October 15, 2021:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights several investigators involved in detecting, decoding, and understanding genetic abnormalities as well as a potential drug target for treating aggressive pancreatic cancer and a tumor cell that may potentially stop tumor cell seeding and block cancer progression in breast cancer. We also feature a married couple at Penn State Cancer Institute that are building a research program using the MRIdian LINAC by Viewray, a Magnetic Res Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)-guided linear accelerator, one of only 18 units currently open in the U.S. Learn about recent appointments, news grants, and more across our member institutions.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

University of Illinois Cancer Center researchers have discovered a potential drug target for treating aggressive pancreatic cancer. Their findings, detailed in Oncogene, showed that an experimental compound inhibited pancreatic cancer in mice, significantly extended their survival and reduced tumor growth in a mouse model of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. The data showed that the proteins MLK3 and MAP4K4 are overexpressed in pancreatic cancer cell lines and tumors. The research team was led by Endowed Professor Ajay Rana, PhD, director of research, and first author, Sunil K. Singh, PhD, from the Department of Surgery at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Bioinformatics researchers like Saurabh Sinha, PhD, a professor of computer science at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, can use machine learning tools to solve problems in molecular biology and genetics and decode DNA using artificial intelligence to understand why some genes turn on and off inappropriately. In healthy cells, genes – the carriers of hereditary information – are switched “on” or “off” to carry out specific tasks. Currently, Dr. Sinha focuses on developing AI tools for testing cancer cell response to treatments, but his group is also interested in biophysical modeling, which instructs the computer to focus on human understanding codified into mathematical models to analyze data and provide a physical basic for scientific predictions.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

A researcher at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center received a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop a novel therapy to treat lung cancer. The research led by John J. Turchi, PhD, uses a small drug-like molecule designed to disrupt the DNA repair pathways that allow lung cancer cells to continue replicating and tumors to grow. Dr. Turchi is the Tom and Julie Wood Family Foundation Professor of Lung Cancer Research at Indiana University School of Medicine.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Parren McNeely, MD, clinical assistant professor of Radiology-Division of Nuclear Medicine, is among a team of investigators who support the treatment of thyroid cancer and prostate cancer, among others, at the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. Currently, Dr. McNeely serves as medical director of Nuclear Medicine, Radiology. He has co-authored several studies in medical journals, including Clinical Nuclear Medicine and the American Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. Dr. McNeely completed his medical degree at University of Illinois College of Medicine, his residency in nuclear medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, his fellowship in PET-CT Imaging at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and an internship in nuclear medicine at Waukesha Family Medicine Residency Program.


University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Epigenetics investigator Feyruz Rassoul, PhD, co-leader of the Experimental Cancer Therapeutics Program at University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, received a prestigious Specialized Programs of Research Excellence grant from the National Cancer Institute. She is part of a nationwide team of 20 scientists working to improve epigenetic therapies for cancer through treatments that regulate and correct abnormal gene expression. Dr. Rassool, a professor of radiation oncology at University of Maryland School of Medicine, is collaborating with scientists at Indiana University to investigate the impact of epigenetic therapy on cancers driven by ‘BRCAness,’ a major cancer-related vulnerability. The five-year $12.4 million grant (Project 3), which was awarded to the Coriell Institute for Medical Research and Van Andel Institute, is the first epigenetics SPORE grant in NCI history.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

