October 23, 2020:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (Big Ten CRC) highlights a variety of activities and accomplishments across Big Ten universities. Highlights include new leadership announcements, grant awards, study publications, and novel treatments to continue the fight against cancer.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Jan Kitajewski, PhD, a renowned cancer researcher, Nobel Laureate, and academic leader, has been appointed to serve as the director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center effective Nov. 13, 2020, pending approval by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. The appointment comes at a time when UI Cancer Center pursues a National Cancer Institute designation.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Researchers affiliated with the Cancer Center at Illinois at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign discovered a novel small molecule compound that is now the focal point of a new global licensing agreement. The compound, currently called ERSO, a cancer therapy, was originally discovered in the laboratories of Paul J. Hergenrother, PhD, a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, and U of I biochemistry professor, David Shapiro, PhD. Their research was the first to show that the compound can effectively target and kill certain cancer cells, especially breast cancer cells that express the estrogen receptor.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Indiana University School of Medicine has announced the hiring of Kelvin Lee, MD, a world-renowned medical oncologist and multiple myeloma researcher to lead the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center as its new director. The appointment is bolstered by a $15 million fund established by the Walther Cancer Foundation to support him in this role.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

A study by a University of Iowa researcher published in the Journal of Surgical Oncology shows sarcoma patients treated at high-volume medical centers may have higher survival rates than those treated at low-volume centers, according to a new analysis of cancer-treatment data collected by UI researchers. The study used data from the National Cancer Database (NCDB) to examine the effects of volume – the number of sarcoma patients treated at a hospital – on the outcomes of patients treated for non-metastatic soft tissue sarcoma of the upper and lower extremity.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Stuart S. Martin, PhD, professor of pharmacology and physiology at University of Maryland School of Medicine, a nationally recognized breast cancer researcher, has been installed as the inaugural Drs. Angela and Harry Brodie Professor in Translational Cancer Research. The endowed professorship honors the late Angela H. Brodie, PhD, who, with her husband and longtime scientific collaborator, Harry Brodie, PhD, pioneered the development of aromatase inhibitors, a class of hormone-targeting drugs that has changed the face of breast cancer treatment.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

About 1 in 5 new breast cancers are caught at their earliest stages, before they’ve spread from milk ducts into the surrounding breast tissue. But what doctors can’t currently predict with high confidence is which of these cancers – known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or stage 0 breast cancer – are likely to recur and spread after surgery, and which ones surgery is likely to cure. Researchers at the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center have developed a new diagnostic approach using artificial intelligence that aims to do exactly that – and with greater than 90% accuracy, according to findings published in the American Journal of Physiology-Cell Physiology.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

With a nearly $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Michigan State University researchers are using nanoscopic particles to turn the body’s own cells into weapons that cancer won’t see coming. “We are developing a precision ‘Trojan Horse’ nanotherapy that treats breast cancer without the typical side effects,” said Bryan Smith, an associate professor in MSU’s Biomedical Engineering Department. Smith is also the director of the Translational NanoImmunoEngineering, or T-NIE, Lab, located at the Institute for Quantitative Health Science and Engineering.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Daniel J. Weisdorf, MD, Professor of Medicine and Deputy Director, University of Minnesota Clinical and Translational Institute, received the 2020 Charles Bolles Bolles-Rogers Award by the Twin Cities Medical Society Foundation. The award is given to a physician nominated by his colleagues and who, in the opinion of the members of the TCMSF selection committee, by reason of his/her professional contribution to medical research, achievement, or leadership, has become the outstanding physician of this and other years. Dr. Weisdorf has published over 700 manuscripts and 24 book chapters on the topic of translational research on stem cell transplantation with a focus on graft versus host disease, where he is considered a world expert.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, PhD, professor and vice chair of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Department of Epidemiology, has been appointed as the associate director for community outreach and engagement at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at UNMC. Dr. Watanabe-Galloway, the former graduate program committee director for the department, will focus on building population science research on campus while working with other leaders to build infrastructure for community-engaged cancer research.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Northwestern investigators have developed a novel vaccine that utilizes a specialized group of B-cells to promote anti-tumor immunity against glioblastoma, according to findings published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine. The vaccine, which is still in pre-clinical stages, is the first of its kind and may be an alternative to currently available immunotherapeutic approaches to treat fatal brain cancer, according to Catalina Lee Chang, PhD, research assistant professor of neurological surgery and first author of the study.

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

Preliminary study results from two independent, phase II clinical trials investigating a new PD-1 (programmed cell death protein-1)-based immune therapy for metastatic cervical cancer suggest potential new treatment options for a disease that currently has limited effective options and disproportionately impacts younger women. The preliminary results were presented by David O’Malley, MD, of The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James), at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Virtual Congress 2020 last month. O’Malley was the lead presenter for both trials, which were sponsored by Agenus Inc.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Mitchell Machtay, MD, has joined Penn State Cancer Institute as associate director for clinical research for the cancer institute, associate dean for clinical cancer research, and as a professor of radiation oncology and medicine for Penn State College of Medicine. Machtay, a board-certified radiation oncologist, previously served as professor and chair in the Department of Radiology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and associate director for clinical research at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

The Walther Cancer Foundation will invest $11 million to advance collaborative cancer research at Indiana University and Purdue University by supporting scientists through bioinformatics – an increasingly critical aspect of their work. “We hope this gift enables scientists at IU and Purdue to dig more deeply and refine their studies so they can point out new pathways to good patient outcomes in cancer,” said Tom Grein, president and CEO of the Walther Cancer Foundation.”

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Although breast cancer does not discriminate between race or gender, research suggests that there is increased breast cancer mortality and poorer health-related quality of life in female African American and Black survivors of the disease. Investigators at Rutgers University recently conducted a study to determine the association of pre-diagnostic allostatic load, which is a composite measure of cumulative physiological stress and wear and tear on the body, with health-related quality of life in this population.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

In recent months, Emery Bresnick, PhD, a professor of cell and regenerative biology at UW Carbone Cancer Center, and his team have been involved in the publication of three major papers and received a highly competitive grant to further research and launch a new program to study blood cancers on campus. In July, Bresnick and the UW School of Medicine and Public Health introduced the Wisconsin Blood Cancer Research Institute, which will build collaborative research programs with existing and new faculty members. The goal is to further study what makes blood cancers tick and to use this knowledge to innovate new therapies.

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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 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 www.bigten.org.