July 16, 2015:

As the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (BTCRC) faces off against complex, diverse cancers, our member institutions continue to leverage their unique strengths to volley game-changing breakthroughs. This month’s edition of Across the Consortium highlights recent advancements on the fields of research, funding, diagnosis, and treatment.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

Thanks to a new $2 million investment, a drug that spurs cancer cells to self-destruct while sparing healthy cells is on the road to human clinical trials. The compound, known as PAC-1, has so far proven safe and has promising anti-cancer effects in cell culture, in mouse models of cancer, and in pet dogs with spontaneously occurring lymphomas and osteosarcomas. The clinical work will be conducted at the University of Illinois Cancer Center in Chicago.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Indiana University cancer researchers found that a particular microRNA may be a potent therapeutic agent against pancreatic cancer. “This is a novel approach that has the potential to overcome the problems associated with current anti-stromal drugs and that could lead to improved therapeutic strategies, enhanced drug delivery to the tumor bed, and, in the future, improved patient survival,” said Murray Korc, MD, the Myles Brand Professor of Cancer Research at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Cancer Center. The research was published June 22 in the journal Scientific Reports.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

The U.S. Senate panel held a hearing Tuesday, July 14, on the 21st Century Cures Bill, which would increase funding to the National Institutes of Health by $8.75 billion over the course of five years. The House passed the measure last week. Doctor George Weiner, who heads the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, is also president of the Association of American Cancer Institutes. He says, when factoring inflation, over the past 12 years NIH funding has dropped by more than 22 percent.

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Cancerous tumors cast off tiny telltale genetic molecules known as microRNAs and a team of University of Michigan researchers has come up with an efficient way to detect them in blood. The researchers say their approach could open the door to a single, inexpensive blood test to simultaneously screen for multiple types of cancer – eventually perhaps more than 100 different kinds.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Scientists have routinely used mice to replicate aspects of human breast cancer in an effort to find a cure to the most common type of cancer among women. But how effective are these preclinical models in actually mimicking the disease and giving scientists the ability to develop real comparisons? Eran Andrechek, a physiology professor in the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University, has discovered that many of the various models used in breast cancer research can replicate several characteristics of the human disease, especially at the gene level. The study now can be found in the journal Breast Cancer Research.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

A University of Minnesota study published in Genome Medicine identified how gut bacteria lends to tumor growth and formation in colorectal cancer patients. The study analyzed bacteria near tumors in the guts of 44 colorectal cancer patients and compared it to bacteria found elsewhere in the patient’s intestines.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Lung cancer patients with comorbid conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, or congestive heart failure had a higher risk of death than lung cancer patients without comorbid conditions, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“The prevalence of comorbidities is higher in older lung cancer patients than patients who are younger,” said K.M. Monirul Islam, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health. “As the population of the United States ages, there will be a higher number of lung cancer patients with comorbidities at diagnosis.”

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A new study coauthored by Northwestern Medicine scientists has found that normal cells stop proliferating when they lose important intracellular structures called centrioles, but cancer cells continue to multiply. The paper, published in Science, settles an old debate about the role these structures play in cancer. Previously, many cell biologists thought that blocking centrioles from forming could stop cancer growth, because many advanced cancers have too many centrioles (a normal human cell has two; together they make up the centrosome).

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Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

When it comes to breast cancer screening, the density of your breasts affects how well a mammogram can detect cancerous tissues. That’s why Pennsylvania and 20 other states have adopted laws requiring radiologists to include information about breast density in every woman’s mammogram report. Dr. Susann Schetter, co-medical director of Penn State Hershey Breast Center, says only about 10 percent of the population has extremely fatty (A category) breasts and only about 10 percent have extremely dense (D category) breasts. Most women fall somewhere in the middle.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Researchers who developed a high-speed form of atomic force microscopy have shown how to image the physical properties of live breast cancer cells, for the first time revealing details about how deactivation of a key protein may lead to metastasis. The new findings also are providing evidence for the mechanisms involved in a cell’s response to anti-cancer drugs, said Arvind Raman, Purdue University’s Robert V. Adams Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Ovarian cancer patients who are overweight or obese are often given less chemotherapy per pound of body weight in order to reduce the toxic side effects associated with higher doses, and this in turn may lower their chances of survival, according to a study by researchers at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

A diet that starves triple-negative breast cancer cells of an essential nutrient primes the cancer cells to be more easily killed by a targeted antibody treatment, UW Carbone Cancer Center scientists report in a recent publication. The study’s senior author, Dr. Vincent Cryns, professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, says the study lays the foundation for a clinical trial to see if a low-methionine diet will help improve outcomes in women with “triple-negative” breast cancer.

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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 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.