publication date: Jan. 13, 2017

In Brief

Sakaguchi, Ramsdell, Rudensky win Crafoord Prize for discoveries in immune regulation

Three immunology researchers shared the 2017 Crafoord Prize in Polyarthritis “for their discoveries relating to regulatory T cells, which counteract harmful immune reactions in arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.”

Shimon Sakaguchi, of Osaka University, discovered and documented the occurrence of regulatory T cells by systematically investigating cells that develop in the thymus of young mice in a series of experiments from 1985 onwards.

Fred Ramsdell, head of research at Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, identified the faulty gene in some mice and children that are born with IPEX, a severe autoimmune disease, in 2001. This gene, FOXP3, has proven to be vital in the development of regulatory T cells.

Alexander Rudensky, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, knocked out the FOXP3 gene in mice in 2003, so they were unable to form regulatory T cells and thus suffered from severe autoimmune diseases. At about the same time, Sakaguchi and Ramsdell independently presented evidence that FOXP3 governs the formation of regulatory T cells.

The prize money is 6 million Swedish krona, about $1.3 million. The Crafoord Prize is awarded as a partnership between the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Crafoord Foundation in Lund. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is responsible for deciding upon the Crafoord laureates.

The prize is awarded in one discipline each year, according to a set schedule for mathematics and astronomy, geosciences, and biosciences.

The prize for polyarthritis is awarded only when a special committee has demonstrated that scientific progress in this field has been such that an award is justified.

According to the prize committee:

“Even back in the 1960s, researchers were searching for suppressor cells in the immune system, but the research results were contradictory. Accordingly, over time, the consensus became that no such cells existed. Despite this, Shimon Sakaguchi persevered with the search and, after many years, he succeeded in identifying the cells that are now called regulatory T cells.

“Some years later, Fred Ramsdell approached the same area from a different direction; he isolated and identified the gene that is linked to severe autoimmune disease in a particular strain of mice. He also demonstrated that mutation in the same gene in humans, now known as FOXP3, causes a severe congenital disease called IPEX. Shortly afterwards, decisive findings were made, linking these two pieces of knowledge together. Alexander Rudensky, Shimon Sakaguchi and Fred Ramsdell each described how the FOXP3 gene is vital to a process that results in some T cells becoming security guards in the immune system. These are the regulatory T cells, which can prevent autoimmune reactions because they detect and suppress overzealous colleagues in the immune system.

“A great number of clinical trials are now being conducted globally, with research teams testing various ways of using regulatory T cells to subdue the immune system’s attacks that cause autoimmune diseases. The long-term vision is that of a breakthrough in the treatment of polyarthritis and other autoimmune syndromes, which could be treated more effectively than they are today.”

The prize will be awarded in Stockholm on May 18.


Gustavo Leone named director of  MUSC Hollings Cancer Center

Gustavo Leone was named director of the Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center. His appointment begins March 1.

Leone will continue to conduct laboratory and translational research at MUSC, focusing on identifying how disruption of critical cell cycle regulatory pathways contributes to uncontrolled cell growth. Currently his laboratory group focuses on studying how genes outside the tumor cell affect the community of cells around a cancer cell, a research area that may reveal new cancer treatment strategies.

HCC includes more than 120 faculty-level cancer scientists with an annual research funding portfolio of $44 million. A primary goal for Leone will be to support and enhance the infrastructure key to the center’s prestigious NCI-designated status and to build programming and recruitment efforts to attain NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center status.

Leone earned his doctoral degree from the University of Calgary and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University in 1998 before joining The Ohio State University as an assistant professor at OSU’s NCI-designated James Comprehensive Cancer Center.Leone advanced to full professor in molecular genetics in 2011 and held the Klotz Chair in Cancer Research.  In his leadership positions as director of the Solid Tumor Biology Program and associate director for basic research, Leone also expanded mentoring, recruitment, and collaborative research efforts as a founding member of the Pelotonia Fellowship Program in Cancer Research.


Levine Cancer Institute is first to earn top designation for patient-centered care

Levine Cancer Institute was named a “Planetree Designated Patient-Centered Organization,” making it the only cancer network worldwide to earn Planetree designation, the highest achievement in patient-centered care.

In addition to being the first outpatient cancer network to receive the designation, Levine Cancer Institute is the first multi-site center to receive the designation and the first outpatient network. Because of this, the institute’s role in defining criteria and benchmarks for other cancer centers and multi-site institutes seeking designation is critically important. More than 20 of the institute’s sites share the designation.

