AROUND THE POA: September 2021

The Caris POA Adds 3 New Members

In August of this year the POA welcomed 3 new member institutions to the alliance: Augusta University, Columbia University, and the University of Alabama Birmingham. This brings our total to 53 members. Since the beginning it has been our goal to build the foremost precision medicine focused research network in the world. As we continue to add new members we move closer to achieving this goal. The diverse make-up of our POA member institutions has enabled us to deliver greater molecular science solutions in an effort to improve the lives of cancer patients worldwide through the development of precision medicine programs and practices. 

AdventHealth Clinical Leaders Among Top 2% of Scientists Worldwide

Five AdventHealth physicians and the scientific director of the AdventHealth Translational Research Institute are featured in the ranking of the world’s top 2% of scientists in a study by Stanford University.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Biology, the comprehensive list analyzed research data from the mid-1990s through to 2019, covering millions of scientists in all fields of study, and identified the top scientists by calculating how often their work is cited over the course of their careers. Read more

Atrium Health

DNA Gaps in Breast and Ovarian Cancer Cells Open the Door to New Treatment Options

A new paper in Molecular Cell highlights the work of the Ciccia laboratory, demonstrating a novel vulnerability in certain breast and ovarian cancer cells, and potentially opening the door to new treatment options. Alberto Ciccia, PhD, serves as an associate professor in the Department of Genetics and Development. His laboratory uncovers the mechanisms by which the DNA damage response (DDR) protects the genome from insults induced by endogenous and exogenous stimuli. The DDR plays a critical role in human disease, and mutations in DDR genes cause more than 40 genetic disorders, including multiple cancers. In the recently published work, Angelo Taglialatela, PhD, associate research scientist and first author of the paper, discovered that human cancer cells deficient in the key DNA repair genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, mutations of which are common in familial breast and ovarian cancer, accumulate single-strand DNA gaps during normal DNA replication, a vulnerability that could be exploited if new treatment options are developed. Read more.

Georgia Cancer Center Receives $1.7M Grant to Study Why Aggressive Form of Breast Cancer Can Resist Treatment

Understanding the role a certain molecule plays in both cancer cells, as well as the cells tasked to kill foreign invaders in the body, could be the key to unlocking the benefits of treatment for one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. “Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) gets its name from the fact that these cancer cells do not have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and do not produce very much of the oncogene called HER2,” said Dr. Hasan Korkaya, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical College of Georgia. “This form of cancer is usually diagnosed more frequently in African American women under the age of 40 and those women who test positive for the BRCA-1 gene and display even more aggressive disease than their Caucasian counterparts.” Read more.

Newsweek Names Dana-Farber #3 in the World for Cancer

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has been named one of the world’s very best cancer hospitals by Newsweek in its new World’s Best Specialized Hospitals 2022 rankings. Dana-Farber was ranked #3 globally, the only hospital in New England to be ranked in the top 15 for oncology. Read more.

New Blood Cancer Center Opens

Patients diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma often times undergo a stem cell transplant to combat their cancer. Yet, the Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant (ABMT) Program and the Hematologic Malignancies Program were both housed in different locations on the Duke University Hospital campus. That all changed with the expansion of North Pavilion. Read more

Atrium Health

Goldsmith Named Co-leader of DDT Program at Winship

Kelly C. Goldsmith, MD, a physician-scientist specializing in pediatric oncology, has been named co-leader of the Discovery and Developmental Therapeutics (DDT) Program, one of four research programs within Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Read more

Atrium Health

Jeffrey M. Farma Appointed State Chair of American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer

Jeffrey M. Farma, MD, FACS, chief of the Division of General Surgery at Fox Chase Cancer Center, was appointed as the state chair of the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC) Cancer Liaison Program. Read more.

Atrium Health

DNA Tags Enable Blood-based Tests to Assess Cancer Treatment Outcomes

Cell-free DNA (cfDNA) shed into the blood was discovered in the late 1940s, but with rapid advances in genomics and computational analytics in just the past few years, researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center now believe that studying tags, or modifications to this type of DNA, may lead to a better understanding of how to assess, and possibly modulate, treatment approaches for cancer and other diseases. Their perspective, drawn from a review of studies to date, appears July 27 in Frontiers in GeneticsRead more.

Pancreatic Cancer Patients from Around the World Flock to Hoag Hospital for Clinical Trial

Olav Ruud was out of options. Since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year earlier, he had part of his pancreas removed, followed by two rounds of chemotherapy. And yet scans were showing two new tumors. The retired commodities broker started searching online to see if there were any pancreatic cancer therapy trials he could sneak into. “I found an article on Senator Harry Reid and I go ‘Wow! This is for me.'” The retired commodities broker started searching online to see if there were any pancreatic cancer therapy trials he could sneak into. The article was about an experimental natural killer cell therapy that stopped the former U.S. senator’s pancreatic cancer cold in two months. Read more.

SKCC to Participate in National Pilot Project to Increase Diversity in Cancer Treatment Trials

The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health (SKCC) is one of 75 sites invited to participate in a national pilot project being conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC). The pilot project is testing a research site self-assessment tool and an implicit bias training program focused on increasing racial and ethnic diversity among cancer treatment trial participants. Read more

Levine Cancer Institute Enrolls World’s First Patient in Specialized Lymphoma Clinical Trial

We are pleased to announce that Levine Cancer Institute (LCI) enrolled the first patient in the world in an innovative phase I clinical trial for patients with relapsed or refractory B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Since LCI has a substantial number of patients who are included in this population, the overarching goal in launching the trial is to develop an additional opportunity for patients needing clinical care when previous therapies are no longer effective. Read more.

Focus on Health Equity in Cancer Care Leads to National Recognition

Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center has once again earned national recognition for its quality of care studies leading to enhanced patient care, its strong cancer screening and early detection initiatives, and its exceptional support services. The Three-Year Accreditation from the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons is one of the most respected and prestigious designations for cancer care. This accomplishment builds off Montefiore’s previous CoC accreditation and its recent U.S News & World Report ranking as one of the top 50 cancer centers in the country. Read more.

New Certification Pilot Focuses on Patient-Centered Cancer Care, Equips Practices with Evidence-based Approach to Value-based Care Delivery

The Association for Clinical Oncology (the Association) launched the ASCO Patient-Centered Cancer Care Certification, a new pilot that certifies outpatient oncology group practices and health systems that meet a single set of comprehensive, expert-backed standards for patient-centered care delivery. The pilot is based on recently published oncology medical home standards (OMH) from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (an affiliate of the Association) and the Community Oncology Alliance (COA). Read more.

Midwest’s Newest Field of Medicine

It’s often assumed that cutting edge cancer care is only available on the coasts or in larger cities, but Nebraska Cancer Specialists (NCS) in Omaha has the Midwest’s first and largest dedicated Theranostics center, providing state-of-the-art clinical care and research opportunities for patients. Theranostics is a new field of medicine that combines specific targeted therapy based upon a specific targeted diagnostic test. With a focus on patient-centered care, Theranostics provides a transition from conventional medicine to contemporary personalized and precision medicine. Read more.

Penn State Cancer Institute Bone Marrow Transplant Program Earns Renewed Accreditation

The institute received the accreditation for each of the past 20 years. Accreditation is required to perform stem cell transplant and remain part of the international network of donors upon which patients depend for potentially lifesaving procedures for many blood cancers and blood diseases. FACT awards accreditation once every three years. Read more.

Three Advances in Breast Cancer Treatment are Saving More Lives

The National Breast Cancer Foundation reports that a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes in the United States, however, the outlook for patients diagnosed with breast cancer has been changing for the better over time, thanks to advances in research, targeted therapies, and a more personalized approach to treating women diagnosed with breast cancer. There are more options for breast cancer patients now than ever before. Lindsay Potdevin, MD, surgical oncologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, shares more about these advances that have made a notable impact on the lives of breast cancer patients.
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Man Survives Brain Cancer, Now His Tumor May Help Others

Aaron Miller, 34, of San Ramon, Calif., had a brain tumor surgically removed to save his life. Now that tumor is being used in research to potentially help save the lives of other cancer patients. A sample of Miller’s tumor was provided to scientists at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute, where the Cancer Avatar Project is currently studying tumors of patients with some of the most aggressive, difficult-to-treat forms of cancer. Read more.

Liquid Biopsy Analysis Reveals Genetic Differences In Advanced Prostate Tumors

“African American men with prostate cancer have been diagnosed with more aggressive disease, at younger ages, and generally their prognosis is poorer than for non-Black patients,” Dr. Pedro Barata, assistant professor of medicine in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at the School of Medicine, said. “But, when we start looking at how these patients respond to treatments, the emerging data suggest quite the opposite – that African American men respond similarly, if not better, than non-Black patients to different systemic therapies.” Read more

An Existing Drug May Change Tumor-associated Macrophages Back to Cancer Fighters

A form of cell communication called hedgehog signaling is vital for embryonic development in mammals. But aberrantly activated hedgehog signaling in multiple cancer types — including breast cancer — promotes tumor invasion, its spread to other organs and multi-drug resistance. Two years ago, Lalita Shevde, Ph.D., and colleagues showed that hedgehog signaling plays a significant role in altering the immune components of the tumor microenvironment. Now they report how aberrant hedgehog signaling for tumor-associated macrophages — the immune cells that should be pro-inflammatory guardians against tumor growth — instead transforms them to nonaggressive, immunosuppressive macrophages, called M2 macrophages. Read more.

