Aug. 26, 2017:

The Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium‘s Across the Consortium is your front row seat to the latest in Big Ten CRC news. This month we highlight new discoveries from our member institutions, celebrate awards, and feature outstanding researchers as well as volunteers from across the consortium. 

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Mile Square Health Center is one of two organizations honored by the American Lung Association for exceptional work to improve lung health and prevent lung disease in Chicago.

The Impact Award, given to organizations and people that have made the most impact on the association, was presented to Dr. Robert Winn, associate vice chancellor for community-based practice at the University of Illinois at Chicago and director of the University of Illinois Cancer Center, on Aug. 10 during a reception at Holland & Knight.

Read more.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

For 10 years, researchers at the Komen Tissue Bank at IU have studied healthy breast tissue to advance the search for a cure to breast cancer. In the Business of Health, Barb Lewis talks about what’s next for the tissue bank with its founder.

See video.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

There is nothing fun about undergoing radiation treatment, especially for kids. But one University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics volunteer is using art to make the process just a little easier.

Weiren Liu, a medical student at UI Carver College of Medicine, decorates radiology masks for children and adults undergoing treatment. The masks are made of a plastic mesh and are molded to the face and upper torso of the patient. During radiation treatment, which normally takes about 15 to 20 minutes, the patient is secured to the table under the mask, which can be scary at any age.

But the decorated masks help. When a new patient comes in for treatment, they can request how they want their mask decorated. Liu covers the mask with a canvas of white tape, and illustrates it with the patient’s request. Sometimes they want a character, like a Minion, My Little Pony, or Spider Man; sometimes it’s a theme, like ocean, or John Deere.

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Acupressure can help reduce fatigue in breast cancer survivors. A new Michigan Medicine study analyzes how the brain reacts to different types of the therapeutic treatment.

Individual acupressure points linked to specific centers in the brain can offer targeted relief for breast cancer patients with persistent fatigue, according to a new neuroimaging study.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

It’s been well established that obesity is a contributor to cancer risk, but how it actually causes cancer is still a question that hasn’t been fully explained.

A new Michigan State University study now offers new details showing that a certain protein released from fat in the body can cause a non-cancerous cell to turn into a cancerous one. The federally funded research also found that a lower layer of abdominal fat, when compared to fat just under the skin, is the more likely culprit, releasing even more of this protein and encouraging tumor growth.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota say they’re on the brink of a new era in cancer care — one in which doctors extract a patient’s white blood cells, have them genetically engineered in a lab, and put them back to become personalized cancer-fighting machines.

The so-called CAR T cellular therapies are expected to receive federal approval this fall for certain rare blood cancers — B-cell forms of lymphoma and leukemia. But scientists at the Minnesota institutions hope that’s just the first step that will lead to better treatment of solid tumor cancers as well.

Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

By the time scans showed that his B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma was coming back last fall, James Olson had run through many of his treatment options.

In early January, his doctor recommended that the Kansas City, Missouri, man travel to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha to see whether he was a candidate for a new type of therapy still in clinical trials.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

For the scientists, physicians and research staff at Northwestern, breakthroughs made in the laboratory are only just the beginning. Feinberg — and the University more broadly — is increasingly focused on ensuring that exciting discoveries made by basic scientists are also soon turned into treatments that impact human health.

“At every level, you want to see that the fundamental research that is being done in the University is having an impact on society,” said Jay Walsh, PhD, vice president for Research at Northwestern. “In particular within the biomedical sphere, the goal is to have research translate out of the laboratory and improve the quality of life for patients.”

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Every cancer cell was dead. Examining the tissue culture dish in his Penn State lab in 2008, BYU alumnus Craig M. Meyers (BS ’82, MS ’84) wasn’t sure what had happened. Seven days earlier those same cells had been alive and well. Meyers had directed an assistant to introduce a special virus (called adeno-associated virus type 2 [AAV2]) into the cell lines of cancerous human papillomavirus (HPV) cells and leave it all in an incubator. Now to see them all dead, he suspected they’d made a mistake.

“Our first thought was . . . that there was something wrong with the incubator,” says Meyers, a Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Penn State College of Medicine. “So we repeated [the test] multiple times, and it happened every time with multiple incubators.”

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Researchers at Purdue University have discovered a mechanism for delivering tumor-suppressing microRNAs that eliminates the need for toxic delivery vehicles.

MicroRNAs, or short strands of RNA, play a key role in regulating gene expression. In the lab, they’ve been successful in shrinking tumors; the best of them act like a “multidrug cocktail.” However, getting the microRNA to the tumor hasn’t been easy. 

“RNAs are inherently unstable; they’re subject to being degraded in the bloodstream. It’s been hypothesized that if we want to use RNA as a therapy, we have to protect it,” said Andrea Kasinski, a biology professor at Purdue who worked on the study. “Protective vehicles are usually some sort of nanoparticle, often a lipid-encapsulated particle. Although the RNA is protected, the protection typically comes at a price.”

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

The immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab has demonstrated a favorable safety profile and “promising durable clinical activity” in pretreated patients who exhibit high levels of the PD-L1 protein in advanced stages of small cell lung cancer (SCLC) – an aggressive form of the disease. That is according to data from a phase 1b clinical trial conducted by Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey investigators and colleagues at centers around the world. The work appears in the current online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology (doi: 10.1200/JCO.2017.72.5069).

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

UW-Carbone Cancer Center researchers won two of the six national Challenge Awards announced this week by the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Movember Foundation.

Each of the six awards is $1 million for a multi-year project for a team effort that includes a young investigator.

Dr. Joshua Lang, assistant professor of medicine, will lead a clinical trial using an antibody drug to target TROP-2, a protein highly expressed on prostate cancer cells. His team includes Dr. Howard Scher, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Dr. Scott Dehm, of Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota; and Dr. Scott Tagawa, of Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian and Dr. Kimberly Ku, Hematology/Oncology Fellow at the University of Wisconsin.

Read more.

Information for this story was compiled from BTCRC 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 www.bigten.org.