November 16, 2020:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights several new research studies, study publications, grant awards, professional appointments, and an endowment established to support cancer research. Learn what’s happening across the Big Ten CRC.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

University of Illinois Cancer Center has selected two teams of scientists to receive $50,000 research grants as part of a pilot grants program, whose purpose is to stimulate interprogrammatic research initiatives that will lead to competitive grant applications submitted to external peer reviewed funding organizations. The recipients will pursue research to better understand regulation of cellular and extracellular protein expression in disease progression for ovarian cancer and to determine the pharmacokinetics and efficacy of FOXM1 inhibitors in acute myeloid leukemia mouse models.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

The Cancer Center at Illinois welcomes Hua Wang, PhD, Material Science and Engineering (MATSE) assistant professor, back to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Wang completed his doctoral degree in material science at Illinois and went on to Harvard University and Wyss Institute to work on cancer immunotherapy. Wang’s lab will focus on biomaterials, cancer immunotherapy, cell targeting, and immunoengineering.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

An Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher has been awarded a five-year, $2.9 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop a drug that could make radiation therapy far more effective. John Turchi, PhD, is studying the DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK), which is involved in repairing DNA double-strand breaks. The research focuses on solid tumors that receive radiation therapy as part of treatment, with lung cancer as the main effort. The therapeutic would be given along with radiation.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

A recent study describes 72 new genetic variants which are more common in patients who have breast cancer. In the future, testing for these genetic variants may help genetic counselors predict a person’s risk for breast cancer. Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa cancer specialist and medical oncologist, Sneha Phadke, DO, and certified genetic counselor, Krysten Shipley, MS, CGC, provide insights into this latest research.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Results of a study of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients ages 60 and higher, who received targeted therapy based on genetic analysis of their cancer in the “Beat AML Master Clinical Trial,” show subjects experienced better outcomes compared to those who received standard therapy. The study, which was published in Nature, demonstrated that AML subtypes could be identified within a week, which enabled doctors to make rapid personalized treatment decisions. UMGCCC hematologist-oncologists Drs. Maria Baer and Vu Duong are co-authors of the study.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

Five University of Michigan professors — including two Rogel Cancer members — have been elected to the highest honorary society in the United States for researchers in medicine and health, the National Academy of Medicine. The researchers come from a variety of disciplines including neurology, oncology, and health care policy. The honorees included, F. DuBois Bowman, PhD, Justin B. Dimick, MD, PhD, Christopher R. Friese, PhD, RN, AOCN®, FAAN, Karin M. Muraszko, MD, FAANS, and Henry L. Paulson, MD, PhD. Drs. Friese and Muraszko are cancer center members.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Dohun Pyeon, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics in the MSU College of Natural Science, believes a better mechanistic understanding of how viruses elude the human immune system will help us outsmart millions of years of viral evolution and treat virus-driven cancers. Dr. Pyeon joined MSU two years ago (under the Global Impact Initiative) from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, and his lab’s latest research landed a 5-year, $3 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 grant to investigate cases of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) driven by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. The research aims to develop novel immunotherapies for cancer patients.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Ilana Chefetz, PhD, assistant professor at University of Minnesota and head of the Cancer Stem Cells & Necroptosis lab at the Hormel Institute, published a review article focusing on a specific type of cell death called necroptosis and its possible role in eliminating tumors that are resistant to chemotherapy. “Exploiting necroptotic pathway for cell death induction can also give the key to targeting specific subpopulations of malignant cells poorly affected by conventional chemotherapeutic treatments, such as cancer stem cells,” Dr. Chefetz said.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Surinder Batra, PhD, Joyce Solheim, PhD, and Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, PhD, have recently been named associate directors at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. In his new role as associate director for translational research, Dr. Batra will oversee the growth of collaborations between clinicians and laboratory scientists to form active translational research teams, moving discoveries from the bench to bedside. As associate director for training and education, Dr. Solheim will advise cancer center trainees and faculty on educational opportunities befitting their positions and research interests. As associate director for community outreach and engagement, Dr. Watanabe-Galloway will work with Nicole Carritt, director of UNMC Rural Health Initiatives, to reduce the cancer burden and cancer health disparities across the state through research, improve access to clinical trials, and engage Nebraskans in cancer prevention and control activities.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Heightened levels of two proteins located on the surface of breast cancer cells were linked to increased tumor resistance to radiotherapy treatment, according to a study published in Nature Communications. The findings, co-authored by Gayle Woloschak, PhD, professor of radiation oncology and radiology at Northwestern University, suggest that targeting the proteins CD47 and HER2 may help eliminate radioresistant breast cancer cells altogether and enable more effective radiotherapy treatments for patients.

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

The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) and the Ohio State College of Pharmacy have been awarded a five-year, $7 million competitive Program Project Grant (PPG) renewal from the National Cancer Institute. This multidisciplinary project grant represents the only PPG funded by the NCI in the nation led by a pharmacy investigator and will allow teams at Ohio State, the University of Illinois – Chicago, and University of North Carolina – Greensboro to continue investigating potential anticancer drug leads based on compounds of tropical plants, coastal lichens, cultured cyanobacteria, and filamentous fungi.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

J. David Brensinger has always been the type of person to reach out and help others. Now, a planned gift in memory of his wife, Glenna, will help cancer patients for generations to come through the Glenna Watt Brensinger Cancer Research Endowment at Penn State College of Medicine. “This gift will strengthen our efforts in breast cancer research, in addition to cancer research across the board,” said Raymond Hohl, MD, PhD, director of Penn State Cancer Institute and professor of oncology and pharmacology at the College of Medicine. “Because many breakthroughs in breast cancer care have resulted from innovations in other areas, David’s investment will give us more resources to sustain our work and make new discoveries.”

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Scientists estimate that nearly 60% of all cancer patients do not respond effectively to chemotherapy treatments, and many of those same patients experience toxic and sometimes deadly side effects. Now, David Nolte, PhD, a Purdue University scientist and entrepreneur, is studying whether the use of a simple LED light may help determine if certain chemotherapy options will work for specific patients. The work is published in Scientific Reports.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey researcher ‘Jessie’ Yanxiang Guo, PhD, has received a $1.7 million award from the National Institutes of Health (R01CA237347) to investigate the role of a cellular survival mechanism known as autophagy in the formation of tumors driven by mutations in tumor suppressors known as LKB1 and oncogene KRAS. The goal of this project is to validate the novel concept that blocking this cellular self-cannibalism process is a powerful therapeutic strategy against primary and metastatic LKB1-deficient KRAS-mutant non-small cell lung cancers.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Kari B. Wisinski, MD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recently presented at the 22nd Annual Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Symposium to a virtual audience. She reviewed studies that support emerging treatment strategies for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer, which were often treated with chemotherapy. “We’ve learned that triple negative breast cancer has multiple different subtypes,” Dr. Wisinski said. “There are targeted therapies that can be used based on the biomarkers that we identify for each patient.”

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Information for these stories were 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