Novel Nanotechnology Found to Enhance Fight Against Colorectal Cancer and Melanoma

The University of Arizona Health Sciences researchers recently completed a study that has the potential to improve cancer treatment for colorectal cancer and melanoma by using nanotechnology to deliver chemotherapy in a way that makes it more effective against aggressive tumors. The findings were published today in Nature Nanotechnology. Read more.

Two Studies Seek to Go Beyond the GIST of Intestinal Tract Cancer

UC San Diego researchers identify the mutational drivers for gastrointestinal stroma tumors in the stomach and find a potential drug to treat a subset of GIST tumors afflicting the young. 

Gastrointestinal stroma tumors (GIST) are cancers that start in specialized nerve cells found in the digestive system, from the esophagus and stomach to the intestines and rectum. They are rare, but because they often grow slowly or initially cause no symptoms, GIST can be problematic to detect and treatment options are limited to a handful of targeted drug therapies or surgery. An estimated 5,000 new cases of GIST are diagnosed in the United States each year. The 5-year relative survival rate is 93 percent for localized tumors; 55 percent if the GIST has metastasized and spread to other tissues. Read more.

Putting a Target on Breast Cancer That Spreads to the Brain

Breast cancer patients whose cancer spreads to the brain may soon have new treatment options, thanks to research led by CU Cancer Center member Diana Cittelly, PhD. Cittelly’s research, published this week in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, looks specifically at the role of interleukin 13 receptor alpha 2 (IL13Ra2), a protein that is found in increased rates in cancer cells that metastasize to other locations in the body — particularly the brain and the lungs. Read more.

National Cancer Institute Increases Cancer Center’s NCORP Funding

The National Cancer Institute increased its annual Community Oncology Research Program grant allocation to The University of Kansas Cancer Center, raising the original award amount by more than $300,000. KU Cancer Center is in its third year as a designated site of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP). Read more.

University of Minnesota Professor Awarded R01 Grant from the NCI to Identify Prenatal Origin of Leukemia

A study, based at the University of Minnesota, that will examine the prenatal origins of pediatric leukemia, has been awarded a prestigious R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Led by Logan Spector, PhD, Professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics and the Suzanne Holmes Hodder Chair in Pediatric Cancer Research, the multi-institutional team will study the banked cord blood of individuals who were diagnosed with leukemia sometime between their birth and the age of 25. Read more.

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Why are More Younger Women Being Diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer?

Endometrial cancer has long been considered a disease that affects older women. The typical patient is in her 60s and post-menopausal. However, in the past few years, experts have noticed a troubling trend: younger patients. Matthew Schlumbrecht, M.D., M.P.H., is seeing more women in their 30s and 40s with this cancer. At one point, he treated a 19-year-old. All these cases exhibited a common — and preventable — condition. “Obesity,” says Dr. Schlumbrecht, a gynecologic oncologist at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It’s definitely playing a factor. The younger women who present with these tumors are overweight or obese.” Read more.

Penn Study Finds New Possible Cell Target to Treat Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma

Clear cell renal cell carcinoma (ccRCC) cells can be destroyed and kept from multiplying by inhibiting the HDL cholesterol receptor SCARB1, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. The scientists found the health of these specific cancer cells and tumors are dependent upon cholesterol and this receptor while also showing that medication that specifically targets the receptor could make it impossible for the cancer cells to survive and spread. The research also suggests that controlling cholesterol through diet could minimize the growth of ccRCC tumors. Researchers say future trials can investigate specific therapeutics and diets that can be clinically used to treat ccRCC. The study was published in the journal Cancer Discovery. Read more.

