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doi: 10.1097/01.COT.0000553983.83662.dd
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$9 Million Supports Deep Dive Into Breast, Pancreatic Cancers

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has received a $9 million grant from the NIH to study the life histories of breast and pancreatic cancers.


The grant is part of the NIH's Human Tumor Atlas Network, a large-scale effort to understand the life span of tumors, including how normal cells become cancerous; how the cancer evolves in response to treatment; and what changes must occur for the tumor to become resistant to therapy and spread. The Human Tumor Atlas Network is part of NCI's Cancer Moonshot initiative.

Washington University's role in the national project is led by principal investigator Li Ding, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, and three co-principal investigators, Ryan C. Fields, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery; William Gillanders, MD, Professor of Surgery; and Samuel Achilefu, PhD, the Michel M. Ter-Pogossian Professor of Radiology.

Li Ding, PhD
Li Ding, PhD:
Li Ding, PhD
Ryan C. Fields, MD
Ryan C. Fields, MD:
Ryan C. Fields, MD
William Gillanders, MD
William Gillanders, MD:
William Gillanders, MD
Samuel Achilefu, PhD
Samuel Achilefu, PhD:
Samuel Achilefu, PhD

The university's portion of the research will focus on how breast cancer evolves in response to treatments and how some tumors develop resistance to these treatments. A second project will focus on how pancreatic cancer metastasizes and develops resistance to standard treatments.

The Human Tumor Atlas Network is a follow-up to another NIH-funded large-scale cancer sequencing project called The Cancer Genome Atlas, which centered on sequencing the DNA of primary tumors. According to Ding, the Human Tumor Atlas project is the next step, focusing not only on the primary tumor but on the transition points that cancer goes through as it evolves.

“Primary tumors are rarely what cause cancer deaths,” said Ding, Assistant Director of the McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University. “Tumors that spread or relapse are what becomes deadly. We are now studying the full life cycles of tumors. From cells that become precancerous, to how cancerous cells respond to therapy, to the development of resistance to therapy, to metastasis. We want to understand the transition points.”

Ding said the project will take advantage of the most advanced technologies, making possible studies that could not be conducted until very recently, such as single cell sequencing. The ability to sequence every single cell in a tumor lets researchers identify which portions of a tumor may survive initial therapy and continue growing despite aggressive treatments.

“We are developing 3D maps of tumors and analyzing how those maps change over time,” said Ding, who is also a research member of Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. “We're not just looking at DNA mutations that lead to cancer. We are building cancer atlases that integrate diverse data sets across many different analysis methods and multidimensional spectrums. These atlases will help us better understand the clonal evolution of the cancer cells, the tumor ecosystem, the development of drug resistance, and metastasis. If we can understand how the patient is responding to the tumor invasion, we might be able to find ways to help the body fight against it.

“We are bringing researchers together with broad expertise—from surgery, to genomics, to tumor imaging, to computer science,” Ding added. “We are trying to understand tumors not just as a bulk mass. We want to increase the resolution on these cancers, studying each cell making up the mass and identify what each one is doing.”

Gillanders' research seeks to harness the immune system to fight cancer, especially the use of vaccines that are specific to a patient's breast cancer.

“Immunotherapy is a promising new approach to cancer treatment,” Gillanders said. “Studying breast cancers before, during, and after immunotherapy will provide unique insights into how cancer immunotherapy works. We hope this will lead to better and less toxic treatments for our patients.”

Fields' research is focused on efforts to improve treatment for pancreatic cancer, one of the most difficult tumors to treat.

“Pancreatic cancer is highly resistant to standard treatments and, even in the best-case scenario, when removed and treated with follow-up chemotherapy and radiation, it has a more than 80 percent chance of coming back,” Fields said. “The tumor atlas program will allow us to deeply characterize pancreatic cancer with unprecedented precision to understand why it recurs so often and help develop novel treatments.”

