Feb. 16, 2015:

Insightful questions lie at the root of every advance in cancer research and improvement in patient care: What causes cells, as they become cancerous, to switch from aerobic metabolism to glycolysis, which does not require oxygen? How might a more complete understanding of a tumor’s “onco-ecosystem” change the way we treat disease? Where will precision medicine and immunotherapy take us in the future? These are just a few of the questions currently being explored at Big Ten cancer centers.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Abnormal metabolism within the cells is a distinctive characteristic of cancer, but until now, the mechanism that causes cells to undergo this metabolic shift remained unknown. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine report in Nature Communications that an enzyme called MnSOD causes cells, as they become cancerous, to switch from aerobic metabolism — using oxygen to break down sugars for energy — to a type of fermentation called glycolysis, which does not require oxygen. Read more.

Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

A common, yet previously undistinguished protein, which is elevated in many late-stage cancers, may play a strategic role in tumor growth through a non-conventional pathway, researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine report in the Feb. 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The protein, Mdm2, an oncogene, has long been thought to play a major role in regulating the effectiveness of the tumor suppressor p53, largely through p53’s destruction. New research shows that Mdm2 plays an active role in making p53 ineffective without eradicating it from the cell. Read more.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

In his Feb. 5 blog post entitled “Onco-Ecosystems,” Dr. George Weiner writes, “Our traditional view of cancer is that cancer cells within a tumor are the same. One cell starts growing out of control, pushes out the normal cells, and the result is cancer. Indeed, we talk about cancer as being ‘monoclonal,’ i.e. all cells being the same. … However, cancer has proven to be much more complex at the genetic level than originally thought. We now know the monoclonal theory is not the whole story.” Read more.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

A new study authored by Diane M. Simeone, MD, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, found a gene known to be involved in nearly 90 percent of pancreatic cancers promotes cancer growth and spread. The gene, ATDC, plays a key role in how a tumor progresses from a preinvasive state to an invasive cancer to metastatic cancer. Read more.

Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

The Michigan State University Board of Trustees authorized the administration to expand the university’s research capabilities in Grand Rapids by constructing a biomedical research facility on the site of the former Grand Rapids Press building. The project involves construction of about a 160,000-square-foot, multistory research building, which is planned to open late 2017. Read more.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Daniel Vallera, PhD, took a risk when he retooled his Masonic Cancer Center research lab in 2000 to focus solely on producing cancer drugs. After all, this work is expensive, hard to fund, and has high liability. But the risk is paying off. Today, a drug he developed — brought to patients with the help of steadfast support from two philanthropists — is finding early success in clinical trials led by University of Minnesota colleague Veronika Bachanova, MD, PhD. Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Hamid Band, MD, PhD, a member of the BTCRC Breast Clinical Trial Working Group, describes his research focus in a Q&A with the University of Nebraska Medical Center: “We study how our body’s ‘cellular brakes’ control our ‘cellular accelerators or gas pedals.’ The cellular brakes we study also help the body to maintain special ‘seed’ cells in our organs that can be called upon to regenerate tissue lost by injury, infection or other diseases. Our goal is to use the knowledge we gain to help devise and improve therapeutic approaches for difficult diseases such as cancer and autoimmunity.” Read more.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, in collaboration with the Northwestern Medicine Developmental Therapeutics Institute (NMDTI) and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, has launched a new research program, Northwestern Onco-SET (Sequence, Evaluate, Treat), to provide a more personalized, precision medicine option for cancer patients by combining oncology with genomics. This program will initially focus on patients with any type of cancer that is not responsive to traditional therapies. Read more.

Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

A compound found in green tea may trigger a cycle that kills oral cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone, according to Penn State food scientists. The research could lead to treatments for oral cancer, as well as other types of cancer. Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Low doses of metformin, a widely used diabetes medication, and a gene inhibitor known as BI2536 can successfully halt the growth of late-stage prostate cancer tumors, a Purdue University study finds. Prostate cancer causes the second-highest number of cancer-related deaths in men in the U.S., and methods of treating advanced prostate cancer are limited. Read more.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

With President Obama’s recent State of the Union speech addressing the launch of a national precision medicine initiative to further tackle cancer and other diseases, a leading immunotherapy expert from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey weighs in on where we stand with precision immunology and personalized medicine and what needs to be accomplished. Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center (UWCCC) have identified two new fluorescent tumor-targeting agents that seek and light up brain cancer cells, and their potential for use during cancer surgeries. The study is featured on the February cover of Neurosurgery, official journal of the world’s largest neurosurgical society, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. 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.