publication date: Jan. 29, 2021

In Brief

Craig Lockhart named chief of hematology and oncology at MUSC

Craig Lockhart was named chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the Department of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina and associate director for clinical science at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, effective April 1.

Lockhart will be replacing interim chief Michael Lilly, and will be working both on campus and remotely until he transitions to campus full time in September.

Lockhart holds several roles at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, including chief of the Division of Oncology and associate director for regional and strategic research affiliations. His research specialty is gastrointestinal cancers, and he has been a principal investigator on more than 100 phase I/II and III trials.

Lockhart is chief of service for oncology as part of the University of Miami Medical Group.

Prior to joining the University of Miami, Lockhart served on faculty and in leadership roles at Washington University and Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis and at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville.

Lockhart has been conducting early-phase clinical trials for more than 20 years. His specific research interests are developing and conducting Phase I/II clinical trials of novel therapeutics applied to gastrointestinal cancers.

 

Terence M. Williams named radiation oncology chair at City of Hope

Terence M. Williams was named professor and chair of City of Hope’s Department of Radiation Oncology.

Williams is tasked with expanding clinical and basic science research in the department. He will also integrate and expand novel treatment therapies, provide professional development and advancement opportunities for radiation oncology physicians, expand the Radiation Oncology Residency Program and build on the department’s financial performance.

Previously, Williams held several leadership roles at The James Cancer Hospital and Comprehensive Cancer Center at The Ohio State University. Most recently, he served as vice chair of translational research, associate professor of radiation oncology and division director of the Thoracic and Hepatopancreaticobiliary clinical programs.

Williams specializes in treating patients with thoracic and gastrointestinal cancers, with a particular emphasis on non-small cell lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and hepatobiliary malignancies.

His laboratory-based, NIH-funded research focuses on DNA damage response pathways, DNA repair and novel mechanisms of sensitization to radiation and other genotoxic therapies and nutrient scavenging through caveolae-mediated endocytosis.

 

Coalition of cancer organizations urges resumption of cancer screening and treatment during pandemic

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network and the American Cancer Society are teaming up with cancer organizations across the country to endorse the resumption of cancer screening and treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The coalition of 76 organizations released an open letter reminding the public that cancer still poses a major threat to people’s health, but acting as soon as is safely possible can lead to much better outcomes in the future.

The letter strongly recommends that hospitals, medical systems and patients:

  • Ensure people in our communities are not delaying care for important medical issues.

  • Encourage people in our communities to resume recommended cancer screening.

  • Facilitate and encourage people with cancer to resume evidence-based treatment.

  • Contact your doctor right away if any concerning medical symptoms arise.

  • Resume all preventive and prescribed care, including regular cancer screening, as recommended by your doctor.

The letter examines distressing trends showing a significant drop-off in recommended cancer screening and treatment compared to prior years. This concerning side-effect of the pandemic could lead to an increase of preventable cancer deaths over the next ten years and beyond.

Experts agree that people should not delay any necessary prevention or care.

“When the pandemic first hit the United States, a short delay in care was an appropriate choice for many cancer types. However, the balance of risk has shifted significantly,” Robert W. Carlson, chief executive officer of NCCN, said in a statement. “Cancer centers are taking multiple measures to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 and transmission within cancer centers is quite unusual. Meanwhile, far too many cancers are being left to grow unchecked. Postponing cancer care will add tragedy on top of tragedy.”

“Over the past decade we have seen overall cancer mortality rates drop dramatically. This decline is in large part due to screening’s ability to catch cancers before they spread—when the chances of good outcomes are most likely,” William G. Cance, chief medical and scientific officer of ACS, said in a statement. “We have come too far in our fight against cancer to allow long breaks in vital screening to slow down our progress in saving lives.”

Hospitals and medical systems have begun vaccinating health care providers among other measures to ensure a safe environment for people receiving cancer screening and treatment. The confirmed use of evidence-based precautions against COVID-19 should provide reassurance against fears of infection during necessary medical care.

Experts are now asking everyone, in coordination with their health care provider, to resume preventive and prescribed care and contact their doctor right away about any new symptoms or concerns.

Visit NCCN.org/resume-screening or acs4ccc.org/ReengageLetter to read the entire letter.