“The designation signals to patients, providers and everyone with an investment in cancer care that Levine Cancer Institute is an organization where providers partner with patients and families, and where patient comfort, dignity, empowerment and well-being are prioritized with providing top-quality clinical care,” said Susan Frampton, president of Planetree.

The Planetree Designation is an award that recognizes excellence in person-centeredness across the continuum of care and is based on evidence and standards within the health care industry. The criteria that an organization must satisfy to achieve designation reflect what patients, family members and health care professionals believe matters most to them during a health care experience, including quality and clinical outcomes.

There are 31 health care providers in the U.S. and 81 world-wide that have earned Planetree Designation. “Patient-centered care is about providers taking a step back and realizing that we’re experts in cancer care and treatment but patients are experts in their lives and needs, and it’s this recognition that is at the center of everything we do,” said Derek Raghavan, president of the Levine Cancer Institute.

“By combining the leading-edge oncology treatments, nationally renowned physicians, careful cancer research and demonstrated clinical outcomes with a truly patient-centered care approach, we have built a network that allows our Institute to provide tremendous clinical care for patients. This extends far beyond the traditional definition of care and demonstrates what is possible when all aspects of treatment are truly integrated. Carolinas HealthCare System has its own internal system of evaluating patient-centric care, but this external validation for our cancer institute program will be crucial for the welfare of our patients and families.”

To achieve designation, Levine Cancer Institute has undergone rigorous site visits by a team of Planetree representatives, which included focus groups with recent Levine Cancer Institute patients, families and current staff validating that specific patient-centered policies are in place. The process also included a review of the organization’s performance on patient satisfaction and quality of care measures, and how measurement of these indicators improves organizational outcomes.


Martin Edelman joins Fox Chase as hematology/oncology chair

Martin Edelman joined Fox Chase Cancer Center as chair of the Department of Hematology/Oncology.

He will also serve as deputy cancer center director for clinical research, leading the effort to integrate discoveries from the Translational Research Initiative into a strong investigator-initiated clinical trials program.

Edelman will collaborate with clinical, scientific, and administrative leadership to grow robust therapeutic, clinical research, and translational research programs in hematology and medical oncology while leading the department in evaluating emerging national trends in the delivery of cancer care.

Edelman comes to Fox Chase from the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he served most recently as the head of the section of solid tumor oncology and associate director of the division of hematology/oncology. In addition, he was a professor of medicine and radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Edelman developed one of the most commonly used regimens for treating advanced lung cancer and working toward the development of new agents and biomarkers to personalize lung cancer therapy. He has a particular interest in approaches that integrate surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy in the management of lung cancer patients.

He serves on the Lung Cancer Committee of the Alliance, the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, and the Thoracic Malignancies Steering Committee of the National Cancer Institute’s Scientific Review Group. In addition, he is the Medical Oncology Co-chair for the Lung Cancer Committee of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group.

He has been active within the American Society for Clinical Oncology and has chaired the lung cancer sections for the scientific and educational committees as well as a past member of the governmental affairs committee. As a member of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, he has chaired the Career Development and Ethics Committees.


Diane Simeone to lead pancreatic cancer center at NYU Langone

Diane Simeone will join the NYU Langone Medical Center’s Perlmutter Cancer Center March 1 to serve as associate director for translational research and to lead its newly established pancreatic cancer center. Simeone is the director of the gastrointestinal oncology program at University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Her laboratory was the first to identify pancreatic cancer stem cells, a discovery that might explain why current drug therapies are ineffective against the disease. She also leads a research program on pancreatic cancer prevention, early detection and therapeutics, and holds major leadership positions with organizations advancing pancreatic cancer research and advocacy worldwide.


Mario Contreraz named administrator of IU cancer center clinical trials office

Mario Contreraz was named administrator of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center’s Clinical Trials Office.     

As administrator, Contreraz will provide overall direction for the strategy and vision for the Clinical Trials Office to ensure all NCI criteria and guidelines are met. He will also serve as a liaison between the administrative staff and the sponsors, collaborators, and regulatory agencies.

Contreraz had served as interim administrator for the Clinical Trials Office during the recruitment process. He initially joined the Clinical Trials Office in May 2016 as the research nurse administrator.

Prior to joining the CTO, Contreraz was a clinical research manager at the IU School of Medicine’s clinical research center, a clinical research nurse at the Krannert Institute of Cardiology, a nursing associate at Eli Lilly and Company, and an ER nurse at Eskenazi Health. He holds both a master’s of nurse administration, a master’s of business administration from Anderson University, and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Ball State University.


Columbia, NewYork-Presbyterian and Life Raft form GIST research partnership

Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian and The Life Raft Group, a patient advocacy organization specializing in gastrointestinal stromal tumors cancer, entered into a collaborative research project to investigate the efficacy of a novel system biology approach for identifying the best treatment options for patients with advanced GIST.

The science behind the approach, developed in the Califano Lab at Columbia University, utilizes VIPER algorithm software (Virtual Inference of Protein activity by Enriched Regulon analysis) to investigate the molecular networks of GIST patients who have become resistant to approved tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

Although oncogene targets are already established in GIST, this will identify the master regulators or “tumor checkpoints” that represent the final on and off switches in the GIST cells. Personalized therapeutic agents can then be selected for patients currently lacking any effective therapeutic options. Clinical and molecular data from the study participants will be stored in the Life Raft Group’s Patient Registry, a unique data management analytics tool developed by the LRG, which tracks a patient’s clinical history and links it to a companion record of tissue and mutational data housed in the LRG’s Tissue Bank.

The project will launch with the mapping of tissue samples donated by patients to the LRG. The LRG will also serve as the monitoring arm of the study and use their proprietary research collaboration platform, InterGR, to provide investigators a centralized repository for all data collected.

Collaboration begins with six other academic institutions, including Fox Chase Cancer Center, Oregon Health & Science University, University of California San Diego, University of Miami, Washington University and Stanford University.


NCCN publishes patient education resources for gliomas

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network has published the NCCN Guidelines for Patients and NCCN Quick Guide sheets for Brain Cancer – Gliomas—the first in a series of patient education resources focused on brain cancer.

Published by NCCN through support of the NCCN Foundation, and partly through funding from NCCN Foundation’s Team Pound the Pavement for Patients, these resources inform patients about their disease and the treatment options available to them.

“Access to new, easy-to-understand treatment information for patients with brain cancer empowers these patients to make informed decisions about their care. We are excited to present the new NCCN Guidelines for Patients – Gliomas and look forward to publication of the entire Brain Cancer Series,” said Marcie Reeder, executive director, NCCN Foundation.

Support from NCCN Foundation’s Team Pound the Pavement for Patients was donated in honor of Melanie Moletzsky, an employee of NCCN who was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma—a type of glioma—in 2015. During her time in treatment—nearly two years—Moletzsky learned a lot about living with brain cancer and the side effects of the disease and its treatment.

She shares her insights in the new NCCN Guidelines for Patients: Brain Cancer – Gliomas. These resources are available free of charge on, as well as on the free NCCN Patient Guides for Cancer mobile app, available for Android and iOS devices. NCCN plans to publish additional patient resources focusing on other forms of Brain Cancer in the future.

NCCN Guidelines for Patients, patient-friendly translations of the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, are easy-to-understand resources based on the same clinical practice guidelines used by health care professionals around the world to determine the best way to treat a patient with cancer.

NCCN currently offers NCCN Guidelines for Patients for the following:

Brain, Breast, Colon, Esophageal, Kidney, Non-Small Cell Lung, Ovarian, Pancreatic, Prostate, and Stomach Cancers; Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia; Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer; Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia; Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia; Hodgkin Lymphoma; Lung Cancer Screening; Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma; Melanoma; Multiple Myeloma; Nausea and Vomiting; Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphomas; and Soft Tissue Sarcoma.

The NCCN Guidelines for Patients and NCCN Quick Guide™ sheets for Brain Cancer – Gliomas are available to download for free from and on the NCCN Patient Guides for Cancer mobile app.


NIHCM Foundation awards $345K in investigator-initiated research grants

NIHCM Foundation awarded seven new grants totaling $345,000 to support investigator-initiated health services research.

The winning studies were selected for their potential to improve the health care system and their strong research design.

“The studies we’re supporting are developing practical evidence that is actively improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the U.S. health care system,” said NIHCM CEO Nancy Chockley. “This investment in evidence is critical to achieving a healthier America.”

The latest round of grants will support the following projects:

Promoting Better Pain Management Outcomes: Precision Decision Support for Opioid Prescription

This study will investigate the feasibility and impact of using personalized decision support to assist physicians with prescribing decisions by predicting a patient’s risk of developing opioid dependence. Findings have the potential to improve prescribing practices and reduce the prevalence of addiction.