Achilefu's expertise is in biomedical imaging, harnessing radiation therapy to fight cancer and in studying how the tumor responds to such treatments.

“Cancer requires the cooperation of many other cells and a complex supply chain of nutrients and materials to survive,” Achilefu said. “Mapping how these different components interact to fortify tumor territory could reveal a new strategy to eradicate the disease. This award supports a multidisciplinary approach to overcome the multifaceted challenges in accurately mapping the human tumor atlas.”

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center President Emeritus Passes Away

John Mendelsohn, MD, President Emeritus of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and an internationally acclaimed leader in the field of medicine and scientist whose research helped pioneer a new type of cancer therapy, died Jan. 7 at his home in Houston. He was 82. The cause of death was glioblastoma, which he was diagnosed with 15 months ago.

John Mendelsohn, MD
John Mendelsohn, MD:
John Mendelsohn, MD

Mendelsohn was the third president of MD Anderson, serving in that capacity from 1996 to 2011. During that time, he inspired significant achievements in research and patient care and directed substantial growth in staff, programs, facilities, and philanthropy. During all his last 5 years as President, MD Anderson was named the top cancer hospital in the “Best Hospitals” survey published annually by U.S. News & World Report. He retired from MD Anderson on Aug. 31, 2018.

“MD Anderson had the great fortune of being led by John Mendelsohn for 15 years, and the strides made under his direction were nothing short of remarkable,” said Peter WT Pisters, MD, President of MD Anderson. “In addition to impressive achievements, both as a scientist and as a leader, John was a role model and inspiration to so many. He has left an indelible mark on this world, and he will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.”

After joining MD Anderson, Mendelsohn immediately strengthened the institution's focus on research-driven patient care, and he built a strong research program that emphasized the translation of scientific findings to improve patient care and prevention strategies. Under Mendelsohn's leadership, MD Anderson consistently received more research grants from NCI and conducted more therapeutic clinical trials to evaluate new treatments than any other comparable institution. MD Anderson also became a degree granting institution that confers degrees in biomedical sciences and allied health disciplines, and it established research partnerships and formed teaching affiliations with institutions in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America.

“John Mendelsohn was a builder and a dreamer who made things happen. His passion for curing cancer in all forms helped transform the medical community in Houston, Texas, and the nation and, in doing so, established MD Anderson as the pre-eminent cancer institution in the world,” said T. Boone Pickens, philanthropist and former Chair of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors. “My thoughts and prayers are with his family as we pause together to commemorate his lasting legacy. We will one day succeed in ridding the world of cancer and see John as a true pioneer in this fight.”

Before shifting his focus to leadership, Mendelsohn was a pioneering research scientist in demonstrating how growth factors regulate the proliferation of cancer cells through a process that activates receptors on the cell surfaces. In the early 1980s, he began researching ways to fight cancer by blocking epidermal growth factor receptors with Gordon Sato and other colleagues at the University of California, San Diego. Their research led to development of the drug cetuximab, which the FDA approved in 2004 for treating advanced colorectal cancer and in 2006 for head and neck cancer.

In recognition of his outstanding academic achievements, Mendelsohn was elected to several of the nation's most prestigious organizations, including the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences (formerly the Institute of Medicine) and the Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He also received numerous awards for his scientific work. Most recently, Mendelsohn was recognized with the 2018 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science and with the ASCO Distinguished Achievement Award. ASCO also named him as an Oncology Luminary in 2014.

Mendelsohn was awarded the Research America's Builders of Science Award in 2013, the American Cancer Society's Medal of Honor for Clinical Research in 2011, the 2008 Dorothy P. Landon–AACR Prize for Translational Cancer Research, the 2006 Dan David Prize, and the Fulbright Lifetime Achievement Medal in 2005. He also received the Sixth Annual American Association for Cancer Research Margaret Foti Award for Leadership and Extraordinary Achievements in Cancer Research in 2012, the same year that his MD Anderson peers chose him for the Charles A. LeMaistre, M.D. Outstanding Achievement Award in Cancer.

