May 23, 2021:

In this edition of Across the Consortium, we highlight researchers who are exploring cellular function as it relates to cancer, including drug molecules and genetic mutation, and those who are looking to the physical traits of the mantis shrimp to enhance removal of cancer cells during surgery. We also recognize investigators that are taking on new leadership roles and starting new programs to provide more comprehensive care at their cancer center, and highlight an oncology nurse as part of Nursing Oncology Month. Discover what is happening across the Big Ten CRC.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

A complex meshwork of proteins called the extracellular matrix or ECM anchors cells and regulates several cellular functions. These proteins are a key driver of the tumor microenvironment and a critical regulator of cancer progression. While ECM may be overlooked by some cancer researchers, Alexandra Naba, PhD, assistant professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Illinois College of Medicine and a member of the University of Illinois Cancer Center’s Cancer Biology program, dedicates her lab to better understanding how the ECM contributes to diseases such as cancer so they can develop novel diagnostic and therapeutic strategies.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are looking to the natural world to develop a camera inspired by the mantis shrimp that can visualize cancer cells during surgery. A study led by electrical and computing engineer professor Viktor Gruev, PhD, and graduate student Steven Blair, details how the new camera works with tumor-targeted drugs to see cancer in animal and human patients. The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Cancer center researcher Harikrishna Nakshatri, PhD and the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center are working with other scientists from University of Pennsylvania and University of Yaoundé to ensure breast cells in the Human Cell Atlas are catalogued in every cell type of the human body, including those of diverse racial, ethnic and ancestral backgrounds for future genomic research. In the past, genomics and other forms of human biology have focused on people of European ancestry, while black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Southeast Asian communities were often underrepresentated. Through this team’s research, they aim to translate science into new approaches for diagnosing and treating to support these communities and improve health outcomes.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Scientists from the University of Iowa, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Galera Therapeutics, Inc. collaborated on a study that finds that a small drug molecule called Avasopasem manganese, may protect normal tissue from the damaging effects of radiation while boosting the cancer-killing effect of radiation therapy. The study, co-led by Douglas Spitz, PhD, professor of radiation oncology at the University of Iowa and director of the Radiation and Free Radical Research Core Laboratory in the UI Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, was published online May 12 in Science Translational Medicine. The findings suggest that the drug’s dual capacity is based on a fundamental difference between the ability of cancer cells and healthy cells to withstand the damaging effects of the highly reactive molecule, hydrogen peroxide.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Zaineb H. Makhzoumi, MD, MPH, FAAD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says incidents of melanoma continue to rise and people need to do more to protect themselves. In a video, Dr. Makhzoumi, who also serves as section head of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology and Director of Clinical Services in the Department of Dermatology for the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, said she believes one reason for the increase could be genetic mutations that are directly responsible for melanoma and said even one sun burn could double a person’s risk for melanoma. She is a dermatologic surgeon who specializes in Mohs micrographic surgery and surgical reconstruction for skin cancer.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center investigators have developed a new urine-based, multi-biomarker test to detect aggressive prostate cancer that has performed better than existing biomarker tests in initial preclinical evaluations. The Urine Prostate Seq test, or UPSeq, uses next generation genomic sequencing to analyze urine collected from men following a digital rectal exam. Simpa Salami, MD, MPH, assistant professor of urology at Michigan Medicine and senior study author of the study, said the urine test is designed to inform what is happening throughout the prostate, which may fill in gaps that may not have come up in biopsies and MRI scans.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

