August 2019

Our core grant submission takes place next month, the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work outlining our programs, shared resources, strategies, infrastructure, and goals. As you know, core grant funding is crucial to NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers, and when we submit we’ll do so in the knowledge that UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, this special collaboration between UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, is well-positioned for support.

In summer 2017, I assumed my role as director here at Hillman. As I reflect on our upcoming submission and look back on all we’ve experienced in these two years, I’m inspired by our curiosity, our ambition, and our spirit of innovation. Curiosity compels us to better understand the mechanisms and causes of cancer and how to stop them. Ambition drives us to not only cure this disease but prevent people from developing it in the first place. And our spirit of innovation is present in every investigator and lab member, who understand Hillman’s role in groundbreaking discoveries and work daily to take the next step toward better diagnoses, better treatments, and ultimately, a cure.  

I’m also inspired by the team we’re building, and what that team continues to accomplish. In the past two years we’ve attracted nationally and internationally renowned experts to our faculty, restructured our developmental funding program to support faculty projects and congratulated dozens of investigators on outside funding, and consistently brought more curious, ambitious, and innovative men and women into the Hillman community.

Thank you for your commitment to our mission, for your participation in our core grant renewal process, and for all that you do to advance cancer research. I look forward to sharing information about the grant as it becomes available and to celebrating with you all when we receive our next award.

UPMC Ranks Among Nation’s “Best Hospitals”

UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside again earned a spot on the annual U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll of America’s “Best Hospitals,” ranking No. 7 in the nation for cancer, No. 15 in the nation overall, and No. 1 in Pennsylvania.

U.S. News analyzed more than 4,500 medical centers across the country based on factors like hospital volume, patient safety and outcomes, and responses from tens of thousands of physicians. Our position among the top 10 best hospitals for cancer in the country is truly a testament to the excellent clinical care we provide and groundbreaking research we conduct here, and I’d like to thank you all for your dedication to finding new and better ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer. Learn more about UPMC’s rankings.

Congratulations to Our Developmental Funding Program Cycle Awardees

We recently completed another cycle in our Developmental Funding Program, and as usual, we received a range of excellent applications. This round yielded 11 grant awards, as follows:

  • Kar-Hai Chu, PhD: Identifying student opinion leaders to lead e-cigarette interventions
  • Lan Coffman, MD, PhD, and Tullia Bruno, PhD: Investigating the impact of carcinoma-associated mesenchymal stem cells on the formation and function of the immune tumor microenvironment in ovarian cancer
  • Frank Jenkins, PhD: Estrogen modulation of HHV-8: an explanation for gender differences in Kaposi’s sarcoma incidence
  • Songjian Lu, PhD, SJ Gao, PhD, and Xinghua Lu, MD, PhD: A collaboration between wet- and dry-labs to understand the cancer mechanism using a highly manipulable system
  • Marlies Meisel, PhD: Gut microbe-driven inflammation in liver carcinogenesis in a genetically susceptible host
  • Robert Nishikawa, PhD: UPMC linkage of breast imaging and cancer registry data to ascertain optimal patient care
  • Michael Shurin, MD: Neural mechanism of surgery-induced metastasis
  • Xiasong Wang, MD, PhD: Universal genomic signature analysis to predict cancer targeted therapy response from multi-OMIC big data
  • Zhou Wang, PhD, and Peter Wipf, PhD: Novel small molecule HSP70 inhibitors targeting castration-resistant prostate cancer
  • Da Yang, MD, PhD, and Steffi Oesterreich, PhD: Credentialing long non-coding RNAs as biomarkers for invasive lobular breast cancer
  • Jian-Min Yuan, MD, PhD: Geospatial modeling for residential radon exposure and cancer risk in western Pennsylvania

Faculty Accolades

Carissa Low, PhD, recently had her NCI R01 “A Mobile Sensing System to Monitor Symptoms during Chemotherapy” converted into an R37 MERIT award along with co-investigators Drs. Nathan Bahary, Heidi Donovan, Anind Dey, and Afsaneh Doryab. The project aims to combine smartphone and wearable sensor data with machine learning to remotely monitor symptoms during chemotherapy and to develop a system that automatically recommends patient-provider contact when severe symptoms are detected.

Steffi Oesterreich, PhD, received the 2019 William E. Brown Outstanding MSTP Mentor Award at the MSTP’s Annual Scientific Retreat on Aug. 2 in recognition of her extraordinary performance and achievement in mentorship.

Yael Schenker, MD, MAS, FAAHPM, received an R01 from the National Cancer Institute to conduct the first large-scale study comparing two advance care planning modalities for patients with advanced cancer. Using mixed methods, PEACe-compare will enroll 400 patients and their caregivers to receive either an in-person advance care planning visit with a trained facilitator or web-based advance care planning using interactive videos. The goal of this study is to provide evidence on the most efficient and effective approach for advance care planning in oncology. For more information, contact Dr. Schenker at

Dario A.A. Vignali, PhD, recently published a study in Immunity that provides some new insight into how regulatory T cells (Tregs) shape the tumor microenvironment to aid tumor immune evasion. He and his team discovered that Tregs promote a tumor permissive macrophage population by manipulating their metabolism, revealing a new drug target that could improve the efficacy of checkpoint blockade. Learn more about the study.

Antoinette Wozniak, MD, FACP, FASCO, was recently appointed Editor in Chief for Clinical Lung Cancer in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the field.

To ensure that your accomplishments are properly promoted, please remember to reach out to our marketing and media relations team by emailing Amy Kozusko, senior marketing manager, at and Cyndy Patton, media relations manager, at


Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD