July 17, 2016:

Initiative: the proactive power of progress.  This key trait of leadership is exhibited by each of the Big Ten Cancer Centers.  Exciting displays of initiative in the fight against cancer fill this month’s edition of Across the Consortium.  Engagement in national enrollment-boosting programs; patient-centered precision medicine initiatives; hosting a research summit and publishing studies in nationwide research initiatives; a nationally-recognized fundraising event; novel discoveries; and the development of game-changing diagnostic technology and immunotherapy treatments.  Don’t miss this action-packed edition of Across the Consortium!

University of Illinois Cancer Center

The University of Illinois at Chicago, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago and their affiliated hospitals and clinics have been selected to enroll 150,000 Illinoisans in the national Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort Program. The Illinois consortium is one of several such groups across the nation that will help bring one million or more U.S. participants over the next five years into a research effort to improve the prevention and treatment of disease based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Indiana University has announced that the Precision Health Initiative, a research initiative focused on patient-centered precision medicine therapies, is the first recipient of funding under the university’s new $300 million Grand Challenges Program.

Led by faculty at the IU School of Medicine, IU Bloomington and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the Precision Health Initiative will develop IU’s expertise in individualized precision medicine. Precision Health Initiative team members will work closely with several prominent business and community partners, including Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics, Cook Regentec, Deloitte, Regenstrief Institute and IU Health. The primary goals will be to transform both health care for the people of Indiana and medical research and education at IU.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

On June 29, members of the cancer community from around the country gathered in Washington, D.C., at the Cancer Moonshot Summit to discuss ways to accelerate cancer research.

In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Obama called on Vice President Joe Biden to lead the cancer “Moonshot” initiative to accelerate cancer research and make more therapies available to more patients.

“It’s an incredibly exciting time in cancer research,” said George Weiner, the director of the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center who attended the summit. “We are making progress faster than ever before, and these advancements move from the research laboratory to the clinic and then the community more than ever before.”

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

A University of Michigan team developed new technology to separate aggressive stage 0 breast cancer from nonaggressive forms, eventually aiming to guide treatment paths.

When a woman is diagnosed with the earliest stage of breast cancer, how aggressive should her treatment be? Will the noninvasive cancer become invasive? Or is it a slow-growing variety that will likely never be harmful?

Seeking to answer these questions, researchers at the University of Michigan developed a new technology that can identify aggressive forms of ductal carcinoma in situ, or stage 0 breast cancer, from nonaggressive varieties.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Nearly 1,700 cyclists pedaled off last month in the fourth annual Michigan State University Gran Fondo. It’s named one of the nation’s top Gran Fondos in 2016.

The event benefits skin cancer research, prevention and awareness brought forth by the Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

A new exemplar of breast cancer research has been released, showcasing the successful studies of three new drugs that have widely improved outcomes in patients with high-risk, rapidly growing breast cancer.

Douglas Yee, M.D., director of the Masonic Cancer Center and renown breast cancer oncologist, is a co-author of the two studies that were published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) July 7, 2016. The studies found that adding three novel drug therapies, known as the drug neratinib and the drug combination veliparib plus carboplatin, to standard therapy improved the outcome in patients with two types of breast cancer; HER2-positive, hormone-receptor- negative and triple-negative.

The studies are part of a nationwide research initiative called I-SPY 2. Dr. Yee is on the I-SPY 2 Executive Committee, co-chair of the Agent Selection Committee, and a member of the Data Access and Publication Committee. He is also the principal investigator at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota—one of only 16 centers in the United States currently participating in the clinical trials.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Prostate and breast cancer are two of the most common cancers around. Unfortunately, most people know someone who has one of these. Many doctors have spent their careers trying to design screening tests to find these tumors at an early stage when they are still curable. This usually means finding them when they are really small. That sometimes means smaller than a pea.

So, how do we find these cancers? For breast cancer, the standard screening exam for years has been mammography – taking an x-ray of the breast and looking for cancer. Recently, Nebraska Medicine Radiology has adopted a fancier version of this – tomography—which is a 3D x-ray. On mammography, finding cancer can be tough. It can be seen as only a few tiny dot sized areas of calcium—little blips of white on the screen. To help find these doctors use computer aided detection (CAD). This is a computer program that takes the mammogram and identifies these calcifications. Studies have shown that these programs allow doctors to find earlier cancers better, especially younger and less experienced doctors.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is related to improved subjective memory in breast cancer survivors, who often complain about memory problems, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study. It appears the physical activity alleviates stress and benefits women psychologically, which in turn aids their memory.

A surprising finding is memory problems appear to be related to the high stress load cancer survivors experience, and may not be specific to chemotherapy or radiation treatments.

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Penn State Cancer Institute

Although neurofibromatosis (NF) is not commonly discussed, it affects more than 2 million people worldwide.

“Neurofibromatosis is a group of genetic disorders that predispose people to various kinds of tumors,” said Dr. Kimberly Harbaugh, chief of peripheral nerve surgery at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The mostly benign tumors are located in the skin, along the nerves and spinal cord and in the brain.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Purdue researchers have determined how to use a heart disease drug to limit the spread of cancer through the bloodstream.

Three years ago, Ji-Xin Cheng, a professor in Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry, along with post doctorate research assistant Junjie Li began their research on a new method of treatment for cancer patients. They were originally conducting a general study of the human body using new imaging technology when they stumbled upon an interesting theory.

“We discovered that the cholesterol metabolism changed inside cancer cells,” Cheng said. “The metabolizing increased, and (we thought) if we block this metabolizing, we could maybe stop the cancer’s growth and spread. We then looked into cholesterol inhibitors, and we were lucky enough to find that this inhibitor was developed ten years ago to treat heart disease.”

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Grants totaling $450,000, have been awarded to a number of investigators at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. The Pre- and Post-Doctoral Fellowship Awards from the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research will help support various research projects relating to cancer biology and population studies.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

A UW-Madison physician-scientist who is himself a colon-cancer survivor is about to launch one of the nation’s first tests of using immunotherapy to treat metastatic colon cancer.

A clinical trial testing the safety and efficacy of a combination immunotherapy and radiation therapy approach to treating colorectal cancer that has spread has been approved at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. It is expected to be open to patient enrollment by the end of July.

“This trial is one of the first looking to increase the cure rate of patients with metastatic colon cancer using immunotherapy,” said Dr. Dusty Deming, assistant professor of medicine with the Cancer Center and co-lead investigator of the trial with Dr. Michael Bassetti, assistant professor of human oncology.

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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 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.