publication date: Sep. 27, 2019

In Brief

Winship’s Curran receives ASTRO Gold Medal

American Society for Radiation Oncology awarded its highest honor, the Gold Medal, to Winship Executive Director Walter J. Curran, Jr., during the 2019 annual ASTRO meeting in Chicago Sept. 14-18.

The Gold Medal is given to ASTRO members who have made outstanding contributions to the field of radiation oncology in research, clinical care, teaching and service.

Curran was recognized for training and mentoring hundreds of oncologists, dedication to patients, and more than 30 years of involvement in and leadership of the national clinical cooperative group Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, now NRG Oncology.

Curran is group chair and principal investigator of NRG Oncology. He is an expert in the treatment of locally advanced lung cancer and malignant brain tumors and was the first radiation oncologist to serve as director of a NCI-designated cancer center. He is a standing member of NCI’s Clinical Trials Advisory Committee.

He is responsible for defining a universally adopted staging system for patients with malignant glioma.

Curran also holds the Lawrence W. Davis Chair of Radiation Oncology, chair of Emory’s Department of Radiation Oncology and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and Chair in Cancer Research.


Fairness to Kids with Cancer Act is introduced in the House

Six members of the House of Representatives recently introduced the Fairness to Kids with Cancer Act (HR-4429), which seeks to adjust federal funding levels for pediatric cancer at a fairer percentage rate than is currently allocated.

Under the act, the percentage of U.S. citizens under the age of 18 would be used to determine the amount of federal funds for pediatric cancer research. This approach is different from the standard approach of apportioning funds based on scientific opportunity.

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Mike Kelly (R-PA), Brendan Boyle (D-PA), and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL) introduced the bill.


Brereton, Dornsife receive NCCS Stovall award

Harmar Brereton of Northeast Regional Cancer Institute and Dana Dornsife of Lazarex Cancer Foundation were named recipients of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship Ellen L. Stovall Award for Innovation in Patient-Centered Cancer Care.

The award reception will take place Nov. 13.

Brereton served on the staff at Georgetown University for two years and then entered private practice where he spent 33 years developing cancer services by founding the Northeast Regional Cancer Institute in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

At the end of his private practice career, he helped develop The Commonwealth Medical College, now the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, where he continues to serve on the faculty as a clinical professor of medicine. In addition to teaching at the Weill Cornell School of Medicine, he is also a leadership team member of the International Cancer Expert Corps.

Dornsife is chair of the board and founder of Lazarex Cancer Foundation, a nationwide public non-profit organization she began in 2006. Lazarex’s mission is to improve the outcome of cancer care—giving hope, dignity and life to advanced stage cancer patients and the medically underserved by providing assistance with costs for FDA clinical trial participation, identification of clinical trial options, community outreach and engagement.

Dornsife expanded Lazarex’s mission to bring transformational change to the bench to bedside process of clinical trial enrollment, retention, minority participation and equitable access with IMPACT (IMproving Patient Access to Cancer Clinical Trials). Dornsife serves as a board member of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute at University of Southern California, the UCSF Cancer Leadership Council and the Massachusetts General Hospital President’s Council.

The Stovall Award is named for longtime CEO of NCCS, Ellen L. Stovall, who died in 2016 due to cardiac complications from her cancer treatments. A cancer survivor of more than four decades, Stovall sought to advance patient-centered care. The Stovall Award is given annually to individuals, organizations, or other entities that have played an important role in improving cancer care.


AdventHealth, Moffitt form collaboration

Moffitt Cancer Center and AdventHealth are partnering to provide cancer treatment and better access to cancer prevention, education, cancer screenings and early phase clinical trials for patients in Florida.

The partnership will develop a cancer research agenda shared across both organizations, which will include expanding research activities and recruitment of innovative cancer investigators to the AdventHealth Orlando and Celebration campuses.

The two organizations plan to establish a clinical research facility and chemotherapy/immunotherapy infusion program at AdventHealth Celebration, focused on solid tumor malignancies and malignant hematology, which will allow Central Florida patients to receive critical treatments closer to home.

At AdventHealth Celebration, researchers from both organizations will conduct early phase clinical studies—the first and only phase I site in Central Florida.

This partnership extends to AdventHealth’s West Florida division as well, where a new Moffitt outpatient satellite cancer center is under construction at AdventHealth Wesley Chapel.


UMich and Karmanos get $9.2M prostate cancer SPORE grant

The University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute received a $9.2 million grant through the NCI’s Specialized Program of Research Excellence.

The Michigan Prostate SPORE will focus on critical questions about how prostate cancer develops, with projects designed to address major barriers and challenges in diagnosis, treatment and metastasis.

The Rogel Cancer Center first received a prostate cancer SPORE grant in 1995. It has been continuously funded since then, resulting in landmark discoveries that have identified key genetic drivers of prostate cancer.

In this renewal, the University of Michigan team reached out to Karmanos researchers to leverage the two institutions’ strengths. University of Michigan Rogel Cancer and Karmanos are the only two NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in Michigan.

“Collectively, we have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of metastatic prostate cancer in many populations and discover additional ways to treat this disease, as well as prevent it,” co-PI Elisabeth Heath, the Patricia C. and E. Jan Hartmann endowed chair for Prostate Cancer Research at Karmanos Cancer Institute, and professor of oncology and medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

The Michigan Prostate SPORE is centered on three projects designed to translate laboratory discoveries into clinical advances. Projects range from early detection to tackling castration-resistant metastatic prostate cancer.

  1. Understanding a new subset of metastatic prostate cancer. Arul M. Chinnaiyan’s lab has previously found 7% of metastatic prostate cancer patients have loss of the gene CDK12. This subset of tumors was produced more immune T cells and laboratory studies suggest they may be responsive to immunotherapy checkpoint inhibitors, a treatment that has overall had limited success in prostate cancer. This project will focus on metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer with CDK12 mutation, seeking to uncover new treatment targets or biomarkers and to perform clinical trials using immune checkpoint inhibitors.

  2. Using a urine test for early detection and high risk. One of the biggest questions in prostate cancer is distinguishing between which tumors are slow-growing, requiring minimal intervention, and which are likely to be aggressive and need immediate treatment. This project will investigate a new urine-based test developed at U-M that looks at a combination of multiple prostate markers, genes and other risk variants. The goal is to improve early detection of prostate cancer in those at high genetic risk and to understand among those diagnosed with prostate cancer who needs aggressive treatment and who may benefit from a less-intensive approach.

  3. Overcoming treatment resistance. The hormone androgen plays a key role in prostate cancer, with current treatment including drugs designed to block signals from the androgen receptor. The problem is, nearly all tumors become resistant to these therapies. This project will investigate a new way of targeting the androgen receptor’s messenger RNA in the hopes that disrupting the signaling upstream could block any androgen receptor signaling in the tumor, essentially depleting all androgen receptor signaling.

The project is funded through NCI grant P50CA186786-06.


Six researchers receive $14M for cancer genomics research

NIH has awarded six researchers an average total of $2.3 million each to accelerate genomics research over a five-year period.

The researchers received the inaugural Genomic Innovator Awards from the National Human Genome Institute.

Channabasavaiah Gurumurthy, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center; Eric Gamazon, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Jason Vassy, of Harvard Medical School; Luca Pinello, of Massachusetts General Hospital; Stacy Gray, of the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Timothy O’Connor, of University of Maryland-Baltimore will serve as principal investigators on the study.

Gurumurthy aims to develop technologies that will address common challenges relating to developing and breeding mouse models. Mouse models are essential for biomedical research, with about 70% of NIH grant applications relating to mouse studies. Given the frequent use of mouse models around the globe, addressing these challenges may have lasting impact on biomedical research.

Gamazon studies the genomic and environmental basis of observable physical characteristics, including hair and eye color, personality traits, and disease risk and resilience. Gamazon will develop computational tools for the analysis of all such observable characteristics relating to medical conditions. Specifically, he will develop methods to advance our understanding of the mechanisms through which genomic variation influences disease risk.

Vassy aims to develop and validate clinical polygenic risk scores for six common diseases: coronary artery disease, atrial fibrillation, type 2 diabetes mellitus, breast cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer. These tests will then be used in clinical trials using point-of-care testing, which provides immediate results to patients where they are being cared for.

Pinello is interested in disease-associated variants that lie in regions of the genome that do not code for genes. Many of these regions regulate expression of genes and are called regulatory elements. Pinello’s team will develop approaches to discover and understand how these regulatory elements function and how mutations in these areas can contribute to disease.

Gray has previously shown that people are often unaware that their genome has been sequenced or understand the implications of their results. In addition, many physicians also do not understand the DNA-sequence information gathered. Gray is developing an interactive web-based, point-of-care tool for physicians and patients that will help providers and patients better understand their genomic information. The application will also facilitate the sharing of genomic information within families, ultimately leading to higher quality patient care.

O’Connor focuses on identifying genomic variants that exist in specific ancestry populations. His work aims to classify small segments of identity by descent using genomic variants and to use the data to investigate mutational rates across populations, including how these processes impact human health and disease.


Weitzel and Blazer win ASHG Arno Motulsky-Barton Childs Award

City of Hope’s Jeffrey N. Weitzel and Kathleen Blazer are the 2019 recipients of the American Society of Human Genetics’ Arno Motulsky-Barton Childs Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Education.

Weitzel is Chief of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genomics and the Cancer Screening and Prevention Program at City of Hope. Blazer directs City of Hope’s Cancer Genomics Education Program.

This award recognizes individuals for contributions of exceptional quality and importance to human genetics education internationally. Awardees have had long-standing involvement in genetics education, producing diverse contributions of substantive influence on individuals and/or organizations.

Weitzel and Blazer will receive the award, including a plaque and monetary prize, during ASHG’s 69th Annual Meeting Oct. 15 in Houston.

Weitzel and Blazer have worked together for more than 20 years to provide innovative and impactful cancer genomics education to clinicians and researchers from diverse training backgrounds and practice settings across the United States and internationally. Their NCI-funded CGEP initiatives have ranged from educating primary care physicians for referral-level competence, to preparing master’s and doctoral clinicians for leadership in translational cancer genomics research.


Jandial receives $1.35M DoD grant for LMD study

Rahul Jandial has received a $1.35 million grant from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program to support his laboratory research into leptomeningeal disease.

The DoD’s  Breast Cancer Research Program awarded the Breakthrough award grant to Jandial, an associate professor in City of Hope’s Division of Neurosurgery.

Also known as carcinomatous meningitis, LMD is characterized by the spreading of tumor cells to the lining of the brain and spinal cord. Despite its discovery nearly 150 years ago, it remains the most ominous diagnosis a patient can receive — yet with the fewest treatment options.

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