May 2020

May is National Cancer Research Month, and we join the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) in celebrating this important observation. Throughout these recent weeks, I’ve reflected on how proud and grateful I am to be part of the medical and scientific community. As the COVID-19 pandemic affects our communities, physicians, scientists, and engineers here at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh have stepped in to address crucial needs, enhance and expand testing capabilities, and begin developing a vaccine.

As we know all too well, cancer hasn’t stopped because of COVID-19. Here at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, our critical work has continued in an adapted environment. Our staff and patients alike undergo screenings upon entry. Patients receive essential care from our team with strategic social distancing and enhanced infection prevention protocols in our clinics. Research teams have developed rotations to ensure minimal exposure while continuing their vital work. And our meetings and seminars have moved online, where we continue to exchange ideas even if someone’s dog barks in the background.

Our faculty and staff have remained steadfast in these uncertain times, and I’m truly grateful for their flexibility and commitment to our mission. I’m very pleased to share the following updates from our team:

  • Tullia Bruno, PhD, received a grant from the Department of Defense for her project titled An Evaluation of B Cells and Tertiary Lymphoid Structures in Lung Cancer.
  • As the AACR Annual Meeting moved online, Peter Lucas, PhD, chaired the session on Drugging Undrugged Cancer Targets, Diwakar Davar, MD, presented data from a clinical trial testing whether orally administered gut microbes can enhance the anti-tumor activity of PD-1 blockade, and Jason Luke, MD, participated as a discussant in the Immunotherapy Clinical Trials session.
  • Ben Van Houten, PhD, Patty Opresko, PhD, and the members of the Genome Stability Program published their third newsletter in April to update colleagues on the latest developments from the “DNA Pitt Crew.”

While UPMC has not seen the surge in COVID-19 cases that we prepared to treat, and it appears the curve is flattening here in our community, we remain committed to limiting exposure for our patients, physicians, researchers, and staff. I’d like to thank everyone here at Hillman, once again, for your outstanding work during these very uncertain times. We look forward to seeing everyone in person again as soon as we are safely able.


Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD