June 22, 2015:

This month, we draw attention to significant milestones and achievements at Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (BTCRC) member institutions: From the launch of the BTCRC’s first clinical trial at the University of Illinois, to Dr. Max Wicha’s appointment to the National Cancer Advisory Board by President Obama; from significant funding to BTCRC institutions by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the American Cancer Society, to the University of Nebraska’s partnership with IBM on the Watson Genomic Analytics program. We celebrate the groundbreaking of the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center, and we highlight advances in research Across the Consortium.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

The University of Illinois Cancer Center recently opened the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium’s first clinical trial. The study, known as BTCRC-GU14-003, involves a combination of pembrolizumab, a PD-1 inhibitor, with bevacizumab, a therapy that targets blood vessel formation in tumors, for the treatment of patients with metastatic kidney cancer. Arkadiusz Dudek, MD, PhD, professor of medicine in hematology/oncology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine is the study’s sponsor-investigator.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Researchers with the Indiana University School of Medicine have identified a molecule that promotes metastasis of advanced prostate cancer to the bone, an incurable condition that significantly decreases quality of life. The research, published online in the journal Cancer Cell, may offer new targets for diagnosing and treating this common disease.

The researchers homed in on a protein that is essential in multiple cell functions such as cell growth and proliferation and, in some cases, natural cell death. The protein, TGF-beta, also has been found to promote bone metastasis in patients with breast cancer and melanoma.

Read more.

University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

George Weiner, MD, director of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, and others, recently discussed genomics in research on the Iowa Public Radio show River to River.

Read more and listen to the audio here.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

President Barack Obama announced his selection of Max S. Wicha, MD, as one of five new appointees to the National Cancer Advisory Board. Dr. Wicha, the Madeline and Sidney Forbes Professor of Oncology at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, will serve on the 18-member board for six years. Dr. Wicha founded the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and served as director for 27 years. He is a renowned cancer researcher who was part of the team that first identified cancer stem cells in a solid tumor, finding them in breast cancer.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

A new era of medical discovery began June 17, as ground was broken for the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center.

The $88.1 million, six-story, 162,800-square-foot facility will include research program spaces and five core labs that will benefit MSU College of Human Medicine scientists and researchers from MSU’s partnering institutions. The core labs include bioinformatics, flow cytometer, long-term storage, and analytical and advanced microscopy.

The new research center will be located on the site of the former Grand Rapids Press building, at the corner of Michigan Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said the research center will fuel West Michigan’s knowledge economy.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Reuben Harris, PhD, was selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as an HHMI Investigator and will receive the flexible support necessary to progress his research in creative new directions.

Dr. Harris is a professor of biochemistry, molecular biology, and biophysics in the College of Biological Sciences, associate director of the Institute for Molecular Virology, and a member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. Dr. Harris studies the physiological and pathological functions of a family of DNA-mutating enzymes known as “APOBECs,” and his work illuminates the role these DNA-mutating enzymes play in boosting the effectiveness of immune responses, as well as spurring the growth of cancer cells.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center has partnered with IBM to conduct early testing and feedback for IBM’s Watson Genomic Analytics program.

The IBM program in minutes identifies relevant mutations and potential drugs that may be considered in a treatment regime — all based on the patient’s genomic profile and the specific mutations.

The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and Nebraska Medicine in Omaha is one of 14 leading cancer institutes to partner on the project, which is part of IBM’s broader Watson Health initiative to advance patient-centered care and improve health while building on IBM research advancements.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A toxin secreted by Vibrio vulnificus, a water- and food-borne bacteria that can cause rapidly lethal infections in persons with liver disease, has potential to prevent the growth of tumors, according to a new study by Northwestern Medicine scientists.

Karla Satchell, PhD, professor in Microbiology-Immunology, and her team demonstrated in a paper published in Nature Communications that a multifunctional-autoprocessing repeats-in-toxin (MARTX) protein from Vibrio vulnificus can inhibit tumor cell growth by cutting the protein Ras. This protein is central to cell division and survival, and mutations in the gene that codes for Ras are a common cause of human malignancies.

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Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

Jairam K.P. Vanamala, PhD, associate professor of food science at Penn State Unviersity and a faculty member in the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, is studying the relationship of nutrition and disease prevention. Dr. Vanamala’s research combines modern technology and ancient medicine.

Read more.

Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

The Purdue University Center for Cancer Research recently partnered with the Purdue Krannert School of Management to determine the optimal point for out-licensing in the drug development process.

Learn what the team discovered.

Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Janice M. Mehnert, MD, a leader in the Phase I and Developmental Therapeutics Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, is the senior author of research highlighting the latest immunotherapy advances in small cell lung cancer with the drug pembrolizumab. The work was presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) 2015 Annual Meeting in Chicago. Dr. Mehnert is also a medical oncologist in the Melanoma and Soft Tissue Oncology Program at the Cancer Institute.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center scientists studying a blood cancer called multiple myeloma and a type of breast cancer received prestigious Research Scholar awards from the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Fotis Asimakopoulos received a grant of $792,000 over four years to study the role of macrophages in helping multiple myeloma cells escape chemotherapy. Dr. Beth Weaver, assistant professor of cell and regenerative biology, also received a grant of $792,000 over four years to study a gene called Mad1 and its role in breast cancer.

In addition, a third UW School of Medicine and Public Health researcher received a grant from ACS. Dr. Naghma Khan, a research scientist in the department of dermatology, received a grant of $792,000 over four years to study the management of colorectal cancers with PIK3CA mutations.

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 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.