Johns Hopkins Names a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor

Otis W. Brawley, MD, an authority on cancer screening and prevention who served as Chief Medical and Scientific Officer for the American Cancer Society and Director of the Georgia Cancer Center at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, has been named a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Otis W. Brawley, MD
Otis W. Brawley, MD:
Otis W. Brawley, MD

Brawley will lead a broad interdisciplinary research effort of cancer health disparities at JHU's Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Caner Center, working to close racial, economic, and social disparities in the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer in the U.S. and worldwide.

He will also direct community outreach programs for underserved populations throughout Maryland as the Kimmel Cancer Center's Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement.

“I am humbled to join the faculty,” Brawley said. “It is a true privilege to be awarded a Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship. I appreciate the trust given me by the amazing scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. I plan to continue my work looking at how health care, especially oncology, is practiced. This is an opportunity to be vocal about the appropriate interpretation and application of science to relieve human suffering.”

A former Professor of Oncology and Hematology and Deputy Director for Cancer Control at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University in Atlanta, Brawley is expected to see prostate cancer patients while at Johns Hopkins. He will teach undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Epidemiology in the Bloomberg School, the Department of Oncology at the School of Medicine, and the university's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

“We've made considerable progress in cancer mortality rates in the past quarter century,” said Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD, Dean of the Bloomberg School. “We welcome Dr. Brawley in his new role. His many years working in this field with a critical focus on cancer treatment disparities and prevention, particularly among underserved communities, will allow our students and faculty to continue to advance this research trajectory.”

William Nelson, MD, PhD, Director of the Kimmel Cancer Center added, “He is a leading voice in the thoughtful development of cancer screening strategies and ensuring their effectiveness. He is a key figure in cancer health disparities and is poised to serve the people of Baltimore, of Maryland, and beyond. As a dedicated teacher, he will train the next generation of physicians and researchers to reduce the threat of cancer.”

Brawley is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and recently received the Martin D. Abeloff Award for Excellence in Public Health and Cancer Control from the Maryland State Council of Cancer Control. The award, named after the Director of the Kimmel Cancer Center from 1992 until his death in 2007, was established to recognize advancements made in cancer control practices that influenced the field of public health on a statewide, national, or global scale.

“Johns Hopkins has a deep commitment to partnering with our communities to enhance access and improve outcomes for all who are diagnosed with cancer,” noted Landon King, MD, Executive Vice Dean for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We are excited to accelerate those efforts under the guidance of Dr. Brawley, who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Baltimore.”

At the American Cancer Society, he was responsible for promoting the goals of cancer prevention, early detection, and quality treatment through cancer research and education. He championed efforts to decrease smoking and implement other lifestyle risk reduction programs, as well as to provide critical support to cancer patients, and concentrate cancer control efforts in areas where they could be most effective.

Brawley is the 39th Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins and will take his place among an interdisciplinary cohort of scholars working to address major world problems and teach the next generation of physicians, scientists, and academics. The program is backed by a $350 million gift from Michael R. Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins alumnus, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, World Health Organization Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases, UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Climate Action, and former New York City mayor.

Moffitt Cancer Center Hires New Vice Chair of the Department of Genitourinary Oncology

Manish Kohli, MD, has joined Moffitt Cancer Center as the Vice Chair of the Department of Genitourinary Oncology. He also has an extensive research background, focusing on creating new ways to bring individualized care to patients.

Manish Kohli, MD
Manish Kohli, MD:
Manish Kohli, MD

“I am honored to be part of a team of world-class cancer experts that apply astounding technological innovation in delivering compassionate care to all cancer patients,” said Kohli.

Kohli comes to Moffitt from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, where he conducted clinical trials in advanced stages of prostate, kidney, bladder, and testicular cancers. He established and oversaw several cancer biorepositories to identify prognostic and predictive biomarkers and develop molecular diagnostics for genitourinary cancers.

