Sept. 18, 2015:

Member institutions of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium consistently lay the foundations for ground-breaking cancer research – in more ways than one! Across the consortium, members are breaking ground for a new research facility and advancing research through new approaches, new business ventures, and new discoveries. This month, we highlight innovation, recognize the receipt of prestigious grants, and celebrate the “ground breaking” being done – Across the Consortium!

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Tumors are notoriously difficult to study in their natural habitat — body tissues — but a new synthetic tissue environment may give cancer researchers the next-best look at tumor growth and behavior.

University of Illinois researchers have developed a new technique to create a cell habitat of squishy fluids, called hydrogels, which can realistically and quickly recreate microenvironments found across biology.

To illustrate the potential of their technique, the Illinois team mixed breast cancer cells and cells called macrophages that signal cancer cells to spread and grow into a tumor. They were able to observe how differently cells act in the three-dimensional, gel-like environment, which is much more like body tissues than the current research standard: a flat, hard plastic plate.

Read more.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

An Indiana University cancer researcher and her colleagues have identified genetic markers that may help determine who benefits from regular use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for lowering one’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Previous studies have shown that regular use of aspirin and NSAIDs lower one’s risk of colorectal cancer, but their use is not recommended as a way to prevent the disease because of uncertainty about the risks and benefits. Thus, the researchers set out to examine the interrelationship between genetic markers and the use of aspirin and NSAIDs to learn who actually benefits from their use. They did so by conducting a genome-wide analysis of gene by environment interactions.

Hongmei Nan, MD, PhD, research associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, and her colleagues found that colorectal cancer risk differed according to genetic variation at two single nucleotide polymorphisms — more commonly known as SNPs — at chromosomes 12 and 15. Interestingly, for the SNP at chromosome 12, they found that aspirin and/or NSAID use was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer among individuals with a specific genotype, while a higher risk was found among those with other genotypes.

Read more.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa have received a five-year, $10.67 million Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant to study neuroendocrine tumors. This is the first and only SPORE grant ever awarded to fund research on neuroendocrine tumors.

Sue O’Dorisio, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology of the Stead Family Department of Pediatrics and the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, is the principal investigator on the SPORE.

This is the second SPORE-funded research grant for Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa.

Read more.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Concerns about fertility kept a third of young women with breast cancer from taking tamoxifen, despite its known benefit in reducing the risk of breast cancer coming back.

In addition, the study found fertility concerns led a quarter of women who started tamoxifen to stop taking it before the recommended treatment period ended.

“Our study points toward the importance of fertility to young breast cancer patients. We need to find a way to bridge the gap between this patient survivorship goal and our concerns as physicians to facilitate the best treatment possible for our patients,” said senior study author Jacqueline Jeruss, MD, PhD, associate professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan and a breast cancer surgeon at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Read more and watch a video interview with Dr. Jeruss.

Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

constructionIn June, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine broke ground on a new $88.1M research facility in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich. The Grand Rapids Research Center will allow the College of Human Medicine to advance its trajectory of NIH-funded research growth. Structural steel erection started Sept. 1 on the research center with completion planned for late fall 2017.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

An increasing number of women in the last decade have been deciding to have both their breasts removed after being diagnosed with cancer in a single breast. It now seems that more men are also opting to have this type of double mastectomy, according to a study.

Researchers examined data from national cancer registries of more than 6,000 men who underwent surgery for breast cancer from 2004 to 2011. Most of the men (76%) had a single mastectomy, or surgical removal of only the breast with cancer, whereas another 20% had lumpectomy, or surgery to remove only the tumor.

Although a small proportion of the men had a double mastectomy, the researchers found the number is on the rise, from 3% in 2004 to 5.6% in 2011.

“This is not good news because there is no evidence for the benefit of the procedure in terms of survival and there is harm associated with it,” said Ahmedin Jemal, vice president of the Surveillance and Health Services Research Program at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal JAMA Surgery.

See what Dr. Todd M. Tuttle, chief of surgical oncology at the University of Minnesota had to say in this CNN news story: Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

UNMC and University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill nanomedicine researchers received a five-year grant to study whether the properties of certain nanomaterials can improve the delivery of cancer treatments to their tumor targets.

The $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health will fund a collaborative research effort between scientists at UNMC and at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

The researchers plan to study whether the use of a drug carrying nanoparticle materials designed at UNMC called the core-shell nanogel can better penetrate tumors if it is soft, or elastic, rather than a solid particle.

Read more.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered how a gene linked to leukemia functions, a finding that may have important implications for children with Down syndrome who have a higher risk of developing the blood cancer.

Patients with Down syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21 in their cells. They’re also 20 times more likely to contract childhood B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia than the general population, making that chromosome an important avenue for researching the genetic basis of the cancer.

Read more.

Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

Targeting exhausted immune cells may change the prognosis for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) relapse after a stem cell transplant, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers.

There is currently no effective treatment for this stage of leukemia, and patients have only a 5 percent chance of survival over five years.

AML is a fast-moving cancer of the blood and bone marrow. In patients with AML, the bone marrow produces abnormal white or red blood cells or platelets. Powerful rounds of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, so many patients are given an infusion of blood-forming stem cells from a donor to restore it. These donor cells also help fight off any remaining leukemia cells, a phenomenon known as the graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) effect.

Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

The Purdue University Center for Cancer Research has started its own company, with the hope of eventually making new cancer drugs.

The new independent nonprofit, Boilermaker Health Innovations, is under the umbrella of the Purdue Research Foundation. The idea is to generate money for more research by developing new cancer drugs, taking them through the first proof of principal clinical trial, and then either spinning off a company or selling them to pharmaceutical companies.

“We de-risk it,” said. Dr. Timothy L. Ratliff, Robert Wallace Miller director at the research center. “If we take it through the first clinical trials they (the drug companies) will be more likely to pick it up.”

Read more.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey researcher Justin Drake, PhD, has been awarded $450,000 in grants to support a pair of three-year projects aimed at developing biomarkers to predict disease progression and guide treatment strategies for advanced prostate cancer using a combination of laboratory cancer models, computational, and targeted mass spectrometry approaches.

“One of the biggest challenges during cancer treatment is to define the patient subsets that will best respond to appropriate therapies.  In prostate cancer, all patients are essentially treated the same and there are currently no subtypes to stratify for therapy purposes.  This is a major clinical problem,” said Dr. Drake, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “The development of new biomarkers that can either predict disease progression or stratify patients for effective personalized therapy is urgently needed.”

Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Giving cancer cells a double hit with radiation and certain drugs could lead to better patient outcomes at lower radiation doses, according to two studies by UW Carbone Cancer Center scientists.

During treatment, radiation is directed at tumors with the goal of lethally damaging the dividing cancer cells.  But some cancer cells survive, and nearby healthy cells can also be affected, leading to unwanted side effects.

“The goal is to identify new molecular targeting drugs that might increase the effectiveness of radiation and possibly diminish the amount of radiation needed,” said Dr. Paul Harari, senior author of the studies. “These two studies bring cutting-edge molecular drug growth inhibitors to the forefront, with the hope that several years down the road they can be used in the clinic in combination with radiation to benefit cancer patients.”

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