UPCI-led Studies Presented at ASTRO 2016 Annual Meeting

The annual meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) was held in Boston this week, and several UPCI investigators presented their novel research findings related to improving treatment for cancer patients.

Watch Dwight Heron, MD, FACRO, FACR discuss several of these studies, and read more here and here.

‘Starving’ Immune Cell Discovery Points to Cancer Immunotherapy-Boosting Strategies

The microenvironment that supports a cancerous tumor also starves the immune cells that the body sends in to destroy the cancer, UPCI scientists revealed in a discovery that holds the potential to significantly boost the performance of breakthrough immunotherapy drugs. The UPCI team, led by Greg Delgoffe, PhD, showed that when immune T cells enter the tumor microenvironment, their mitochondria begin to shrink and disappear, indicating that the T cell is out of fuel and can’t properly function to destroy cancer cells. The finding, recently reported in the journal Immunity, opens the door to several potential clinical approaches that could help keep T cells functioning and boost the body’s ability to fight cancer.

Watch Dr. Delgoffe discuss his findings in the video, and read the press release here.

Pennsylvania Cancer Consortium Established to Conduct Phase 2 Clinical Trials under New Award from the National Cancer Institute

UPCI’s Phase 1 clinical trials team, under the leadership of Edward Chu, MD and Jan Beumer, PharmD, PhD was recently awarded a three-year supplement to their UM1 Phase 1 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support the conduct of Phase 2 clinical trials of novel anti-cancer agents and/or combination regimens in solid tumors and hematologic malignancies. UPCI is one of only twelve lead academic centers in the US that is part of the NCI Experimental Therapeutics Clinical Trials Network (ETCTN). For this new Phase 2 effort, UPCI has formed a partnership with the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) at the University of Pennsylvania to establish the Pennsylvania Cancer Consortium (PCC), which represents a collaborative effort between the two largest NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Watch Dr. Chu discuss this new collaboration in this video.

New NCI Grant Funds Collaborative Effort to Improve Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer

A majority of pancreatic cancer patients (>80%) present with a surgically unresectable primary tumor with distant metastasis at the time of diagnosis due to the lack of associated symptoms and lack of methods for early detection. While the overall 5-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer is low, significantly better outcomes have been reported for early stage, smaller tumors.

Supported by a newly funded grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), Randall Brand, MD, Professor of Medicine, Academic Director of the GI Division at UPMC Shadyside, and Director of the GI Malignancy Early Detection, Diagnosis and Prevention Program, and his colleagues both at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Nebraska are developing novel biomarker-based blood tests that may detect pancreatic cancer earlier and distinguish between dangerous and benign pancreatic cysts. Specifically, the research team has conclusively established that overexpression of the glycoprotein mucin is a hallmark of pancreatic cancer, and has identified several biomarkers (MUC5AC and its 2 glycoforms, MUC4 and a glycoform of endorepellin) that hold promise for clinical benefit in pancreatic cancer detection and risk prediction.

Watch Dr. Brand discuss these studies in the video.

Big Data Researchers Aim to Build Better Models to Predict Cancer Outcomes

A team of “big data” researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with UPMC and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, are working to develop better methods for integrating, analyzing and modeling large volumes of diverse data on cancer patients. The ultimate goal of this project, which is supported by a $5 million, three-year Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement (CURE) grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, is to produce more accurate predictions of patient outcomes and to enable clinicians to tailor care for each patient.

Watch Gregory Cooper, MD, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair of Biomedical Informatics and Contact Principal Investigator for this Big Data for Better Health (BD4BH) grant, discuss the ongoing work of their collaborative team, and read the initial press release here.

E-Cigarettes: Helpful or Harmful?

Brian Primack, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Clinical and Translational Science; Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research on Health and Society; and Director of the Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health, is a top tobacco-use expert whose research examines the effects of certain media and technology exposures on health outcomes.

Watch as he discusses the upward trend of e-cigarette use, especially among youth, in the video.

Depressed Patients at Higher Risk for Complications and Hospital Readmission after Complex Cancer Surgery

Cancer patients who report significant symptoms of depression before undergoing a complex abdominal surgery are at increased risk of postoperative complications and unplanned hospital readmissions, according to a UPCI study published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The study examined the relationship between preoperative symptoms of depression and 30-day complications and readmissions, as well as overall survival for patients undergoing hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy with cytoreductive surgery (HIPEC+CS), a complex surgical procedure during which abdominal tumors are removed and the area is “washed” with high doses of heated chemotherapy.

After statistically adjusting the findings to take into consideration possible effects of demographic and disease-specific risk factors, patients who reported significant symptoms of depression before surgery were more than five times more likely to have a complication or an unplanned hospital readmission within 30 days of hospital discharge.

Watch the study’s lead author, Carissa Low, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Psychology and member of UPCI’s Biobehavioral Cancer Control Program, discuss these findings in the video, and read the press release here.

Pittsburgh Penguins Alumni Celebrate the Nicole Meloche Memorial Breast Cancer Fund at the UPCI/MWRI Women’s Cancer Research Center

Members of the Pittsburgh Penguins Alumni Association showed their support for breast cancer research as they toured the Women’s Cancer Research Center (WCRC) at Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI). The research center is a collaboration between the MWRI and University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI). Nicole Meloche, wife of retired Penguins goalie, scout and coach Gilles Meloche, lost her brave battle with breast cancer in 1993. The Pens Alumni Association established the Nicole Meloche Memorial Breast Cancer Fund at MWRI to raise money to fund metastatic breast cancer research.

Former Pittsburgh Penguins players and their wives, including Gilles and Sophie Meloche, Mario and Nathalie Lemieux, Jay and Alicia Caufield and Randy and Heather Hillier, met with UPCI researchers and clinicians to learn about recent advances that have been made as well as ongoing studies in the field of breast cancer research. Those in attendance included: Steffi Oesterreich, PhD, Director of Education at the WCRC; Adrian Lee, PhD, Director of the WCRC and Co-Leader of the UPCI Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program; Shannon Puhalla, MD, Medical Oncologist; and Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD, Co-Leader of the Magee-Womens Breast Cancer Center and Associate Director for Clinical Investigation at UPCI.

Pediatric BMT and Cellular Therapies Research at UPCI

Clinicians and researchers within the Division of Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapies at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC work alongside those in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, and have specific expertise in the areas of immunity and immune reconstitution, graft-versus-host disease, tolerance, alloreactivity, and other related topics that affect children with leukemia and other disorders.

Watch Paul Szabolcs, MD, Chief of the Division of Blood and Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapies and Professor of Pediatrics, discuss ongoing research endeavors in this field.

UPCI Research Focus: Pediatric Cancers

UPCI investigators and physician-scientists within the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC are engaged in ground-breaking research, both in the laboratory and in the clinic.

Watch Linda McAllister-Lucas, MD, PhD, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Professor of Pediatrics, discuss recent successes and ongoing work in this area.