“Moffitt's mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer. We do this through our groundbreaking research and ability to offer the latest therapies and prevention methods to our patients,” said Moffitt Center Director Thomas Sellers, PhD, MPH. “Our new Associate Center Director has been tasked with strengthening partnerships between Moffitt and our community to ensure the research, education, and outreach programs we offer reach the people we serve. Dr. Vadaparampil is perfectly suited for this position. Her health disparities research and community projects give her a solid foundation to launch this new leadership role.”
Vadaparampil joined Moffitt 15 years ago. During that time, she has risen through the ranks from Associate Member to Senior Member and on to Vice Chair of the Health Outcomes & Behavior Department.
Her research focuses on accelerating the adoption of advances in cancer prevention and treatment into the clinic and community. She applies behavioral science, epidemiology, health services, and clinical perspectives to improve uptake and dissemination of genetic counseling and testing for hereditary cancer, HPV vaccination, and reproductive health. Community collaboration and an emphasis on health equity are foundational to her research, education, and outreach efforts.
SKCC Professor Named National Academy of Inventors Fellow
Emad S. Alnemri, PhD, Thomas Eakins Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center—Jefferson Health (SKCC) has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).
The NAI Fellows Program was established in 2012 to highlight academic inventors and innovators. Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional accolade bestowed solely to academic inventors who have demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.
Those elected to the rank of NAI Fellow are named inventors on U.S. patents and were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.
Alnemri is an internationally renowned leader in the field of programmed cell death. In the past 25 years he led groundbreaking research on the molecular pathways of apoptosis resulting in the discovery of many human caspases, which are protease enzymes that cleave cellular proteins during apoptosis and inflammation. His research on the function of inflammatory caspases led to the discovery of several inflammasome complexes that are important for production of inflammatory cytokines during inflammation and innate immune responses to pathogens.
Alnemri is the recipient of the 2011 Jefferson Medical College Research Career Achievement Award. He has authored or co-authored more than 180 peer-reviewed publications. In 2008, he was named an ISI (Thomson Reuters) Highly Cited Researcher in Molecular Biology and Genetics, and in 2013 a Stanford University study named him as one of the top 400 highly influential biomedical researchers evaluated from 1996 to 2011. His work has been cited more than 67,000 times, according to Google Scholar. Alnemri holds 34 U.S. and 11 foreign patents.
He recently received a $3 million grant from the NIH, and a $300,000 grant from the Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust to study a novel caspase-3 substrate called DFNA5 he discovered 2 years ago. One of the aims of his new research is to examine the role of DFNA5-mediated cell death in tumor recognition by the immune system with the goal of developing more effective and durable anticancer therapies.
With the election of the 2018 class, there are now more than 1,000 NAI Fellows, representing more than 250 research universities and government and non-profit research institutes. The 2018 Fellows are named inventors on nearly 4,000 issued U.S. patents, bringing the collective patents held by all NAI Fellows to more than 35,000 issued U.S. patents.
The 2018 fellows will be inducted in a ceremony April 11, 2019, at the Space Center Houston during the NAI Eighth Annual Meeting. Andrew H. Hirshfeld, U.S. Commissioner for Patents for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, will provide the keynote address for the ceremony.
ACCC Welcomes Medical Director, Education
The Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) recently announced the appointment of Leigh M. Boehmer, PharmD, BCOP, as Medical Director, Education, for the association's expanding education initiatives.
In this role, Boehmer will be responsible for assessing educational needs and designing educational interventions for multidisciplinary cancer care teams serving patients in the community setting.
“During this exciting time in oncology, with increasing treatment options for many cancers, including immunotherapies, combination therapies, and advances such as CAR T-cell therapy, education for the entire cancer care team is paramount,” said ACCC Executive Director Christian Downs, JD, MHA. “Dr. Boehmer's expertise, perspective, and experience in the community will be a powerful asset to the ACCC education team.”
A board-certified oncology pharmacist, Boehmer previously served as Oncology Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at Mercy Cancer Center in Mason City, Iowa. In that capacity he served on multiple hospital and system-level committees tasked with oncology clinical standardization and cost savings. An active cancer supportive care researcher, Boehmer has published numerous articles in this area.
An alumnus of the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy, Boehmer completed PGY1 and PGY2 oncology residencies at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He has served as Assistant Professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the St. Louis College of Pharmacy in Missouri, and as an inpatient medical oncology clinical pharmacy specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
Researcher Receives NCI Award to Study Cancer Drug Resistance, Spread
The NCI has awarded David Cheresh, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Vice Chair of Pathology at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with a $4.2 million Outstanding Investigator Award to continue his research into cancer's ability to overcome stress, gain drug resistance, and metastasize.
