Sept. 20, 2017:

Each month, the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium highlights advances in research and treatment led by our member institutions. Following are recent developments from Across the Consortium:

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Patients diagnosed at high-volume centers are up to 40 percent more likely to receive treatment for glioblastoma, according to a study from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The study, which is one of the largest on glioblastoma treatment and outcomes, also shows that patients treated at high-volume centers live approximately three and one-half months longer than patients treated at low-volume centers.

Dr. Matthew Koshy, corresponding author on the paper, says this difference in outcomes is on par with results seen in phase III clinical trials—the last of which for glioblastoma was two years ago.

Read more.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

An Indianapolis organization is adding a new approach to its efforts to combat skin cancer: public health.

Outrun the Sun Inc. is making a $50,000 endowed gift to the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to create the Outrun the Sun scholarship. The scholarship, which will exist in perpetuity, will support public health students who are studying epidemiology and are interested in working on melanoma- and skin cancer-related projects. 

Read more.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

In early 2014, four faculty members in the University of Iowa Obstetrics and Gynecology Department were making important discoveries in their work with cancer, but they needed a way to implement what they found.

So they started Immortagen, an AI-based platform that uses algorithms to identify the key biological drivers of each patient’s tumor.

“Looking for commonalities among patients is not how we’re going to cure cancer,” said Kristi Thiel, an obstetrics/gynocology research scientist and one of the cofounders of the company. “We are in the era of big data … so why can’t we apply that to cancer?”

Read more.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers have developed a fluidic device to track over time which cancer cells lead the disease’s invasive march.

As cancer grows, it evolves. Individual cells become more aggressive, break away to flow through the body and spread to distant areas.

What if there were a way to find those early aggressors? How are they different from the rest of the cells? And more importantly: Is there a way to stop them before they spread?

These questions drove a team of researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center and Michigan Engineering to develop a tiny device designed to answer these big questions.

Read more.

Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

he U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves a gene-therapy treatment called Kymriah that many doctors say is the closest thing to a cancer cure in decades, including Dr. Anas Al-Janadi with the Breslin Cancer Center, “We are going to see more survivors with this treatment.”

The process involves removing t-cells from a patient, and then genetically modifying them to attack and kill leukemia cells when they get re-administered back into the patient’s body.

So far the early results are historic. More than 80% of the children involved with this therapy in clinical trials went into complete remission within 3 months and Dr. Al-Janadi says those cancer fighting cells don’t stop attacking.

Read more.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

The Zika virus. It became international news in 2015 when, through mosquitoes, infected mothers in the Caribbean and Latin America, gave birth to children with unusually small heads and brain damage.

A tragedy for sure, but it got a University of Minnesota cancer researcher Dr. Walter Low thinking.

Dr Low and his lab team discovered that neural stem cells used for brain development and some brain tumor stem cells have the same receptors.

So, if the Zika virus attacked neural stem cells it should do the same to brain tumors.

Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Natural killer cells do what their name says – they kill the bad stuff while protecting our immune systems but in cancer patients those cells are damaged. Some Omaha doctors and researchers are unleashing the cells as an anti-cancer therapy.

The goal this summer for Nancy Gessmann seemed simple: be there for her daughter.

“I’m going to be at the wedding,” she said. “I’ll see it all. And I’m going to dance.”

But what started as a bad back last December for the Harlan, Iowa woman grew into something more complicated and life-altering.

Read more.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A comprehensive genomic analysis of Wilms tumor – the most common kidney cancer in children – found genetic mutations involving a large number of genes that fall into two major categories. These categories involve cellular processes that occur early in kidney development. The study, published in Nature Genetics, offers the possibility that targeting these processes, instead of single genes, may provide new opportunities for treatment of Wilms tumor.

Read more.

Penn State Cancer Institute

Most brain cancers start elsewhere in the body, but one particularly aggressive and uncommon form — glioblastoma — originates in the brain itself.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona was recently diagnosed with the disease, which also was blamed for the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts in 2009.

“The big problem with glioblastomas is that as soon as they develop, they start weaving their way to other parts of the brain,” said Dr. Ray Hohl, director of Penn State Cancer Institute. “That’s what makes them so dangerous.”

Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Researchers at Purdue University are creating a device that they hope will help identify risk factors that cause breast cancer.

The device, known as risk-on-a-chip, is a small plastic case with several thin layers and an opening for a piece of paper where researchers can place a portion of tissue. This tiny environment produces risk factors for cancer and mimics what happens in a living organism.

“We want to be able to understand how cancer starts so that we can prevent it,” said Sophie Lelièvre, a professor of cancer pharmacology at Purdue.

Read more.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Expanding its surgical and research focus on cancers of the abdominal area and rare conditions including endocrine and mesothelioma malignancies, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey has named H. Richard Alexander, MD, FACS, as its new chief surgical officer. He also has an appointment as a professor of surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Dr. Alexander most recently was on faculty at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Greenbaum Cancer Center, where he served as the head of surgical oncology in the Department of Surgery and professor and associate chairman for clinical research. Prior to arriving at the University of Maryland, Alexander spent 16 years at the National Institutes of Health, having served as chief of the Surgical Metabolism Section, chairman of the Gastrointestinal Malignancies Section and deputy director of the Center for Cancer Research at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Ovarian cancer survival rates are slowly improving, but are still hampered by the fact that the cancer is often detected only when it is very advanced.

“I think the best way to make a huge difference in ovarian cancer survival is to detect it earlier,” said UW Carbone Cancer Center gynecologic oncologist Lisa Barroilhet, MD. “So I’m throwing some weight behind it now.”

Barroilhet and Carbone Cancer Center members Liz Sadowski, MDand Steve Cho, MD were recently awarded a UW Carbone Cancer Center pilot award for their proposed clinical trial that could lead to earlier detection of ovarian cancer. The goal is to develop a new imaging test to screen women who have hereditary risks for ovarian cancer, specifically BRCA genetic mutations.

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 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