February 2020

Congratulations, Awardees

We’ve just completed another cycle of our Developmental Funding Program here at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, in which we received a range of excellent and compelling applications. I’m pleased to share that our awardees for this cycle include:

Pilot Awardees

  • Robert Binder, PhD: Combinatorial Heat Shock Protein/Checkpoint Blockage for Immunotherapy of Osteosarcoma
  • Carissa Low, PhD: Personalized Data-Driven Activity Modification to Reduce Cancer-Related Fatigue

Collaborative Research Awardees

  • Anette Duensing, MD, and Jan Beumer, PhD: Dissecting DNA Damage and Repair Pathways in Leiomyosarcomas: Improving Therapy by Understanding Biology
  • Barry Edwards, PhD, and Gary Kohanbash, PhD: ImmunoPET Quantification of Lymphocyte Cytotoxicity as an Early Indicator of Immunotherapy Response for Gliomas
  • Jianhua Xing, PhD, and Jian Yu, PhD: CRISPR-Enabled Tracking of Cancer Cell Chromosome Instability and Karyotype Landscape Evolution

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research recently presented two Hillman faculty members with awards. Nduka Amankulor, MD, received an ASPIRE Award (Accelerating Scientific Platforms and Innovative Research) for his work in the development of an oncolytic viral therapy for malignant gliomas, and Greg Delgoffe, PhD, received an Emerging Leader Award for his project Improving Cancer Immunotherapy through Metabolic Modulation.

Leisha Emens, MD, PhD, received the Stand Up to Cancer® 2020 Laura Ziskin Prize in Translational Research along with her colleague Xiang Zhang, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Emens and Zhang will use the $250,000 grant for their year-long research project which aims to further the availability of immune checkpoint inhibitors for breast cancer patients.

Jason Luke, MD, FACP, received the Sy Holzer Endowed Immunotherapy Research Fund Award to advance innovative research in cancer immunotherapy. Dr. Luke specializes in early phase drug development for melanoma and solid tumors and leads the Cancer Immunotherapeutics Center, where he maintains oversight for all early phase immunotherapy studies.

Welcome, Arvind Suresh, MS

As I recently shared, Arvind Suresh, MS, has accepted the newly created position of director of communications for UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. Arvind holds master’s degree in Cell Biology and Physiology from the University of Pittsburgh and he currently serves as a media relations manager and science writer on UPMC’s public relations team. He will work closely with UPMC’s clinical marketing and public relations teams, as well as Pitt’s Office of Communications, to raise Hillman’s public profile and communicate the outstanding basic, clinical, and translational research happening here. Arvind will transition to this new role in the coming months and come on board full-time this summer; please join me in welcoming him to the Hillman community.

AACR Preparations

The American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting is just a few months away, taking place April 24-29 in San Diego. If you are participating in the meeting with an oral presentation, poster presentation, or other endeavor, please email our director of communications, Arvind Suresh, at suresha2@upmc.edu and our media relations manager, Cyndy Patton, at pattonc4@upmc.edu so we can ensure that your participation gets promoted. We also plan to hold a reception on Sunday, April 26 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Marina Kitchen at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, so I hope you’ll mark your calendar and make plans to join us that evening.


Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD