Oct. 16, 2015:

Breakthroughs and breakaways: these are the exciting results of the Big Ten Cancer Centers’ collective fight against cancer. In this month’s edition of Across the Consortium, we recount the innovative breakthroughs of member institutions asking – and answering – big questions in oncology. Non-drug treatments, cutting-edge device development, and genetic analyses are just a few highlights. We also glean inspiration from the breakaway performances of Big Ten research leaders achieving new milestones and paving the way for the leaders of tomorrow. As the impact of senior faculty deepens, new training programs broaden the pool of future talent.

University of Illinois Cancer Center

The University of Illinois Cancer Center and Governors State University have received a joint four-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to help both institutions conduct community-based research to reduce cancer-related health disparities in Chicago’s south suburbs.

The grant will support the development of an integrated program for GSU junior faculty that provides training to perform independent research and to lend career-development support to minority undergraduate and graduate students at GSU who are interested in health disparities research.

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Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center

Two Indiana University researchers have been awarded nearly $1.6 million to study how a non-drug treatment may benefit women with breast cancer who also experience muscle weakness and bone loss.

The Department of Defense awarded Theresa Guise, MD, the Jerry and Peggy Throgmartin Professor of Oncology at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, and William Thompson, DPT, Ph.D., assistant professor at the IU School of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, a three-year Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Award.

The two researchers propose that low-intensity vibration therapy may be a way to restrict muscle weakness and bone loss in patients with breast cancer. The vibration treatment may also prevent breast cancer from spreading to bones.

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University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center

More than 80 percent of homes in a rural northwest Iowa community tested positive for radon levels significantly higher than the cap recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency, results doctors and UI researchers say are indicative of what the entire state is facing.

“This is kind of a silent killer that people just didn’t know about [in Akron]. We had young people in our community die of lung cancer and they didn’t smoke, and we didn’t know why,” said Cynthia Wolff, MD, of the Akron/Mercy Family Medical Clinic in Akron, Iowa. “I was shocked, I’ve been a physician here for 20 years and I didn’t know the radon risks in Iowa.”
Iowa has the highest average indoor concentrations of radon in the U.S. Radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas created by natural uranium in the earth and the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

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University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center

Surgeons have long used microscopes to help them perform their delicate work. But, in this setting at least, microscopes have traditionally done little more than magnify.

Two devices aim to change that by helping to differentiate healthy and diseased tissue in ways that are practical and speedy enough for use in the operating room. One microscope takes advantage of stimulated Raman scattering (SRS); the other, near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence.

The SRS device, developed by researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., can rapidly detect signs of cancer in tissue samples taken during surgery.

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Michigan State University Breslin Cancer Center

Two Michigan State University researchers have been awarded a five-year, $4.15 million grant to examine how a high-fat diet interacts with a common chemical found in sunscreen and what effect it has on breast cancer risk.

“This research could affect many women as diets high in fat are widespread and sunscreens with certain chemicals are routinely promoted as protection against skin cancer,” said Richard Schwartz, a microbiology and molecular genetics professor and associate dean in the College of Natural Science.

Schwartz, along with Sandra Haslam, a professor of physiology in the College of Human Medicine, will lead the preclinical study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, that will investigate the chemical BP-3, or Benzophenone-3, which is often found in sunscreens and is suspected to mimic the female sex hormone estrogen.

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Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

A new summer research program at the Masonic Cancer Center will open applications to undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota in November in an effort to train college students for graduate school.

Cancer Research, Education and Training Experience will be led by University Medical Scientist Training Program Director Yoji Shimizu and will give 16 undergraduate students the chance to research cancer biology full-time for 10 weeks.

Workshops concerning current issues and events in cancer biology, training in communication, and applying for graduate school will also be included in the program, Shimizu said. The program will have two components: laboratory-based research and mentorship with a faculty member from the Masonic Cancer Center.

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Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center (University of Nebraska)

Kenneth Cowan, MD, PhD, director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, and Nancy Keegan, businesswoman and longtime University of Nebraska volunteer, are the 2015 recipients of the University of Nebraska Foundation’s annual awards for contributions made to university development and volunteer service.

Cowan has been awarded the Harlan J. Noddle Award for Distinguished Development Service.

The award honors longtime University of Nebraska supporter, Harlan Noddle of Omaha, who served as chair of the NU Foundation board of directors, among many other volunteer roles. He died in 2005, and the award was created in his memory by his family and the university to annually recognize a university or foundation employee who exemplifies his initiative, honesty, integrity, compassion, commitment, foresight, tolerance and diligence.

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Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University

Francis Giles, MD, has been appointed chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Medicine. In his new role, he says he will continue to advance the division’s clinical, research and academic pursuits.

“Frank is an outstanding oncologist, a seasoned leader and a visionary investigator,” said Douglas Vaughan, MD, chair and Irving S. Cutter Professor of Medicine. “He has created and built a vibrant program in developmental therapeutics here at Northwestern in two short years. I am certain he will be able to foster the growth and success of our Hematology/Oncology Division in all areas. We are delighted that he accepted our offer to take on this new challenge. He is the right person for the job.”

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Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

An 18 percent increase in research funding and a prestigious National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award highlight the fiscal year 2015 research mission accomplishments at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine.

At the Medical Center’s public board of directors meeting, Dr. A. Craig Hillemeier, dean of Penn State College of Medicine, chief executive officer of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System, and Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs, reported that Medical Center and College of Medicine faculty earned $98.3 million in external research support in 2014-2015, an 18 percent gain over last year’s research funding total. This includes $67.8 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a 25 percent increase over last year.

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Purdue University Center for Cancer Research

A technology developed by Purdue Center for Cancer Research member Phil Low has completed a Phase 2b clinical trial in non-small cell lung cancer patients.

Endocyte Inc., presented the final overall survival analysis from the Phase 2b TARGET trial evaluating its small molecule drug conjugate vintafolide in combination with docetaxel in patients with FR positive recurrent NSCLC at the World Conference on Lung Cancer in Denver, Colo.

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Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Imagine a gang of thugs is marauding the landscape, killing 4,000 to 6,000 women a year. Police know the name of the gang, but not the identities of the individual gangsters. Then someone comes up with a way to get all their fingerprints, so law enforcement around the world can start hunting them down.

That’s roughly what researchers, including one at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, have accomplished with their lengthy analysis of the genetic mutations that accompany lobular breast cancer.

Lobular cancer accounts for just 10-15 percent of breast cancer cases, with nearly all of the rest ductal cancer, the kind that originates in the breast’s milk ducts. While there is very little difference in the overall prognosis of the two types, they can behave differently if they spread.

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University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center

Since 1927, mammography, a special form of X-ray breast imaging, has helped diagnose and screen for breast cancer. By catching a tumor early with a mammogram, it can often be treated effectively before spreading to other organs.

But with President Obama announcing his precision medicine initiative in January 2015, breast imaging is becoming an increasingly important tool for cancer treatment as well.

“Imaging can help us tailor the treatment to the exact biological properties of a tumor,” says Amy Fowler, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of radiology at the UW Carbone Cancer Center. “This may not only reduce the risk of cancer recurrence at the primary site, but also the risk of metastases.”

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.