate cancer, they would strongly recommend taking a vitamin D supplement.”

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano’s name will carry on in central Indiana through cancer research at Indiana University.

Pagano and his wife Tina were honored Friday as the community raised more than $700,000 to create a cancer research fund at IU’s School of Medicine. The Chuck and Tina Pagano Cancer Research Fund will support junior researchers at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center.

Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia during his first season as the Colts head coach in 2012. His battle was supported by the “Chuckstrong” initiative, which helped lead to Friday’s announcement.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

A clinical trial by University of Iowa oncologist Mohammed Milhem, MBBS, shows promising findings on treatment of metastatic melanoma. Milhem presented the early study results April 17 at the 2018 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) meeting in Chicago.

The treatment used in the phase 1b clinical trial combined a powerful immune system activator with the immunotherapy agent pembrolizumab (Keytruda). The study shows the combination was well tolerated in patients and suggests it could be effective against advanced melanoma that has either not responded to or has progressed during therapy with the pembrolizumab alone.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

As many as one in three women treated for breast cancer undergo unnecessary procedures, which is why it’s important to find new ways to diagnose the disease. Research in mice finds a special kind of pill could do a better job distinguishing between benign and aggressive tumors.

Researchers at the University of Michigan are developing a pill that makes tumors light up when exposed to infrared light, and they have demonstrated that the concept works in mice.

Mammography is an imprecise tool. About a third of breast cancer patients treated with surgery or chemotherapy have tumors that are benign or so slow-growing that they would never have become life-threatening, according to a study out of Denmark last year. In other women, dense breast tissue hides the presence of lumps and results in deaths from treatable cancers. All that, and mammograms are notoriously uncomfortable.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Anna Moore has joined Michigan State University as the director of the Precision Health Program and assistant dean of the College of Human Medicine.

Moore was previously professor of radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School.

As director of MSU’s Precision Health Program, Moore’s vision is to lead health care away from simply treating symptoms to restoring health before symptoms occur. Moore said this can be done by conducting genetic screens early in life to look for complex genetic factors and assess disease risk. With this risk assessment a person can be monitored over their lifetime for early indicators or symptoms and treated as early as possible.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Patients across Minnesota will soon have better access to new cancer treatments through clinical trials thanks to a new state-funded partnership between the University of Minnesota and the state’s major health systems. As part of Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and InnoVation Economy (MnDRIVE) partnership with the State of Minnesota, the University has launched the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network (MNCCTN) with multiple locations across the state.

Led by the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, the goal of the MNCCTN is to improve prevention, treatment and survivorship for all Minnesotans through greater access to cancer clinical trials. These trials will originate from Minnesota’s two NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, the Masonic Cancer Center and Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, along with the Hormel Institute in Austin.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Distance wasn’t going to keep Donna Jones from a hospital bed in Omaha, Nebraska. The Sundance, Wyoming woman traveled 11 hours to be first in line to see the doctors.

“I could see the lymph nodes growing,” Donna said. “This is the last option.”

In a year, the Jones family ranch turns 101. Donna doesn’t turn 60 until June. So why have nurses wished her a happy birthday? Simply put, she’s a milestone.

Three weeks ago the medical team at Nebraska Medicine extracted T-cells from her blood. The cells were re-engineered to identify the cancer cells and kill them. The process is called CAR T-Cell Therapy.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

The death of her mother from ovarian cancer when Sui Huang, MD, PhD, was only 12 led to her lifelong scientific pursuit and a new discovery that Huang, an associate professor of Cell and Molecular Biology, hopes may eventually prevent other children from suffering such a painful loss.

In a study published in Science Translational Medicine, Huang and colleagues have used a new approach and discovered a new compound that halts the spread of cancer cells, which is what makes the disease so lethal.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Mutations in genes that help repair damage to DNA may aid in predicting the prognosis of patients with bladder and other related cancers, according to researchers.

The researchers found that bladder cancer patients who had mutations in their ATM or RB1 genes — proteins that help repair DNA damage when they’re functioning normally — tended not to live as long as patients without the mutations.

Dr. Monika Joshi, assistant professor of medicine at Penn State Cancer Institute, said that as researchers try to design better treatments for cancer patients, it’s important for them to find biomarkers that can help researchers understand the differences between patients and their prognoses.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Andy Tao tempered his expectations when his lab started an experiment to see whether they could identify phosphorylated proteins in blood.

Phosphorylation — the addition of a phosphate group to a protein — is often a precursor to cancer cell formation, but detecting the process would only be half the battle. They needed to correctly identify the phosphorylated proteins in the blood of patients known to have cancer.

“My student, Blair Chen, got the data and immediately came to my office,” Tao says. “She detected over a thousand phosphorylated proteins from 1 milliliter of plasma in a single experiment. She was shocked, and I was totally overwhelmed.”

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

The development of targeted tools for therapy is a major focus in oncology.  A new study by investigators at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and colleagues from the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center and New Mexico-based Specifica, Inc., describes what they call a “major advance” to a screening technique they pioneered that searches for molecular signatures intrinsic to normal or diseased tissues.

The screening process, which can be described as a “molecular mass mailing” to all addresses in the body, employs billions of viral particles, called phage. Initially, the particles were packaged with small fragments of proteins called peptides that act as ligands. When injected into the body, they bind to specific markers. The peptides travel until they find a target and bind to it, then one can recover and identify them. This latest approach elucidates a new strategy to develop anti-tumor monoclonal human recombinant antibodies.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Detecting and monitoring cancer through imaging has made great strides over the decades in an effort to reduce invasive biopsies or surgeries. Imaging procedures, such as CT (computerized tomography) or MR (magnetic resonance) scans are useful to visualize tumor formations at specific sites inside the body.

However, those imaging techniques are limited in identifying how the tumor functions – an area in which PET (positron emission tomography) scans excel.

“One thing someone can ask is, ‘If you have CT and MR, why do you need PET imaging?’” said UW Carbone Cancer Center member and nuclear medicine physician Steve Cho, MD. “We’re looking at the processes of things, and it opens your eyes to see tumors that are very difficult to find or for which the primary site is unknown.”

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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