Oct. 1, 2019:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (Big Ten CRC) welcomes members to new leadership roles. We also highlight some of the work universities are doing to support cancer survivors and increase their quality of life after cancer, while researchers continue to explore novel approaches to improve survival and prevent relapses.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

The University of Illinois Cancer Center has received a $1.8 million five-year federal grant to help young breast cancer survivors in Chicago navigate their lives following diagnosis and treatment. The UI Cancer Center’s survivorship group is developing a new program entitled Young And A Survivor (YAAS!) that will unite survivors, co-survivors, patient advocates, clinicians, support service providers, researchers, and local and national patient advocacy organizations to reduce disparities in survival and quality of life due to race, ethnicity, and other social factors among young breast cancer survivors, metastatic breast cancer survivors, and their families or caregivers.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Many potential pharmaceuticals end up failing during clinical trials, but thanks to new research from the University of Illinois, biological molecules once considered for cancer treatment are now being repurposed as organic semiconductors for use in chemical sensors and transistors. The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature Communications. Organic semiconductors are responsible for things like flexible electronics and transparent solar cells, but researchers are working to expand their use in biomedicine and devices that require interaction between electrically active molecules and biological molecules.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Reuben Kapur, PhD, has been appointed interim director of the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research at Indiana University School of Medicine. He succeeds Raghu Mirmira, MD, PhD, who led the center since August 2017. Kapur’s appointment begins November 1, 2019. Kapur is the Frieda and Albrecht Kipp Professor of Pediatrics and the leader of the Hematalogic Malignancies and Stem Cell Biology research group at the Wells Center. As a nationally recognized investigator, his research focuses on the mechanisms of childhood leukemias and pediatric bone marrow failure syndromes, with the central goal of developing new therapies to treat these life-threatening illnesses.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

As part of the year-long senior design program for biomedical engineering students, the University of Iowa tasks students with solving an engineering-related issue. For Genevieve Goelz, inspiration came from her “grammy,” Geri Goelz, who died from an aggressive, rare type of breast cancer on Feb. 16, 2018. Goelz and her group signed up to design a bra for people who undergo unilateral mastectomies, which is the removal of one breast. The purpose of the bra is to provide a measured amount of compression to the surgical site around the residual breast, to both armpits, and the back.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

A new 3D structure for growing cell cultures could enable doctors to test medications on model tumors grown from a patient’s own cells, according to results from a team of engineers and cancer researchers at the University of Michigan. Unlike previous devices, the new structure is made from protein fibers that cells know how to modify. “We can potentially use the cultures to do things like drug testing or single cell analysis, which may help us identify the best treatments for a patient’s cancer,” said Gary Luker, MD, a professor of radiology at the University of Michigan.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Healthy cells in our body release nano-sized bubbles that transfer genetic material such as DNA and RNA to other cells. It’s your DNA that stores the important information necessary for RNA to produce proteins and make sure they act accordingly. These bubbly extracellular vesicles could become mini treatment transporters, carrying a combination of therapeutic drugs and genes that target cancer cells and kill them, according to new research from Michigan State University and Stanford University. The study, which focused on breast cancer cells in mice, is published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Peter Villalta, PhD, has been appointed as the director of the Analytical Biochemistry Shared Resource at the Masonic Cancer Center. Villalta spent 20 years as the coordinator of the mass spectrometry facility (part of the Analytical Biochemistry Shared Resource) under the leadership and guidance of Drs. Stephen Hecht and Robert Turesky. A nationally and internationally recognized expert in analytical mass spectrometry, he helped turn the simple idea of a centralized facility into a scientific powerhouse that gives researchers access to 17 mass spectrometers.
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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

The University of Nebraska recently released a new episode of its “Leading Nebraska” podcast series, featuring UNMC researcher Christina Hoy, DNP, whose work is bringing new hope to families with a history of pancreatic cancer. Dr. Hoy is the project coordinator for a UNMC study that could help lead to a blood test to screen for the deadly form of cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of less than 9 percent. There is currently no early detection method for the disease. Dr. Hoy and her team are studying individuals with a higher-than-average risk to develop pancreatic cancer, including those with a family history.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

After a patient is diagnosed with lymphoma – an often-treatable type of cancer that attacks the lymph nodes, spleen, thymus, bone marrow and more – the natural next steps are determining the patient’s survival outlook and deciding the best course of treatment. But current methods of doing so remain inaccurate or invasive, often involving a tissue biopsy. A revolutionary new blood test created by scientists from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Chicago accurately identified if a patient with lymphoma will relapse after receiving treatment and predicted their survival time, according to a recent study.

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

New research from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) has identified gene mutations that cause resistance to promising new drugs in patients with a rare, lethal form of bile duct cancer. The disease, called cholangiocarcinoma, has few treatment options and a five-year survival rate of less than two percent for patients with advanced disease. A new group of drugs called FGFR inhibitors offers a promising new treatment for the disease, but tumors can develop resistance to the agents, rendering them ineffective.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

While there are several effective options for treating non-melanoma skin cancers, some may result in better cosmetic appearance after treatment, according to researchers. In a meta-analysis of 58 studies, a study led by Penn State College of Medicine compared four types of skin cancer treatments and found that while all four had similar recurrence rates a year after treatment, a form of radiation called brachytherapy and a type of surgery called Mohs micrographic surgery had better cosmetic results.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Scientists know that the solution to preventing breast cancer won’t come easily, but a collaborative team of scientists at Purdue University and the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM)/Institut de Cancérologie de L’Ouest (ICO) in Nantes, France, say they’ve recently discovered one of the missing pieces of the puzzle when it comes to cancer prevention. The Purdue Center for Cancer Research, working with ICO, the Cancer Center for Western France, as part of a memorandum of agreement with the Purdue-led International Breast Cancer and Nutrition (IBCN) initiative, discovered that glyphosate, the primary ingredient in widespread herbicides, can lead to mammary cancer when combined with another risk factor. The work was published in Frontiers in Genetics.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Although cure rates for children with cancer are increasing, cancer treatments can cause permanent deterioration of brain functions leading to impairments in attention, concentration, memory, and learning. As a result, these changes can lead to challenges with school, obtaining future employment, and overall quality of life into adulthood, even though cancer treatment may have been successful. With the aid of a $3.4 million, five-year National Institutes of Health grant (R01CA220568), Peter D. Cole, MD, chief of pediatric hematology/oncology and the Embrace Kids Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, and colleagues are exploring an approach that would detect these changes among children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) early during treatment.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Thomas “Rock” Mackie, PhD, of the UW Carbone Cancer Center, will receive the Gold Medal Award for his contributions to cancer treatment from the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), the world’s premier radiation oncology society, which held its annual meeting Sept. 15 to 18. Mackie, professor emeritus of engineering, medical physics and human oncology, contributed many important inventions to radiation therapy. He is probably best known for his development of tomotherapy, which directs a continuous helical delivery pattern of radiation that can be programmed to any shape, thus limiting the dose to healthy tissue. He founded companies, TomoTherapy (now owned by Accuray) and Geometrics, and currently serves as UW Health’s chief innovation officer, and head of Isthmus Project, the health system’s new innovation accelerator.

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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 www.bigten.org.