The Outstanding Investigator Award provides long-term support to accomplished leaders in cancer research who have been making significant contributions toward understanding the disease and developing applications that may lead to advances in biomedical, behavioral, or clinical cancer research. It provides funding of $600,000 in direct costs per year over a 7-year period.
“It is quite an honor to have this level of support from the NCI and be recognized among many worthy scientists in the field of cancer research,” said Cheresh, Associate Director of Innovation and Industry Alliances at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, San Diego's only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The resources of the Outstanding Investigator Award provide researchers flexibility and the opportunity to think outside of the box.”
Cheresh joined Moores Cancer Center in 2005. He is renowned for his research in the study of angiogenesis. He also studies signaling networks that regulate tumor growth, drug resistance, and metastasis. Cheresh successfully translated laboratory discoveries into biologically based drugs that are now in various stages of clinical development. One of his discoveries was recently approved by the FDA as a frontline therapy for neuroblastoma.
“The NCI Outstanding Investigator Award addresses a problem that many cancer researchers experience: finding a balance between focusing on their science while ensuring that they will have funds to continue their research in the future,” said Dinah Singer, PhD, Director of NCI's Division of Cancer Biology. “With 7 years of uninterrupted funding, NCI is providing investigators the opportunity to fully develop exceptional and ambitious cancer research programs.”
In prior work, Cheresh identified the molecule ανβ3—a receptor on the surface of tumor-associated blood vessels—as a critical biomarker of angiogenesis. He also found this molecule was expressed on drug-resistant, aggressive tumor cells in patients with lung, breast, and pancreatic cancer. With funding from the NCI, Cheresh intends to look deeper into ανβ3 and determine how this molecule is used by tumors to gain resistance to cancer therapy and become highly metastatic.
“Normally, when tumors first develop they are relatively treatable if you detect them early enough. The problem is that over time the tumor adapts to a stressful tumor microenvironment or to the drugs used to treat it, allowing cancer cells to become more aggressive and highly metastatic,” said Cheresh.
“Typically, tumors are devoid of oxygen [and] nutrients or exist in highly oxidative state, all of which represent environmental stresses that tumor cells can adapt to. We have been asking: How do tumor cells adapt to these stresses? It turns out that tumor cells are not that different from normal cells undergoing wound repair. In both cases, the cells find themselves in a highly stressful microenvironment and develop ways to adapt and survive in that microenvironment. During tissue repair, this adaptation leads to tissue remodeling and repair while in the tumor this process tends to increase tumor progression and drug resistance.”
Cheresh discovered that ανβ3 is upregulated on various cells during normal wound repair and in cancer cells as cancer becomes invasive. In both cases, this molecule triggers cells to enter a stress-tolerant state. In normal epithelial cells, this state enables them to initiate tissue remodeling. In cancer, it allows cells to become drug-resistant and highly metastatic, he noted.
“We want to find a way to perturb the malignant cell version of wound repair. Our initial results are encouraging since we have found pathways that are actionable with new or existing drugs. In fact, clinical trials are underway to determine if an appropriate combination of targeted therapy can eradicate highly drug-resistant cancers,” said Cheresh.
“In preclinical models we're using a novel immune therapeutic approach to attack ανβ3 expressing tumor cells and this seems to eliminate the most drug-resistant, aggressive cells in the tumor. Our goal is to move this approach to the clinic as soon as possible.”
Experts Named 2018 ASTRO Gold Medalists in Immunotherapy, Medical Physics & Cervical Cancer
The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) recently named three leaders in radiation oncology as the recipients of its Gold Medal award.
Patricia Eifel, MD, FASTRO, David Jaffray, PhD, and Ralph Weichselbaum, MD, were awarded the highest honor bestowed upon ASTRO members and recognized for their achievements at ASTRO's Annual Meeting in San Antonio.
ASTRO awards its Gold Medal annually to individuals who have made outstanding lifetime contributions in the field of radiation oncology, including achievements in clinical patient care, research, teaching, and service to the profession. In the award's 42nd consecutive year, Eifel, Jaffray, and Weichselbaum join a group of 84 Gold Medalists selected over the decades from among the roughly 10,000 ASTRO members.
“The ASTRO Gold Medal recognizes trailblazers in radiation oncology whose multiple, significant contributions to the field have shaped and strengthened cancer care. The 2018 honorees are well-known for both their groundbreaking research and their commitment to translating this work into improved patient outcomes,” said Paul Harari, MD, FASTRO, Chair of ASTRO's Board of Directors.
Eifel was the first woman hired as a faculty member at the Joint Center for Radiation Therapy at Harvard Medical School in 1982. Now a nationally renowned expert in gynecologic radiation oncology, she has been on the faculty at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for 30 years, including 20 years as Chief of their Gynecologic Oncology Service.
Eifel was lead author on an influential study demonstrating that the addition of chemotherapy to radiation therapy improved survival for women with cervical cancer. The publication of this study led to a new standard of care for cervical cancer and is one of the most widely cited articles in the field.
She has published 180 articles in the field of radiation oncology. Her clinical database, which documents and analyzes the outcomes of thousands of patients treated with radiation therapy, is considered one of the most extensive in the field and has led to many observations that have influenced clinical practice and trial designs around the world.
Eifel served as Chair of the ASTRO Board of Directors in 2008-2009. During her years on the Board, ASTRO built a lobbying effort against self-referral, founded the Radiation Oncology Institute, successfully lobbied against proposed cuts in Medicare reimbursement, and expanded its guidelines activities.
Jaffray, a leading medical physicist, is known for his innovation, leadership, and scholarship. His most well-known contribution to the field is the development of the kilovoltage cone-beam CT (CBCT) for image-guided radiation therapy. This technology revolutionized the field, changed the way patients are treated, and enabled the growth of stereotactic body radiation therapy to treat cancer.
Jaffray's work on CBCT has resulted in several patents and licenses, as well as one of the most highly cited papers in radiation oncology. He also developed a small-animal image-guided irradiator, which is indispensable for the field of radiobiology research.
The head of the radiation physics department at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Jaffray also directs the Spatio-Temporal Targeting and Amplification of Radiation Response (STTARR) Innovation Centre and is the Executive Vice President of Technology and Innovation for the University Health Network.
With nearly 250 peer-reviewed publications, Jaffray's extensive CV reflects the impact of his work on the field of radiation oncology. He also has received major awards in the field of medical physics, including the Sylvia Sorkin-Greenfield Award, the Farrington Daniels Award, and the Sylvia Fedoruk Award.
Weichselbaum has been identified as the most-cited radiation oncologist of the past decade, with more than 850 published articles. He and his colleagues were one of the first groups to systematically study multi-agent chemotherapy and radiation therapy combinations in head and neck cancer.
Weichselbaum was one of the first investigators to recognize that radiation can activate signal transduction processes that result in activation of the immediate early genes and cytokine genes. His research also has focused on ways to combine radiation therapy with immunotherapy using radiation to activate the immune system to attack cancer cells.
Weichselbaum has been credited, along with colleague Samuel Hellman, MD, with describing the oligometastic state. In 1995, the pair published an influential article that posited there was a state in between a few and many metastases, which they termed oligometastasis, and that this disease could be treated successfully with high-dose radiation therapy or surgery.
Weichselbaum is the Daniel K. Ludwig Distinguished Service Professor and Chair of the Department of Radiation and Cellular Oncology at the University of Chicago and the Co-Director of the Ludwig Center for Metastasis Research. He also is one of only three radiation oncologists to receive the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture from ASCO.
ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group Highlights Young Investigators
The ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group recently held its annual Young Investigator Symposium where seven early-career investigators presented their science. The symposium is a professional mentoring event for clinical, translational, or basic researchers whose research projects are selected on the basis of scientific innovation, significance, and the potential for clinical impact.
ECOG-ACRIN gave awards of distinction to two individuals, taking into consideration the merit of their research, quality of the presentation delivery, command of the topic, and ability to respond to related questions. The recipients of the awards are the following individuals:
- Betina Yanez, PhD, Assistant Professor, Northwestern University was given the distinction award for clinical research, for her presentation Patient-Centered Engagement and Symptom/Toxicity Monitoring in the Era of Next Generation Sequencing: The OncoTool and OncoPRO Platforms.
- Florian J. Fintelmann, MD, Assistant Professor of Radiology at Harvard Medical School and Radiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, was given the distinction award for translational research, for his presentation Thoracic Muscle on Preoperative Computed Tomography Predicts Long-term Survival Following Pneumonectomy for Lung Cancer.
The other presenters were Alexander Deneka, MD, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, Fox Chase Cancer Center; Urshila Durani, MD, MPH, second-year Hematology/Oncology Fellow, Mayo Clinic; Jeremy D. Kratz, MD, Oncology Fellow, University of Wisconsin; Giselle K. Perez, PhD, Instructor in Psychology, Harvard Medical School, and Clinical Psychologist, Massachusetts General Hospital; and Namrata Vijayvergia, MD, Assistant Professor, Fox Chase Cancer Center.
UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Scientists Receive Grant for Breast Cancer Research
Four leading UPMC Hillman Cancer Center breast cancer researchers are among the world's top scientists to share in a record-breaking $63 million investment in cancer research by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF).
The funding—nearly $1 million of which will go to UPMC and University of Pittsburgh scientists—will span the entire spectrum of cancer research, from the most basic biology of a cancer cell to developing innovative new treatments and improving quality of life.
The following UPMC researchers each received a portion of the grant:
- Wendie Berg, MD, PhD, FACR, is Professor of Radiology, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and University of Pittsburgh. Berg's area of research includes improving the precision of breast cancer detection and examining the role of whole breast screening ultrasound for detecting breast cancer in women with dense breasts following 3D mammography.
- Leisha Emens, MD, PhD, is Professor of Medicine in Hematology/Oncology and Co-Leader of the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Immunology and Immunotherapy Program. Emens led the first large clinical trial demonstrating the clinical activity of immunotherapy in patients with triple-negative breast cancer, which likely will result in a new standard of care for certain patients. Her BCRF-funded research aims to develop highly effective combination immunotherapies.
- Steffi Oesterreich, PhD, is Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology and Co-Director of the Women's Cancer Research Center at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI). Oesterreich's entire career has been in breast cancer research and, most recently, her BCRF-funded research has focused on understanding unique features of invasive lobular breast cancer, the second most common histological subtype of breast cancer.
- Adrian Lee, PhD, is Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology at the Women's Cancer Research Center at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and MWRI, and director of the UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Institute for Precision Medicine. Lee's BCRF-funded research focuses on targeting the insulin-like growth factor pathway in E-cadherin deficient breast cancers.
National Brain Tumor Society Appoints Chief Scientific Officer
Kirk Tanner, PhD, an oncology research leader with 2 decades of experience in drug discovery and development, has been named as National Brain Tumor Society's (NBTS) new Chief Scientific Officer.
In this role, Tanner will lead NBTS' Research Programs team in the strategic development and tactical execution of initiatives that aim to catalyze new treatment development through the identification and active cultivation of transformative scientific efforts. Tanner will be tasked with engaging stakeholders from across the brain tumor landscape, from researchers and clinicians, to industry and government officials, as well as patients and their care partners, in the NBTS research programs.
“Kirk brings to NBTS and, indeed, the entire brain tumor community, a set of skills, experience, and leadership that will be important for pursuing our strategy to advance research toward treatments that dramatically improve survival and quality of life for brain tumor patients,” said David Arons, Chief Executive Officer, National Brain Tumor Society.
Tanner joins NBTS following an 18-year career that spanned multiple positions from Staff Scientist to Senior Director at Boston-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Tanner led programs and projects in discovery and clinical-stage oncology research and helped advance multiple therapeutic candidates into clinical testing. His work included the discovery and development of molecularly targeted inhibitors of cancer growth and DNA repair mechanisms, which were evaluated for use both as stand-alone treatments and in combinations with chemotherapy and radiation.
Johns Hopkins Immunotherapy Experts Named Bloomberg~Kimmel Professors
Three Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers were recognized as the first Bloomberg~Kimmel professors in cancer immunology during a ceremony at Johns Hopkins, held Dec. 10, 2018.
The event marked the beginning of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Professorships program, and the three scientists were recognized for their work in precision immunotherapy, the bacterial contributions in the microbiome, and how targeting the metabolic programming of both the tumor and immune cells can enhance immunotherapy for cancer.
“The three Bloomberg~Kimmel professors represent world leaders in diverse disciplines that are transforming the lives of cancer patients through the immune system and are laying the groundwork for the next generation of cancer immunotherapies in order to fulfill the institute's mission of reducing cancer death by 50 percent by 2025,” noted Drew Pardoll, MD, PhD, Director of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and Co-Director of the Cancer Immunology Program at the Kimmel Cancer Center. “These chairs provide them the flexibility to pursue the high-risk multidisciplinary projects that produce paradigm shifts in our strategies to beat this most devastating of maladies.”
Jonathan Powell, MD, PhD, is Associate Director of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and Professor of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences at the Kimmel Cancer Center.
His work focuses on the signals that promote T-cell differentiation, activation, and function. Most recently, his group has focused on how targeting the metabolic programming of both the tumor and immune cells can enhance cancer immunotherapy.
Cynthia Sears, MD, is Associate Director of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, Program Leader for Microbiome Science at the Institute and a member of the Kimmel Cancer Center. She is also Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Her work focuses on the bacterial contributions in the microbiome to colon cancer development and the microbiome's impact on other cancers and cancer therapy. She is leading a trial to understand the microbial environment in the colon and whether it can be studied as an early detection of colon cancer or predictor of future colon tumors.
Suzanne Topalian, MD, is Associate Director of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy and leads the Melanoma Program at the Kimmel Cancer Center.
Her work focuses on modulating immune checkpoints, such as PD-1, in cancer therapy, and discovering biomarkers predicting clinical outcomes following treatment. Her lab is searching for biomarkers that will help identify which patients and tumor types are most likely to respond to various immune therapies. The lab is also developing immune-based treatment combinations that could deliver a more powerful anti-tumor response than singular therapies.
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