 

Coalition of cancer scientists create global initiative to evaluate genetic mutations

Cancer scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the Human Technopole in Milan, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard are calling on cancer researchers to join a global initiative to systematically evaluate the effect of every genetic mutation and every drug on every cancer.

Researchers from the organizations published a perspective on the subject in Nature.

These collaborators plan to create the Cancer Dependency Map, an approach that has shown great promise in pilot studies to help develop new cancer treatments. The goal is to make precision cancer medicine a reality for every patient.

A dependency is a gene, protein, or other molecular feature that a tumor depends on for growth. These dependencies are also vulnerabilities, which can be targeted to kill a cancer. Such vulnerabilities can inspire new drugs or ways to repurpose existing drugs, even ones that have not been considered for cancer treatment before.

To build this map, the authors think it will be necessary to perturb 20,000 genes and assess 10,000 drugs in 20,000 laboratory cancer models. Doing that will take a coordinated global effort similar in scale to the Human Cell Atlas, drawing on the expertise of specialists in genome editing, machine learning, cancer biology, cancer modeling, and high-throughput drug screening.

Authors Mathew Garnett and Jesse Boehm will be giving a news briefing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting on Feb. 8.

 

NYU Dentistry receives $3.28M NIH grant for oral cancer pain research

NYU College of Dentistry clinician-scientists Seiichi Yamano and Brian Schmidt have received a five-year, $3.28 million grant (R01DE029694) from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

With the grant, the researchers will test whether nonviral co-delivery of DNA and RNA will safely alleviate oral cancer pain. Yamano and Schmidt have set out to develop a new class of medicines using gene therapy to effectively and safely treat oral cancer pain.

Patients with oral cancer often suffer from severe pain. The opioid medications used to treat oral cancer pain become less effective as patients develop drug tolerance, and cause numerous debilitating side effects.

Gene therapy offers an alternative to opioids for the treatment of cancer pain by reversing cancer-induced epigenetic changes. This approach selectively disrupts pain signaling without the side effects of opioids.

“Complete elimination of cancer pain in a patient is exceptionally challenging because there are multiple and redundant pain-signaling mechanisms and pathways,” Schmidt, professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery at NYU College of Dentistry and director of NYU’s Bluestone Center for Clinical Research and the NYU Oral Cancer Center, said in a statement.

As a strategy to obstruct these multiple and varied pathways, Yamano and Schmidt created two nonviral vectors that can efficiently deliver DNA and RNA to cells (transfection) with no toxicity: a cell-permeable peptide combined with a cationic lipid for DNA, and a lipopolymer for RNA. They hypothesize that the combination of OPRM1 (mu opioid receptor gene) re-expression and F2RL1 (gene for protease-activated receptor-2, or PAR2) downregulation in the cancer could eliminate cancer pain.

In preliminary studies, Yamano and Schmidt demonstrated that nonviral transfection with OPRM1 DNA led to re-expression of the mu opioid receptor and partial reduction of pain in preclinical cancer models. PAR2 was found to be elevated in certain neurons that supply the cancer with nerves and drive pain. Knockdown of the F2RL1 gene partially attenuated pain.

In their newly funded NIH grant, the researchers will test whether the combination of OPRM1 re-expression and F2RL1 downregulation in the cancer can go beyond reducing cancer pain to eliminate it.

“Our approach is innovative because delivering DNA and RNA into a cancer with nonviral vectors for the management of pain has not been done before,” Yamano, associate professor of prosthodontics at NYU College of Dentistry, said in a statement. “If we are successful, the knowledge generated through this research could set the stage for a clinical trial and ultimately lead to the development of novel non-opioid medicines for cancer pain.”

Yamano and Schmidt have collaborated on this work over the last decade; their efforts have been supported by three previous NIH-funded grants.

 

UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute receives $1M to pursue NCI designation

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has received a $1 million pledge from Larry Crain Sr. to support the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute’s pursuit of NCI designation.

In appreciation of the gift, UAMS will rename the Seed of Hope Garden on the Cancer Institute’s ground floor as the Janett Crain Seed of Hope Garden, after Crain’s late wife, who died of cancer in 2018.

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