  • Ritu Agarwal, University of Maryland  

  • Margret Bjarnadottir, University of Maryland 

  • Kislaya Prasad,University of Maryland

  • Kenyon Crowley, University of Maryland

Selected Market Failures in Health Care: Analyzing the Scope, Causes, and Potential Solutions

This two-part study will examine health care market failures affecting consumers: 1) the frequency and causes of surprise bills for out-of-network services, and 2) the significance of various barriers to shopping around for services, including travel distance, referral practices, vertical integration and transparency. Results have the potential to inform policy responses.


  • Zack Cooper, Yale University

  • Fiona Scott Morton, Yale University

  • Michael Chernew, Harvard University

Evaluating and Improving Post-Hospitalization Mental Health Follow-Up Care

This study will identify the characteristics associated with receipt of timely follow-up mental health care after a hospitalization or emergency department visit related to mental illness, and it will examine whether follow-up care affects outcomes or spending. Findings have the potential to improve care for this vulnerable and potentially expensive patient population.


  • Kimberley Geissler,

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst

The Clinical and Economic Impact of Washington State’s Oral Anticancer Treatment Access Law

This study will examine how Washington state’s oral chemotherapy parity law has affected access, spending, out-of-pocket costs and health outcomes. Findings are expected to be broadly applicable to the 42 other states with similar laws and to inform debate over federal legislation.


  • Caroline Bennette, University of Washington

  • Scott Ramsey, University of Washington

  • Zachary Marcum, University of Washington

Patterns and Determinants of Inappropriate Diagnostic Imaging

This study will describe the magnitude and costs of inappropriate diagnostic imaging and estimate the influence of patient, physician and practice characteristics and of physician self-referrals. Researchers will also examine the impact of cost containment initiatives in Massachusetts, with findings expected to inform future efforts to reduce inappropriate care.


  • Gary Young, Northeastern University

  • Stephen Flaherty, Northeastern University

  • Koenraad Mortele, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School

eQuality: Improving LGBT, GNC, and DSD Health Through a Comprehensive Medical School Training Program

This study will develop, evaluate and disseminate a clinical skills training manual for medical students on how to provide high quality care to patients who are LGBT, gender nonconforming or have differences of sex development. This work has the potential to improve care standards nationwide through broader training on evidence-based practices.


  • Susan Sawning, University of Louisville School of Medicine

  • Amy Holthouser, University of Louisville School of Medicine

  • Carrie Bohnert, University of Louisville School of Medicine

  • Laura Weingartner, University of Louisville School of Medicine

  • Jennifer Potter, Harvard Medical School

Consumer Directed Health Plan Impact on Low-Value Service Utilization and Spending

This study will examine how enrollment in a consumer directed health plan (CDHP) affects use of and spending for 26 measures of low-value outpatient care. Results should inform discussions of the extent to which the growing use of CDHPs can reduce waste in the health care system.


  • Neeraj Sood, University of Southern California

  • Rachel Reid, RAND Corp.


LUNGevity Foundation introduces mobile app to help patients manage lung cancer

LUNGevity launched a mobile application designed to make understanding and living with lung cancer less daunting and considerably more manageable.

The new Lung Cancer Navigator mobile app provides lung cancer patients with access to the latest medical and treatment information related to their specific lung cancer diagnosis, and serves as a convenient hub for organizing customized care and support networks, asking questions, describing and tracking symptoms, and managing multiple medications.

The LUNGevity Lung Cancer Navigator app provides tools and forums to help those coping with the disease (including caregivers and support network members) communicate important details in real time, while handling care management needs with efficiency, medical guidance and less stress.

“Our goal with the LUNGevity Lung Cancer Navigator app is to empower patients and provide them with a forum for connecting to customized information and a support community that helps them navigate life with understanding and much less fear,” said Andrea Ferris, president of LUNGevity Foundation.


NPR station broadcasts anniversary program on moonshot

On Jan. 12, the first anniversary of the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative, NPR’s largest member station, KQED San Francisco, aired a one-hour program, which is posted here.

Guests included:

  • Matthew Ong, reporter, The Cancer Letter

  • Deborah Mayer, professor, school of nursing and director of cancer survivorship, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at UNC-Chapel Hill; member, Blue Ribbon Panel for Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot

  • Jan Liphardt, associate professor of bioengineering, Stanford University; co-founder,

  • Alan Ashworth, president, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center; senior vice president for Cancer Services, UCSF Health Professor of Medicine


Goldberg novel is finalist in Jewish Book award

Paul Goldberg’s novel, The Yid, was a finalist in the Goldberg Prize debut fiction category in the 2016 National Jewish Book Awards. The Yid is a dark comedy set in Moscow in 1953.

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