UPMC Hillman Recognized for Pancreatic Cancer Care

The National Pancreas Foundation (NPF) has recognized UPMC Hillman Cancer Center as an approved NPF Center of Excellence for the treatment of pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis. This is the second time UPMC Hillman has received this designation. NPF centers undergo a rigorous audit review to determine that an institution’s focus is on multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer, including treating the “whole patient” with a focus on the best possible outcomes and an improved quality of life. Read more

USA Health Mitchell Institute Offers State-of-the-Art Lung Cancer Diagnosis

USA Health is the only academic health system in Alabama to combine state-of-the art robotics and rapid diagnostic tools to diagnose lung cancer quickly and accurately in a single procedure. The new robotic system, the Auris Health Monarch®, is available at 112 sites across the nation, including the USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute. It enables physicians to see inside the lung and biopsy hard-to-reach nodules using a flexible endoscope. When combined with ROSE Pathology (Rapid On-Site Evaluation) it allows for diagnosis at the time of bronchoscopy. Read more

2020 Discovery of the Year Awarded to Ricardo Aguiar, MD, PhD

Study of Lymphoma Metabolism Opens a Path to Precision Treatment. Building on their earlier findings, Ricardo Aguiar, MD, PhD, and his colleagues made a breakthrough discovery with their basic biological research on diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), a common and often fatal hematological malignancy.

Dr. Aguiar, professor of medicine and vice chief for research in the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology for the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, explained there are almost 30,000 new cases each year of DLBCL. He decided to concentrate on this specific type of lymphoma because the survival rate has not changed in 20 years. Read more.

FDA Approval of Belzutifan Culminates 25 Year Journey at UTSW from Gene Discovery to a First-in-class Drug

A first-in-kind kidney cancer drug developed from laboratory and translational studies conducted at UT Southwestern Medical Center received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, providing a new treatment for patients with familial kidney cancer. FDA approval of belzutifan culminates a 25-year journey at UTSW from gene discovery to a first-in-class drug. Merck’s belzutifan grew out of the discovery at UT Southwestern of a protein, hypoxia-inducible factor 2-alpha (HIF-2α), that is key to fuel the growth of kidney and other cancers. HIF-2α was discovered by Steven McKnight, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry.
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New Insights About Melanocytes Could Lead to More Targeted Melanoma Treatments

Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah have generated the first “atlas” of human melanocytes located throughout the body. In analyzing the atlas data further, the researchers discovered there are different types of melanocytes, including what appears to be the cell of origin for acral melanoma, a subtype of melanoma that mostly affects people of color. Researchers predict these discoveries will lead to more targeted treatments for melanoma. The findings were published today in the journal Nature Cell Biology. Read more

VHIO at ESMO 2021: The Promise of New Therapeutic Avenues Against NSCLC

Selected by ESMO as a Late Breaker, this study was designed to assess the efficacy and safety of the anti-PD-L1 monoclonal antibody, durvalumab, alone versus durvalumab in combination with novel agents in patients with locally advanced, unresectable, stage III non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), who have not progressed after concurrent chemoradiotherapy (cCRT). Read more.

Dr. Spira Highlights Amivantamab as Promising Treatment in METex14 Mutated NSCLC

Alexander Spira, MD, PhD, FACP, discusses new evidence supporting the use of the amivantamab in the treatment of patients with NSCLC with MET exon 14 skipping (METex14) mutations, to be presented at the IASLC 2021 World Conference on Lung Cancer. Read more

Siteman’s Innovations in Brain Tumor Surgery Are Advancing Treatment

Siteman is a nationally renowned leader in brain tumor treatment. Experts at our Brain Tumor Center have developed some of the latest innovations in brain tumor surgery to optimize patient outcomes. Washington University Physicians at Siteman have pioneered innovative brain tumor surgery techniques. By combining their expertise with state-of-the-art technology, they give patients the best possible chances for positive outcomes. Read more.

Auburn Woman Spots Signs of a Lesser-Known Cancer, and Why She Doesn’t ‘Mess Around’

For Susan Plessner, there was no chance of skipping doctor appointments or ignoring the signs of a health issue, even during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. One reason for her diligence is the prevalence of cancer in her family. After noticing an area of concern on her skin, Susan made an appointment with a skin specialist. “They injected [the scar], but then I noticed there was growth under my skin. It was the size of a pecan,” explained Susan. Read more

WVU Cancer Institute

WVU Cancer Institute to Pilot Nation’s First Fully Mobile Lung Cancer Screening Program

The WVU Cancer Institute and WVU Medicine – WVU Hospitals today (Aug. 6) unveiled LUCAS, a fully mobile unit that will traverse West Virginia providing lung cancer screening in rural areas. It is the first of its kind in the nation. LUCAS, an acronym for Lung Cancer Screening, is the only fully mobile artificial-intelligence-powered CT unit for low-dose lung cancer screening in the nation that will travel statewide without the need for facility-based power, enabling broader access to high quality care. The industry’s first continuously powered fully mobile solution enables high throughput, minimizing wait times for patients. LUCAS will serve patients from across the state with visits in the 42 counties without immediate access to lung cancer screening services. Read more