Monolisa Gnosh, MD, a clinical assistant professor in medical oncology and internal medicine at University of Michigan Medical School, is a medical oncologist at University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center. Dr. Ghosh’s expertise is in blood disorders and cancers, bone marrow and transplant and works at the Bone Marrow Transplant & Leukemia Clinic and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Her research interest is in bone marrow transplantation and cellular therapies to treat lymphoma.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Bonnie Harrington, DVM, PhD, studies acute myeloid leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, aggressive lymphoma, animal models of disease, and targeted therapeutics and drug development in her laboratory at Michigan State University. She studies the genetic aberrations and molecular pathways that lead to aggressive B-cell lymphoma and performs comparative studies with both canine and human tissues. Dr. Harrington received both her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and PhD in Comparative and Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Emmanuel S. Antonarakis, MD, has joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota Medical School where he has been appointed the associate director for Translational Research at the Masonic Cancer Center. Dr. Antonarakis will also serve as the Clark Endowed Professor of Medicine and director of Genitourinary Oncology in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation (HOT) of the U of M Medical School. He succeeds Jill Siegfried, PhD, as associate director of Translational Research, who retired earlier this summer after a prestigious career in the field of lung cancer biology and experimental therapeutics.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Suyong Choi, PhD, is a new faculty member at University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Choi has been appointed as assistant professor at the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases. Dr. Choi’s research interests including phosphoinositide signaling in cancer and immunology; novel roles of nuclear phosphoinositides in gene expression, epigenetics, DNA damage repair, and other nuclear signaling pathways; and development of therapeutics targeting phosphoinositide-generating kinases. He received his Master of Science in cancer biology from Seoul National University and his PhD in molecular biology from University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Circulating tumor cells with stem cell features use the adhesive protein ICAM1 to facilitate formation of CTC clusters, which can travel from primary tumors to other organs in the body, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published in Nature Communications. These CTC clusters are a major source of metastases in breast cancer, so inhibiting tumor cell ICAM1 has the potential to stop tumor cell seeding and block cancer progression, according to Huiping Liu, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pharmacology and senior author of the study.

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

A new research study at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James) turns cancer scientists into molecular detectives, searching for clues for why certain cancers spread and evolve by studying tissues collected within hours of death. Led by Sameek Roychowdhury, MD, PhD, this unique clinical research study – known as the Rapid Cancer Research Autopsy Trial – allows scientists to gather biological samples after a patient’s death to conduct research otherwise not possible, with the goal of better understanding how the cancer cells overcome different treatments.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Radiation oncologist Bryan J. Traughber, MD and his magnetic resonance engineer wife, Melanie Traughber, DSc, assistant professor and director of MR Guided Therapy Research in the Department of Radiation Oncology, always dreamed of working together. Recruited by Penn State Cancer Institute and the newly formed Department of Radiation Oncology to lead its Magnetic Resonance (MR)-guided radiotherapy research program, they not only got their wish, but also are drawing the attention of the national medical community for how they use imaging to treat cancer patients. The pair arrived at Hershey for the opportunity to build a research program using the MRIdian LINAC by Viewray, a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)-guided linear accelerator, one of only 18 units currently open in the U.S.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Humaira Gowher, PhD, associate professor of Biochemistry at Purdue University Department of Biochemistry, devotes her research to understanding the regulation of DNA methylation during stem cell differentiation and mis-regulation in cancer cells. In mammals, DNA methylation  is catalyzed by enzymes called DNA methyltransferases (MTases) Dnmt1, Dnmt3a and 3b. Dnmt3a and 3b are highly expressed in embryonic stages and in embryonic stem (ES) cells. Using mouse ES cells as a model system, her lab asks questions such as how tissue-specific expression and splicing of DNA MTases are regulated and what are the roles of major and minor isoforms of Dnmt3b. Dr. Gowher received her PhD in biochemistry from Justus Leibeg Universitaet in Geissen, Germany and her Master of Science in biochemistry from Aligarh Muslim University in India.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Findings from a recent population-based cohort study show that Black women diagnosed with breast cancer who also have central obesity or excess body fat in the abdominal area, were more likely to die from breast cancer or any other cause than similar women who didn’t have central obesity. Elisa V. Bandera, MD, PhD, chief of Cancer Epidemiology and Health Outcomes and co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health, is lead author of the study, published online in JAMA Oncology.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Scientists have identified two subtypes of metastatic prostate cancer that respond differently to treatment, which may one day guide physicians in treating patients with therapies best suited to their disease. Building off earlier studies that revealed clinically relevant subtypes of breast cancer and non-metastatic prostate cancer, researchers identified genetic signatures that can divide metastatic prostate tumors into two types: luminal and basal. Luminal tumors responded better to testosterone-blocking treatments, while basal tumors did not benefit as much from this hormonal treatment. “The reason why subtypes are important is they respond to hormone therapy very differently,” says Shuang Zhao, a professor of oncology in the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, who helped direct the research. “In localized prostate cancer, we’ve shown that luminal tumors had a bigger benefit from anti-testosterone therapy. We wanted to know if the same pattern extended to metastatic disease.”

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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 www.bigten.org.