Kohli has also been named the Director of the DeBartolo Family Personalized Medicine Institute, Moffitt's hub for personalized care and research. Created by a generous donation from the DeBartolo Family Foundation in 2012, the institute's goal is to revolutionize the discovery, delivery, and effectiveness of cancer care on an international scale.

Kohli's research interests aim to fuse the power of tumor genomics with emerging sciences such as nanotechnology, molecular diagnostics, and artificial intelligence tools to determine the most effective treatment strategy and to develop clinical trials. He has obtained multiple federally and privately funded grants, holds multiple patents, and has published extensively.

Roswell Park CEO Named to Inaugural Health Care Power 50 List

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center President and CEO Candace S. Johnson, PhD, has been named to City & State's inaugural Health Care Power 50 list. Johnson, who in 2015 became the first woman to lead the cancer center, is number 24.

Candace S. Johnson, PhD
Candace S. Johnson, PhD:
Candace S. Johnson, PhD

“In this special list,” the media outlet wrote, “we recognize the 50 most influential health care figures in the world of New York politics. Since we cover politicians on a day-to-day basis, we omitted all but a few officials who are in government, instead identifying those who influence it from the outside. We reached out to insiders and experts to compile this list, ranking each person based on their accomplishments, economic clout, sway in political and policy matters, ties to powerful politicians and the constituencies they represent.”

About Johnson, City & State noted: “Shortly after becoming CEO in 2015 of the country's first cancer center, Candace Johnson led a joint trip to Cuba with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to advance research on a promising lung cancer treatment developed on the island. No doubt the research partnership raised the profile of the Buffalo-based center, prompting Cuomo to observe: ‘New York is forging a path as a leader in modern medical research and advancement.’”

In June, Johnson was named to City & State's Women's Power 100 list.

“It's no surprise to see Dr. Johnson getting attention for her vision and her record of achievement,” said Michael Joseph, Chair of the Roswell Park Board of Directors. “She is an engaging leader whose ideas and energy are impacting health care not just in Buffalo and New York State, but nationally and internationally too. She's a dynamo.”

Johnson joined Roswell Park in February 2002 from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute/University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is also the Wallace Family Chair in Translational Research and Professor of Oncology at Roswell Park.

New President of Michiana Hematology Oncology Announced

Michiana Hematology Oncology, PC, recently announced Robin Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO, has been elected President by its shareholders. Zon succeeds Rafat Ansari, MD, FACP, who has led the organization as President for many years.

Robin Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO
Robin Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO:
Robin Zon, MD, FACP, FASCO

Ansari and Zon, both medical oncologists, will continue to care for patients and accept new patients at Michiana Hematology Oncology.

In her role as President, Zon will oversee and maintain leadership of the practice. Since joining Michiana Hematology Oncology, Zon had served as Oncology Director at Elkhart Hospital, Director of Oncology Research at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, and Principal investigator for the only NCI granted Community Oncology Research group in Indiana.

She is a member of ASCO, and awarded Fellow status, where she served on the Board of Directors, and Chaired several committees, including the Clinical Practice Committee, and the Government Relations Committee. On this committee, she frequently travels to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congressional Staff and regulatory agencies to promote legislation and funding that benefits all cancer patients and their providers.

In 2017, Zon received the Advocate of the Year Award, and in 2018 Advocacy awards from ASCO for her significant work on behalf of patients and their cancer care teams.

Established in 1968, Michiana Hematology Oncology's network of Advanced Centers for Cancer Care is the largest cancer care organization of its kind in northern Indiana, with offices in Crown Point, DeMotte, Elkhart, Hobart, Mishawaka, Plymouth, and Westville. The organization consists of 10 medical oncologists, four radiation oncologists, and seven advanced practice nurses who provide integrated and comprehensive medical, radiation, and gynecologic oncology services for patients throughout the region.

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