Nov. 13, 2015:

Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium members understand it takes the whole team to win the battle against cancer. By leading efforts to enhance diversity, members and consortium leadership are working hard to tackle disparities in clinical trial participation. Last month Susan Goodin, executive officer of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, had the opportunity to be a panelist at a forum on clinical trial diversity in Chicago.

Also in this month’s edition of Across the Consortium, we highlight the many ways our members are pushing the boundaries of science and technology in order to improve diagnosis, treatment, and other cancer related experiences.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

The University of Illinois at Chicago is collaborating with Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center and Northeastern Illinois University to create the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative, a project that aims to combat cancer in low-income and minority neighborhoods in the Chicago area.

The collaborative, which hopes to reduce healthcare inequalities in the city, was made possible by a $17.4 million grant from by the National Cancer Institute.

Feinberg Prof. Leonidas Platanias, who directs NU’s Lurie Center, said the grant will allow the University to address a problem prevalent in the Chicago area.

“The cancer mortality rate in Chicago, especially in poor African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods, is much higher than the national average,” Platanias said. “The grant will help our work aimed at reducing these disparities.”

Read news releases from University of Illinois and Northwestern University.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Cancer researchers at Indiana University and their colleagues have discovered how cancer-induced bone destruction causes skeletal muscle weakness.

Led by Theresa Guise, M.D., the Jerry and Peggy Throgmartin Professor of Oncology at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, the investigators have identified the molecular pathways that lead to cancer-associated muscle weakness. They found that inhibiting TGF-?, a growth factor released from bone during cancer-induced bone destruction, improved muscle function in mouse models of human cancers.

“Advanced cancer often spreads to the bone and patients can have muscle weakness because of that. This weakness can severely reduce the quality of life in patients and increase the risk to fracture bone. We previously showed that when cancer spreads and causes bone destruction it releases growth factors into the circulation. In the present study, we found that these factors can cause muscle weakness,” Dr. Guise explained.

Read more.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of Iowa Dance Marathon Allocations Committee voted to approve a new, significant funding request put forth by UI Children’s Hospital leadership: $2.2 million over three years to establish the UI Dance Marathon Pediatric Oncology Targeted Therapy Program. This program and associated funding will allow UI Children’s Hospital to assemble a targeted therapies infrastructure and begin hosting phase I and phase II clinical trials for pediatric cancer patients.

This gift allows UI Children’s Hospital to treat children whose cancer has not responded to standard therapies. The approval of this request places UI Children’s Hospital among an elite group of hospitals across the United States performing these pediatric trials.

Read more.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Pancreatic cancer patients are getting closer to the day when a small amount of their own blood will provide enough information so that doctors can recommend personalized treatments targeting the whole tumor. If you ask Diane Simeone, M.D., the Lazar J. Greenfield Professor of Surgery and director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center, this vision of the future may become reality in the next five years.

Powered in part by a grant from the Lustgarten Foundation, researchers at the University of Michigan are pushing the boundaries of science to replicate individual pancreatic cancer tumors microscopically to use for developing personalized medicine, or therapies.

“The idea of isolating a patient’s own circulating tumor cells, assembling a microscopic copy of the tumor and creating an unlimited supply for on-the-spot drug testing is a real game changer,” says Dr. Simeone. “It is a new form of genetic sequencing and functional testing.”

Read more.

Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

In a recent study, researchers at Michigan State University evaluated using text messages to help patients self manage their cancer treatment when they were prescribed oral anti-cancer agents. In addition to attempting to prove the concept, researchers assessed the effect of the intervention on symptoms and medication adherence.

The study is a response to a growing number of people receiving outpatient cancer treatment with oral anti-cancer agents. Use of oral anticancer agents raises a number of challenges for patients and health professionals including “prolonged treatment period, management of toxicity, treatment adherence, reimbursement conditions and patient and family education” according to one 2011 study. In particular adherence to oral anticancer drugs appears to range widely from 16% to 100%.

Read more.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

A new study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry has found bone tumors have preprogrammed genes, meaning the genes of the cancer remain unchanged even after a tumor is found in the body.

These findings resulted from research conducted on both canine and human bone cancer cells at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, Medical School, and the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. The project was conducted by Milcah Scott, Hirotaka Tomiyasu, D.V.M., Ph.D. and Aaron Sarver, Ph.D. It was directed by Jaime Modiano, V.M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and Subbaya Subramanian, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Surgery.

Bone cancers are similar in canines and humans, so researchers are hoping to use this information to learn more about this type of cancer that predominantly affects dogs and children.

Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

By simulating the growth of cancerous tumors, a new synthetic platform developed at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln could accelerate the testing of breast cancer treatments – and has already revealed a potential source of the body’s resistance to a therapeutic drug.

As detailed in two recent studies, UNL engineer Srivatsan Kidambi and colleagues used a polymer-based film to assemble cell cultures without the need of adhesive proteins required by other methods.

The innovation has allowed the researchers to better mimic various stages of tumor progression by more precisely controlling how cancerous and normal tissue cells interact, Kidambi said.

Read more.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

During mitosis, single cells divide into two cells, each with the same chromosomes and DNA as their parent cell. For years, scientists have wondered exactly what happens to gene expression while cells undergo cell division.

“This has been a major unknown,” said Ali Shilatifard, PhD, chair and Robert Francis Furchgott Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. “What is happening with transcription on chromosomes during mitosis?”

“We have opened up a new area in understanding the role of transcription during mitosis,” said Shilatifard, who is also a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “What are the functions of these genes? Are there anomalies associated with transcription during mitosis that cause different birth defects or the development of cancer? These are all new questions that we can now pursue.”


Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

Triarylethylene Analogs as Breast Cancer Therapeutics: Cancer is one of the most prominent diseases worldwide, accounting for approx. 8.2 million deaths. Recent estimates have projected that new cancer cases will increase fivefold by 2025. Current breast cancer therapeutics use selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) that block the effects of estrogen in breast tissue. Without estrogen attaching to a breast cell, the cell doesn’t receive signals to grow and multiply. However, popular SERMs such as Tamoxifen are only effective against MCF-7 (ER+) breast cancer cell lines. Currently, there is no single agent that is effective in treating both ER+ and ER- breast cancers.

This new therapeutic, compound GA-11 was identified based on extensive SAR studies in laboratories of Drs. Sharma and Mahajan. It was shown to be effective against both ER+ and ER- breast cancers, hence it is anticipated that it will be useful for a wider range of patients.

Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Purdue researchers have devised a way to capture the finer details of complex cell processes by using tiny synthetic particles known as dendrimers, a technology that could lead to more targeted treatment for cancer.

A precise understanding of how cells engulf small particles, a process known as endocytosis, could help researchers improve drug delivery and reveal the mechanisms of viruses. But the particles “eaten” by cells and the proteins that control cell entry pathways are too little for conventional technologies to detect.

W. Andy Tao, professor of biochemistry, and his collaborators developed a method that sends dendrimers into cells to track, capture and isolate the proteins that regulate the cell internalization process, identifying 809 proteins involved in cell entry pathways.

Read more.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a viral melanoma therapy that was the focus of a phase III clinical trial led by Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey Associate Director for Clinical Science and Chief Surgical Officer Howard L. Kaufman, MD, FACS.

Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC) is a genetically modified herpes simplex virus (type 1) that is now approved for the treatment of recurrent melanoma that is unresectable in patients who have had initial surgery. This oncolytic immunotherapy is injected directly into tumors and is designed to replicate and produce a protein known as GM-CSF (granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor) that stimulates the immune system. The virus does not replicate in normal tissue. T-VEC causes tumors to rupture and die, a process which releases tumor-derived antigens, which along with GM-CSF may promote an anti-tumor response. However, the exact mechanism of action is unknown and is further being investigated.

Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

A research team at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center has identified a key component of endocrine-therapy resistance in breast cancer, a finding that could lead to the development of new treatment approaches for the most common subtype of the disease.

“Estrogen-receptor alpha (ER) positive breast cancers constitute 70 percent of all breast cancer cases, and these cancers depend on estrogen for growth,” said Dr. Wei Xu, professor of oncology at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health and senior author of the study.

She added that ER-positive breast cancers are typically treated with endocrine therapy such as tamoxifen, but some cancers can develop resistance to therapy over time.

Read more.

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 creates a unique team-research culture to drive science rapidly from ideas to treatment-changing paradigms. 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