May. 18, 2016:

Big Ten cancer centers continue to make gains in cancer research and treatment. In this edition of Across the Consortium, we highlight research from our member institutions in prostate, neuroendocrine, blood, pancreatic, and other cancers; we celebrate with the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center upon its receiving a SPORE grant for new research projects on neuroendocrine tumors; we congratulate those strategically entering into new roles within the cancer research community; and we root for members advancing in cancer prevention programs.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

The University of Illinois Cancer Center will bring physicians from Cuba and the Cuban Ministry of Health to Chicago to evaluate women and children’s health and cancer prevention programs at two community-based clinics under a two-year, $1 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation.

The Cuban partners will embed at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System Mile Square Health Centers in Englewood and Back of the Yards, bringing their expertise on delivering preventive health and improving the health of patients living in high-poverty, underserved communities.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

An Indiana University cancer researcher’s work on smokers has yielded clues as to why many don’t undergo lung cancer screening.

Lisa Carter-Harris, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Indiana University School of Nursing and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, found three key barriers among smokers for not being screened for lung cancer. Those barriers, in turn, need to be examined to better improve communications between healthcare providers and patients, according to Dr. Carter-Harris.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) are considered an orphan disease with a low incidence in the United States. Consequently, government funding agencies and pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to provide financial support to advance research on the causes of NETs or to sponsor clinical trials to bring newer treatments to the clinical arena.

With the FDA emphasis on personalized medicine for patients with orphan diseases, the National Cancer Institute has recently awarded a Neuroendocrine Tumor Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) to the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa to fund both basic and clinical research on NETs.

Read more.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Researchers from across the globe have joined together to improve understanding about one of the most rare — and lethal — types of cancer.

The results, published in Cancer Cell, newly identify several genes that drive adrenal cancer. In fact, the analysis uncovered double the number of genetic drivers already known to fuel adrenal cancer.

“This data has implications for diagnosing and predicting outcomes of adrenal cancer. It also allows us to probe deep into the biology of the disease to understand how these new gene mutations contribute to adrenal cancer progression and formation,” says senior author Gary D. Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., the Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Read more.

Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

A new study from Michigan State University makes inroads in learning to “read” the genome, a key goal of modern biology.

The results, published in eLife, show that the DNA content of our genomes resembles a complex biological language, composed of coding regions and regulatory regions. Although protein-coding regions in DNA could be compared to a traffic signal – utilizing a simple stop or go message – the regulatory regions in DNA are more like poetry.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota member and College of Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota researcher, Dr. Dan Knights, believes gut bacteria may predict risk of life-threatening infections following chemotherapy.

Read more.

Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Blood cancer is difficult to treat because it’s aggressive and spreads quickly. A bone marrow transplant is often the best option, but only if an exact match to donate is found.

For a woman who loves literature and loves teaching it, the hardest part of Tammy Gatrost’s cancer battle is being away from the classroom.

When it seemed like options and time were running low, a new treatment brought new hope, Dr. Vijaya Bhatt recommended a relatively recent procedure: a haploidentical stem-cell transplant.

Read more.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

A new Northwestern Medicine study published in Nature Medicine has shown that reprogrammed stem cells can be used to identify patients with cancer who are likely to experience a dangerous side effect of a common chemotherapy drug.

Doxorubicin, also known Adriamycin, effectively treats a wide range of cancers, including breast cancer and pediatric leukemia. But for about 8 percent of patients, the drug causes cardiotoxicity – heart muscle damage so severe that it can lead to heart failure. Currently, healthcare providers can’t predict in advance who will fall into this subset of patients.

Read more.

Penn State Cancer Institute

Just as most people know there is no such thing as safe smoking, there is also no such thing as safe sunbathing or tanning. Exposure to UVA and UVB rays can cause more than just a sunburn or tan – it can lead to everything from wrinkles to skin cancer.

“My general sense is that people are much more savvy about sun exposure,” said Dr. Colette Pameijer, a surgical oncologist and associate director of translational research at Penn State Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

Researchers have shown how controlling cholesterol metabolism in pancreatic cancer cells reduces metastasis, pointing to a potential new treatment using drugs previously developed for atherosclerosis.

“We show for the first time that if you control the cholesterol metabolism you could reduce pancreatic cancer spread to other organs,” said Ji-Xin Cheng, a professor in Purdue University’s Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Chemistry. “We chose pancreatic cancer to test this approach because it is the most aggressive disease of all the cancers.”

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Stephen K. Burley, MD, DPhil, has been named as co-program leader of the Cancer Pharmacology Research Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.  This basic science program unites investigators with broad scientific expertise who share a strong interest in cancer pharmacology and preclinical drug development. The aim of the program is to discover, design, and develop new anti-cancer agents that will translate into more effective cancer treatments. In this new role, Dr. Burley will work with co-program leader X.F. Steven Zheng, PhD, a university professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, in determining the mode of action and mechanism of resistance to anti-cancer agents and developing novel concepts and strategies for cancer treatment.

Read more.

University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

A new study from University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center researchers suggests that a combination immunotherapy approach could lead to increased survival for prostate cancer patients.

The therapies, a DNA vaccine and an immune checkpoint inhibitor, are currently being used together in a clinical trial at UW-Madison.

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 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.