The Division of Hematology and Oncology at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine specializes in cancer therapeutics, thrombosis and bleeding disorders, and the clinical care of patients with hematologic and oncologic disorders. This division is active in clinical, research, and teaching programs. Division Faculty include Borys Hrinczenko, MD, Jatin Rana, MD, Craig Cole, MD, Daniel Isaac, MS, DO, and Ryan Gennette, MSN, APRN, NP-C. Learn more about the Division of Hematology and Oncology at MSU.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Dorothy Hatsukami, PhD, a preeminent tobacco researcher and associate director, Cancer Prevention and Control at the Masonic Cancer, University of Minnesota, served on a U.S. Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee that submitted the report to the FDA indicating that the removal of menthol in cigarettes would significantly benefit public health. The FDA announced steps to ban the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars within the next year late last month.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Surinder K. Batra, PhD, associate director for Education and Training at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, has been named the inaugural Dr. Alfred and Linda Hartmann Chair in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and is the first holder of a named chair in the department’s 106-year history. Dr. Batra serves as principal investigator for multiple National Institutes of Health-funded projects and is best known for his research related to pancreatic, ovarian, and prostate cancers. The goals of his lab are to study the molecular mechanisms of neoplastic transformation, differentiation, and altered growth in these cancers.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

The FDA-approved monoclonal antibody drug atezolizumab, which is used to treat advanced bladder cancer, demonstrated poor efficacy in a recent clinical trial published in The Lancet Oncology. Despite research progress in muscle invasive urothelial carcinoma (MIUC), the disease continues to be a high-risk despite curative intent therapy, said Maha Hussain, MD, FACP, FASCO, co-author of the clinical trial and the Genevieve E. Teuton Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s therefore very critical to continue to investigate new agents and combination therapy to further enhance the chance for a cure.”

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

Up to 38.6% of people with colon cancer who have a hereditary cancer syndrome – including 6.3% of those with Lynch syndrome – could have their conditions remain undetected with current universal tumor-screening methods, at least 7.1% of people with colorectal cancer have an identifiable inherited genetic mutation, according to new data published by scientists at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James). Rachel Pearlman, MS, LGC, first author of the study and a genetic counselor/researcher at the OSUCCC-James, said finding ways to identify high-risk individuals among colorectal cancer patients is critical to better manage the disease and proactively identify family members who may be impacted.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Penn State Health has appointed Ethel Randall, MBA, BS, RT, to the newly created position of vice president of Cancer Services. The health system created the position as part of its efforts to seamlessly deliver advanced, personalized care and the high-value, close-to-home care people with cancer need. Randall brings more than 20 years of experience in cancer service line strategy, operations, business development, strategic planning, implementation and change management to the Penn State Health leadership team. Most recently, Randall served as regional vice president of cancer, South Atlantic Division, for Sarah Cannon, the Cancer Institute of HCA Healthcare.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Researchers at Purdue University are using innovative data science techniques to better understand the genetics and cellular biology of cancer cells and tumors, that may help inform the next generation of cancer treatments. This work enables scientists to pioneer new diagnostic tools, generate novel therapeutic treatments, with the goal of improving outcomes. Previously, researchers relied on small sample sizes, case studies and DNA analyses of tumors. Now, they can draw from enormous publicly available databases. Andrew Mesecar, PhD, Purdue’s Walther Professor in Cancer Structural Biology and deputy director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, says data science approaches are critical to the future of cancer research.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Sri Kota, MSN, BA, RN, OCN, nurse clinician in the Stacy Goldstein Breast Cancer Center at Rutgers Cancer Institute, is preparing and coaching registered nurses to become certified oncology nurses. Oncology nursing requires specific knowledge in biological and psychosocial dimensions of cancer to provide advanced treatment options to patients. During Oncology Nursing Month, Kota describes what it means to be an oncology nurse.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

For a teenager or young adult who is making college plans or interested in getting a job or starting a family, a cancer diagnosis throws in another challenge for these individuals. Oncologists understand these unique challenges faced by young people with cancer and have a limited clinical time together to gather appropriate resources to help them – such as mental health services, fertility care, and peer support. The new Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Oncology Program at the UW Carbone Cancer Center has been established to meet the unique psychosocial needs of cancer patients and survivors aged 15-39, to support them during and after treatment. “This has really been an ongoing need both locally and nationally,” said Amanda Parkes, MD, a medical oncologist at UW Carbone. “The hope is that our program will allow patients to not only meet with a provider, and discuss the needs associated with having a cancer during this age range and being treated for that cancer, but also then to connect them to these AYA-specific resources that we already have within our system.”

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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