September 16, 2021:

In this month’s Across the Consortium, we share exciting innovations developed by cancer researchers at our member institutions, including a wearable temperature sensor that can detect dangerous complications in hospitalized cancer patients and new dual-mechanism estrogen receptor inhibitors that could support the treatment of estrogen receptor-positive and metastatic breast cancers. We also share recent appointments and publications highlighting faculty at member institutions. See what’s new in this issue of Across the Consortium.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Yamilé Molina, MS, MPH, PhD, has been named associate director for Community Outreach and Engagement for the University of Illinois Cancer Center. Dr. Molina was appointed to the leadership position in August 2021, to take the helm from Karriem Watson, DHSc, MS, MPH, as he assumes the role of chief engagement officer for the All of US research initiative with the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Molina, an associate professor of Community Health Sciences in the University of Illinois Chicago’s School of Public Health and Faculty Affiliate at the Center for Research on Women and Gender, has conducted extensive research on how communities leverage their assets to address structural oppression and its health impacts, specifically focusing on breast cancer and HIV.

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Cancer Center at Illinois

Cancer Center at Illinois investigators Benita Katzenellenbogen, PhD, professor of molecular and integrative physiology, and John Katzenellenbogen, PhD, professor of chemistry, collaborated with researchers at Scripps Research Institutes to develop new dual-mechanism estrogen receptor inhibitors, called DMERIs. DMERIs are antiestrogens that work by a novel dual mechanism, interacting with the estrogen receptor at two sites in contrast to currently used antiestrogens that operate through one site. In additional to inhibiting wild-type estrogen receptor-containing breast cancers, the DMERIs block endocrine-resistant breast cancers. The preclinical findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest these compounds might prove useful in the treatment of estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) primary breast cancers and recurring metastatic breast cancers.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified how restoring a missing molecule in pancreatic fibrosis could help deliver treatments to cancer cells. Jananiah Kota, PhD, assistant professor of medical and molecular genetics at IU School of Medicine and his colleagues found that a molecule called microRNA-29a (miR-29a) functions as an anti-fibrosis and anti-inflammatory in the pancreas. Using this molecule in drug therapy could help stop fibrosis so that treatments could reach cancer cells, according to Dr. Kota, who is also a researcher at the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers at the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center recently shared their head and neck cancer survivors’ study findings in American Cancer Society’s Cancer journal that indicate a sizeable percentage of head and neck cancer survivors discontinue care with their treating institution after treatment. Ninety-seven of the 426 eligible patients (22.8%) discontinued survivorship care at UIHC during the study period. The mean time in follow-up for those who discontinued treatment was 15.4 months. Factors associated with discontinuation of care included an unmarried status (P = .036), a longer driving distance to the facility (P = .0031), and a single-modality cancer treatment (P < .0001). Rurality was not associated with discontinuation (24.3% vs 21.6% for urban residence; P = .52), nor was age, gender, or payor status. Study authors included Aaron T. Seaman, PhD, Kristen L. Seligman, MD, Khanh K. Nguyen, MD, Zaid Al-Qurayshi, MD, Nicholas D. Kendell, MS, and Nitin A. Pagedar, MD, MPH.

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University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Population Science Program of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC), led by co-leaders Joanne Dorgan, PhD, MPH, and Sheryl L. Knott, PhD, conducts multidisciplinary research to identify determinants of cancer etiology, cancer-related behaviors, and cancer outcomes, and to translate basic discoveries into behavioral cancer prevention and control interventions. Faculty members have made key contributions to molecular epidemiology and risk assessment, cancer communication, implementation science, and cancer survivorship that have impacted cancer in the catchment area and beyond. The Population Science program focuses on three areas: epidemiology of infection and hormone related cancers; equity in cancer prevention and early detection; and cancer outcomes.

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University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center

