SITC and Cancer Immunotherapy: When Vision Becomes Reality

The Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) is the world’s leading member-driven organization specifically dedicated to professionals working in the field of cancer immunology and immunotherapy. A number of UPCI investigators are active members of this research community, and Lisa Butterfield, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Surgery, and Immunology and Director of UPCI’s Immunologic Monitoring and Cellular Products Laboratory, currently serves in a prominent leadership role as SITC’s Vice President.

Watch the video to learn more about this team of scientists and the evolution of cancer immunotherapy over the past 30 years.

Large NIH Grant Renewed for Pitt’s Center for Medical Countermeasures Against Radiation (CMCR)

Last month, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and Pitt’s School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health received a five-year, $18 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to continue work developing drugs that could provide protection from radiation in emergencies such as terrorism or reactor meltdowns.

Watch Joel S. Greenberger, MD, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation Chair and Professor of Radiation Oncology, explain the collaborative research projects and cores supported by this award.

Dr. Thomas Kensler Named Outstanding Investigator by NCI, Awarded $6.3M for Studying How Food Can Lower Cancer Risks

Thomas Kensler, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology and Co-Leader of the UPCI Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program, was awarded a $6.3 million Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This new, 7-year award acknowledges experienced researchers and provides them with long-term support for their exceptional work.

Dr. Kensler’s research focuses on chemoprevention, or how food can be used to lower the risk of developing cancer caused by unavoidable environmental toxins. Research has shown that controlling diet, increasing exercise and quitting smoking can decrease the risk of developing cancer; however, environmental toxins such as fossil fuel combustion products are more difficult to mitigate. Past studies by Dr. Kensler’s team in China, where environmental controls are less rigorous, have examined the bioactive molecules in broccoli and how they may help people there detoxify air pollutants. He and his team will focus on a biological pathway known to play a role in detoxification, identify and validate biomarkers of its activity, and examine the molecular consequences of its chronic activation.

Watch Dr. Kensler discuss his work in the video.

UPCI Academy Scholars Present Research Findings at Annual Poster Session

The 2015 UPCI Academy summer session came to a close on Friday, August 7, as the high school students presented their laboratory findings through oral and poster presentations at the Hillman Cancer Center. Watch several UPCI Academy Scholars describe their studies and results in the video.

Head and Neck Cancer Patients Receive Cutting-Edge Immunotherapies through UPCI Clinical Trials Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD and Julie E. Bauman, MD, MPH

Multi-disciplinary clinicians and researchers at UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter are utilizing the power of the body’s immune system to fight tumors of the head and neck. Watch Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD and Julie E. Bauman, MD, MPH discuss one patient’s story.

UPCI’s Pittsburgh Genome Resource Repository (PGRR) Offers a Powerful Tool for Cancer Researchers

Publically available genomic datasets, such as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), are highly informative and can be used for numerous research purposes including discovery of new biomarkers, validation of new methods, and development of new therapeutic approaches for precision cancer medicine. The Pittsburgh Genome Resource Repository (PGRR) is an invaluable tool that offers UPCI investigators a mechanism for accessing and analyzing TCGA datasets from a virtualized central location using common tools and platforms, providing data management and computing infrastructure to support biomedical investigation using this “big data.”

The PGRR was developed through a collaboration between experts from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Personalized Medicine (IPM), the University of Pittsburgh Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI), the University of Pittsburgh Center for Simulation and Modeling (SaM), the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), and UPMC.

Watch Rebecca Jacobson, MD, MS, Professor of Biomedical Informatics and Chief Information Officer of the IPM, and William LaFramboise, PhD, Associate Professor of Pathology and Director of the UPCI Cancer Genomics Facility, discuss the PGRR and several examples of functional applications in cancer research.

Broccoli Sprout Extract Promising for Head and Neck Cancer Prevention

A new study led by UPCI head and neck cancer researchers has shown that broccoli sprout extract protects against oral cancer in mice and proved tolerable in a small group of healthy human volunteers. The promising results of this research, a collaboration between Julie Bauman, MD, MPH and Daniel Johnson, PhD, will be further explored in a human clinical trial, which will recruit participants at high risk for head and neck cancer recurrence later this year. This research is funded through UPCI’s Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant in head and neck cancer from the National Cancer Institute.

For more information, watch Dr. Bauman discuss these findings.

UPCI Researchers Target Viruses that Cause Cancer

Of the many viruses that infect humans, only seven have been shown to cause cancer to date. Two of these known cancer-causing viruses, Kaposi’s sarcoma herpesvirus (KSHV) and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV), were discovered by Patrick Moore, MD, MPH, and Yuan Chang, MD of the UPCI Cancer Virology Program. The Chang-Moore team developed a new technology for identifying human cancer viruses, called digital transcriptome subtraction, or DTS. Through the discovery of novel cancer viruses, and detailed investigation into their biology and mechanisms of action, the research team aims to develop effective targeted therapies for patients with virus-related cancers.

Watch Drs. Moore and Chang discuss their important work.

Video courtesy of the Carnegie Science Awards

UPCI’s Tumor Microenvironment Center (TMC) Bridges Multiple Disciplines to Study External Influences on Tumors

Tumors do not grow in isolation, but are influenced by many surrounding factors in their environment. The Tumor Microenvironment Center (TMC) is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary effort that brings together preclinical and clinical scientists with the goal of translating basic knowledge of the mechanisms of interaction between cancer cells and their microenvironment, to enhance and accelerate direct patient-oriented interventions. Included in the microenvironment are the immune, inflammatory, and patient-specific factors that regulate cancer development, progression, and response to anti-cancer treatments.

Watch TMC Co-Directors Dr. Robert Ferris (Professor of Otolaryngology, Immunology, and Radiation Oncology; Chief of Head and Neck Surgery; UPMC Chair in Advanced Oncologic Head and Neck Surgery; Co-Leader of the UPCI Cancer Immunology Program; UPCI Associate Director for Translational Research) and Dr. Dario Vignali (Vice Chair and Professor of Immunology; Co-Leader of the UPCI Cancer Immunology Program) discuss the TMC and its goal to provide more personalized and effective treatments for cancer patients.

Epigenetic Priming Shows Promise in Elderly Patients with Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Seventy percent of elderly patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) who were treated with a combination of drugs aimed to make chemotherapy treatments effective and less toxic achieved remission or a slowing of disease progression, in a clinical study led by UPCI’s Annie Im, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in Pitt’s Division of Hematology/Oncology. The research is important because most elderly patients diagnosed with AML can’t tolerate the aggressive chemotherapy needed and tend to have more aggressive disease than younger patients, making prognosis poor.

To learn more, watch Dr. Im discuss the trial.

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