Dec. 17, 2014:

Big Ten cancer centers are making tremendous strides in tackling some of the toughest questions in cancer research. In this month’s edition of “Across the Consortium,” we highlight advances in leukemia, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, and new technologies and discoveries that could improve outcomes across many cancers. Behind these advances in research at Big Ten cancer centers are academic physicians and scientists who are not only brilliant in their fields, but also committed to patient advocacy and disease prevention.

Here are a few recent highlights across the consortium:

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Dr. Michael Abern, assistant professor and director of urologic oncology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, started a Movember group at UIC to raise awareness around the importance of prostate cancer screening for African American men, who are 2.5 times more likely to die from prostate cancer than white men. The team raised funds to support men’s health programs that combat prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health problems. Read more.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Researchers have identified two proteins that appear crucial to the development — and patient relapse — of acute myeloid leukemia. They have also shown they can block the development of leukemia by targeting those proteins. The studies, in animal models, could lead to new effective treatments for leukemias that are resistant to chemotherapy, said Reuben Kapur, Ph.D., Freida and Albrecht Kipp Professor of Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Read more.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Mutations in the KRAS gene have long been known to cause cancer, and about one third of solid tumors have mutations in this gene or in its biochemical pathway. KRAS promotes cancer formation not only by driving cell growth and division, but also by turning off protective tumor suppressor genes, which normally limit uncontrolled cell growth and cause damaged cells to self-destruct. A new University of Iowa study provides a deeper understanding of how KRAS turns off tumor suppressor genes and identifies a key enzyme in the process. Read more.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Prostate cancer specialists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center are refining prostate cancer diagnosis to better identify those cancers that are more likely to grow quickly and spread to other parts of the body. The University of Michigan is the first in the region to offer men a new technology that combines MRI and real-time ultrasound to help guide a biopsy needle, ensuring that tissue from all suspicious areas is captured. Read more.

Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Michigan State University scientists are closer to discovering a possible way to boost healthy cell production in cancer patients as they receive chemotherapy. By adding thymine – a natural building block found in DNA – into normal cells, they found it stimulated gene production and caused them to multiply. Read more.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota’s Amy Skubitz, PhD, is investigating biomarkers in ovarian cancer. Learn about her personal connection to the disease and the support her research has gained from the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance. Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center has added five new translational cancer researchers to its staff in recent months. The recruits hail from some of the nation’s top scientific and medical institutions. Collectively, they bring more than $5 million in cancer research funding to Nebraska. All have begun their work at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center during the past four months. Read more.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Though normally considered a dangerous poison, arsenic is actually used to help cure one kind of leukemia. A new Northwestern Medicine study has unearthed the mechanisms behind the chemical’s anti-cancer effects to show how arsenic could also combat other types of leukemia. Read more.

Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

Tony Jun Huang, PhD, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, and his colleagues designed a mass-producible device that can focus particles or cells in a single stream and performs three different optical assessments for each cell. They believe the device represents a major step toward low-cost flow cytometry chips for clinical diagnosis in hospitals, clinics and in the field. Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Philip Low, PhD, the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, director of the Purdue University Center for Drug Discovery and co-founder of On Target Laboratories, is investigating optical imaging technology that could “light up” cancer cells and help surgeons remove more cancerous tissue than previously possible during surgical procedures. Read more.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

A protein associated with poor survival in lung cancer patients will be further explored by investigators at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey to uncover its role in lung cancer development and metastasis. A recently-awarded $1.8 million grant (R01CA190578) from the National Institutes of Health to Cancer Institute of New Jersey researcher Sharon R. Pine, PhD, will support the work. Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Pamela Kreeger, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, received a 2014 New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health. With funding of nearly $2.3 million, she is studying what factors cause ovarian cancer cells to progress from their origin in a woman’s fallopian tube through the ovaries and on to metastatic sites — where they become resistant to chemotherapy drugs. 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 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 student-athletes’ lives and emphasize the values of integrity, fairness, and competitiveness. The broad-based athletic programs of the 14 Big Ten institutions provide nearly $200 million in direct financial aid to almost 9,500 student-athletes 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 and women’s lacrosse as official sports for the 2014-15 academic year. For more information, visit www.bigten.org.