A simple, wearable temperature sensor was able to detect dangerous complications in hospitalized cancer patients hours earlier than routine monitoring, a team from the University of Rogel Cancer Center found. The device, which takes readings every two minutes and transmits them electronically to the cloud, was able to quickly detect adverse events that affect body temperature, like infection and cytokine release syndrome, allowing for swifter interventions, according to findings published in Cancer Cell. The researchers were able to detect potentially dangerous fevers about five hours earlier than standard temperature checks, which typically happen every 4 to 8 hours in the hospital. Muneesh Tewari, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine and of biomedical engineering at University of Michigan, and Sung Won Choi, MD, associate professor of pediatric hematology and oncology at U-M, served as co-senior authors for the study.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Kimberly Dodd, DVM, PhD, MS, has been named director of the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, or VDL. She also is an associate professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation. Dr. Dodd previously served as director of the Foreign Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory on Plum Island, New York, for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories. Her background includes working with high-consequence zoonotic diseases including Ebola and Rift Valley fever viruses, working as a guest researcher in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Viral Special Pathogens Branch, and serving as adjunct faculty at Kansas State University and Iowa State University. She began her new role on Sept. 1, 2021.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Aaron Schilz, MPA, has been appointed as the interim executive director for the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. He has been with the center for more than 14 years, most recently serving as the center’s assistant director for administration. He has been a key member of the center’s administrative leadership team for seven years and brings extensive grants administration experience to the position, including playing key roles in the submission process of the previous four cancer Center Support Grant renewal submissions. He is widely regarded as a national expert in cancer center administration and has consulted for many other NCI-designated cancer centers, advising on data collection and management, strategic planning, CCSG strategy and planning, and shared resource management.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Daphne Ly, MD, recently joined as a new faculty member at University of Nebraska Medical Center, serving as associate professor, UNMC Department of Surgery, Division of Surgical Oncology and surgical oncologist at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. A native of Palo Alto, Calif., Dr. Ly’s medical and research interests include breast and cutaneous surgical oncology, and cancer genetics and data sciences in cancer treatment, to contribute to early detection and risk reduction.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Marquita Lewis-Thames, PhD, a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, is partnering with Alan Wan, Do, a medical oncologist at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, to improve health outcomes for lung cancer survivors in some rural Illinois communities. By interviewing survivors and their caregivers about their experiences after treatment, the information they gather will support new strategies to help suburban and rural lung cancer survivors receive the follow-up care they need. “Rural residents know something is not right about cancer in their community, and answers are sometimes hard to come by,” said Lewis-Thames, principal investigator of the “Central Project” study and research assistant professor of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We want to talk to people who have completed lung cancer treatment and get a full understanding of their supportive care needs so we can develop programs and services that help them stay healthier longer.”

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

Tailored mobile messaging is an effective intervention strategy to reduce tobacco waterpipe smoking in young adults, according to a new study published by researchers with the Center for Tobacco Research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC-James). The study was recently published online in the American Journal of Public Health. “In the United States, hookah tobacco smoking is most prevalent among young adults. Our study is one of the first to demonstrate that a tailored mobile messaging intervention can motivate young adult hookah smokers to quit,” said Darren Mays, PhD, principal investigator of the study and a member of the OSUCCC – James Cancer Control Research Program.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Laws designed to help women with increased risk for missed breast cancer diagnoses may help catch the disease earlier, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers. Results of the study, which were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine,” found that insurance coverage legislation was associated with a decreased chance of being diagnosed at a later stage. More than 40% of women in the United States between 40 and 74 years of age are at an increased risk for breast cancer because of dense breast tissue. Detecting breast cancer via traditional mammograms is often more difficult in these women, so follow-up screenings are sometimes recommended by doctors. “Helping at-risk women get access to supplemental screenings is essential,” said Gene Lengerich, associate director for health disparities and engagement at Penn State Cancer Institute and author of the study. “It’s important to evaluate whether these policies are achieving their intended goal – to help improve patient health outcomes.”

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Researchers from Purdue University, including Majid Kazemian, PhD, an assistant professor of biochemistry and computer science, and a team of collaborators from Mayo Clinic and the University of Chicago discovered that the gene TCF-1 controls the functions of a specific set of regulatory T cells (TReg). Without TCF-1, these TReg cells keep their normal repressive function, but they gain additional properties and become inflammatory. They increase cancer signals and gain a gut-homing feature, resulting in more drastic and dangerous colon cancers. The results were published in Nature Immunology.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute Of New Jersey

Expanding its multidisciplinary teams of highly specialized experts unique focused on the management of head and neck cancers and cancer of the lung, pleura, and mediastinum, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health have welcomed Missak Haigentz, Jr., MD, as chief of Thoracic and Head and Neck Medical Oncology and clinical director for Oncology Integration. He also has been appointed as a professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He comes from Atlantic Health System, where he served as medical director of Hematology and Oncology and section chief of Hematology and Oncology at Morristown Medical Center.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

In a paper published on Aug. 3, 2021, in the journal APL Bioengineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers explain how microscopic defects in how healthy cells line up can alter how easily ovarian cancer cells invade tissue. Using an experimental model, where the cellular makeup mimics the lining of the abdominal cavity, the group found disruptions in the normal cellular layout, called topological defects, that affect the rate of tumor cell invasion. “My lab is very interested in identifying ways to slow metastasis. This study is exciting, because it demonstrates a unique role for organization of nontumor cells to either aid or slow that process,” said Pamela Kreeger, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering and one of the paper’s senior authors.

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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