February 2019

The Year of the Core Grant

February brings a great deal of attention to western Pennsylvania, as we hoped for—and thankfully received—Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring. But there’s much more to see (and do!) here than Phil’s shadow, including preparing for UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s core grant renewal. Due this fall, the core grant—or Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG)—confers our Comprehensive Cancer Center designation from NCI. With NCI Director, Ned Sharpless, scheduled to visit us this June, it is imperative that we demonstrate considerable progress toward a successful submission. Toward that end, and within the next week, you will receive a request for information from the leaders representing the seven UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Research Programs.

The request is not unlike what is in your NIH biosketch and includes cancer-relevant publications, funding, collaborative and mentoring activities as well as awards and accolades bestowed upon you over the project period (since 2015). By you I mean the more than 300 Hillman members, from across the University of Pittsburgh campus, whose research in cancer defines our center. Without your effort, we would not qualify for this prestigious award and therefore could not provide you the many associated benefits such as subsidized access to state-of-the-art shared resources and technologies, seminars, symposia, and retreats, and other infrastructure to support and stimulate your cancer research program, some of which I’ve outlined below. So in this Year of the Core Grant I request your cooperation and timely responsiveness while we coordinate and consolidate the stories from over 300 cancer research labs into a simple 5,000-page grant application.

New Year, New Website

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center recently unveiled a newly redesigned research website at HillmanResearch.UPMC.edu.

The new site offers an enhanced user experience through a refreshed design and site navigation, making it easier for visitors—including potential collaborators and donors—to learn more about the exciting work and talented team here at Hillman. The updated navigation features a fly-out style main menu that offers key information, such as our programs, training opportunities, and events, at a glance. Anchored at the very top of the site is a link to our updated list of investigators, which is searchable by last name, program, and research theme.

I’d like to recognize the members of the team who worked closely with our marketing department to develop the new site—Stacy Fitzsimmons, Lisa George, Moira Hitchens, and Lola Thompson. This group spent several months reviewing content and will continue working with our marketing team—and with you—to develop new content, enhance existing information, and showcase the great work our investigators are doing throughout our programs.

Along with our new website, we’ve created a Twitter profile, @UPMCHillmanCC, where you can follow us for the latest information about our programs and research. I’ve also created my own profile, @RobertFerrisMD, and look forward to sharing updates about my research and developments in our head and neck cancer program and Tumor Microenvironment Center.

Congratulations to Our Developmental Funding Program Cycle Awardees

This past fall, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center established a new funding program to stimulate new and exciting research by Hillman members, with the following categories:

  • Pilot Awards, which foster highly innovative, cancer-relevant researc
  • Collaborative Research Awards, which support inter- and intra-programmatic collaborations
  • Team Science Awards, which support the development of program/center grant submissions, primarily to the National Cancer Institute.

Our selection process began with rigorous scientific review by two investigators with appropriate expertise for the topic, who assigned each proposal a score. About half of the proposals advanced to a panel review, followed by final selection by senior Hillman leadership based on both their score and a programmatic review. All applicants received a summary statement with reviewer comments.

We received a range of excellent applications, making our selection process a difficult one. I’m pleased to announce the recipients for this cycle, which include:

Pilot Awardees

  • Jeffrey Brodsky, PhD: A novel therapeutic strategy for triple negative breast cancer
  • Yuri Bunimovich, MD, PhD: Improving immune checkpoint therapy efficacy by targeting neurogenic inflammation
  • Reinhard Hinterleitner, PhD: Gut barrier dysfunction as risk factor for hematopoietic malignancies

Collaborative Research Awardees

  • Michael Boyiadzis, MD, and Theresa Whiteside, PhD: NK-92 cell-derived exosomes as a novel therapeutic for acute myeloid leukemia
  • Ronald Buckanovich, MD, PhD, and Anda Vlad, MD, PhD: ALDH inhibitors as an adjuvant to checkpoint inhibitor therapy in cancer
  • Brian Davis, PhD, and Dario Vignali, PhD: Neuronally-mediated suppression of the immune system promotes pancreas cancer
  • Yang Liu, PhD, and Laura Stabile, PhD: Super-resolution imaging of higher-order heterochromatin structure to detect early lung carcinogenesis
  • Peter Lucas, MD, PhD, and Steffi Oesterreich, PhD: G Protein-Coupled Receptors (GPCRs) in breast cancer: novel regulators of the tumor microenvironment
  • Phuong Mai, MD, and Adam Brufsky, MD, PhD: Establishing an effective program for the delivery of cancer genetic testing and identification of individuals and family members with an inherited cancer predisposition in rural Pennsylvania
  • Carola Neumann, MD, and Bruce Freeman, PhD: Inhibition of the Rad51 recombinase in TNBC by nitro fatty acids
  • Yael Schenker, MD, MS, and Lindsay Sabik, PhD: Impacts of the opioid crisis and optimal opioid prescribing practices by medical oncologists for patients receiving active treatment for cancer
  • Thomas Smithgall, PhD and Paul Johnston, MD, FACS: Precision targeting of myeloid Src-family kinases in acute myeloid leukemia

Team Science Awardees

  • Michael Lotze, MD, and Leonard Appleman, MD, PhD: Driving deep responses in renal cancer- developing a fundable P01 proposal
  • Steffi Oesterreich, PhD and Leisha Emens, MD, PhD: Breast cancer SPORE

Our next funding cycle begins in May and we look forward to learning about more exciting new research ideas.

Best regards,

Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD