TAG: "Cancer"

SF celebrates 3 new hospitals with stars, lights and action

UCSF Hard Hat Walk, Lights On Festival draw thousands to Mission Bay.

San Francisco’s Mission Bay district became a melting pot of celebrities, civic dignitaries, community members and assorted creatures of unknown species with dazzling outfits and daring dance moves, as the city marked the upcoming opening of the new UCSF Medical Center.

Thousands joined in Saturday’s revelry, starting with the 5K Hard Hat Walk along the waterfront and through the Mission Bay neighborhood and ending with the Lights On Festival in the public plaza outside the medical center complex. The event culminated in a multicolor light show illuminating the windows of the three hospitals opening on Feb. 1, 2015: UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco, UCSF Bakar Cancer Hospital and UCSF Betty Irene Moore Women’s Hospital.

Donors and attendees of the celebration raised more than $525,000 for the new hospitals, exceeding the fundraising goal of $500,000.

Kicking off the Hard Hat Walk, UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret paid tribute to the construction crew, staff and fundraisers. He urged the crowds to remind themselves that with “every step you take, think about a child whose life is going to be saved in that hospital and a mom who’s going to have an easier birth because of innovations here.”

There was plenty of levity to offset the serious moments.

A number of teams assembled for the walk dressed in fun costumes. UCSF Chief Information Officer Joe Bengfort nixed the sweats in favor of Luke Skywalker duds to lead his team, the Jedi Masters, which raised close to $12,000. The UCSF Cancer Crusaders donned superhero masks and capes; the Children’s Emergency Department team all wore rainbow tutus; and Remembering Maggie McDonald – one of the top patient fundraising teams – sported yellow hard hats in tribute to 19-year-old Maggie, a longtime patient of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco who passed away earlier this year.

At the festival, families enjoyed pastries, tacos and other tasty treats from top local restaurants, while children got their faces painted, participated in wall art, played bungee run and danced to Vocal Rush, a teen a cappella group from the Oakland School for the Arts. Other participants decompressed with chair messages or a snuggle with a friendly possum from the San Francisco Zoo’s Zoomobile.

Adding razzle-dazzle to the event were Jesse Tyler Ferguson, star of the ABC television show “Modern Family,” Olympic champion figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and San Francisco Giants home run king Barry Bonds, a longtime friend and supporter of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco (“my brother from another mother,” according to Ferguson).

The midafternoon sun had segued into an early evening chill by the time celebrated singer and Bay Area native Michael Franti took the stage. But the audience warmed up dancing to his hits, “I’m Alive” and “Say Hey.”

At his invitation, a group of patients joined him on stage. The new hospitals were very personal to him, Franti explained, because his 15-year-old son had been a long-term patient at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco. The audience nodded in unison, knowing the hospitals will play a key role in their health and that of their loved ones for generations to come.

David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said it best when he addressed the crowd: “This is a moment in time so special for San Francisco.”

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FDA approves new melanoma drug

The drug is a ‘game changer,’ says UCLA’s Dr. Antoni Ribas, the study’s principal investigator.

UCLA's Dr. Antoni Ribas (right) with Tom Stutz, whose health improved dramatically after treatment with the newly approved drug.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today (Sept.4) approved a new immunotherapy drug to treat advanced melanoma, signaling a paradigm shift in the way the deadly skin cancer is treated.

The drug, Keytruda, was tested on more than 600 patients who had melanoma that had spread throughout their bodies. Because so many of the patients in the early testing showed significant long-lasting responses, the study was continued and the FDA granted the drug “breakthrough therapy” status, allowing it to be fast-tracked for approval.

The largest phase one study in the history of oncology, the research was conducted at UCLA and 11 other sites in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

Keytruda, formerly known as MK-3475, is an antibody that targets a protein called PD-1 that is expressed by immune cells. The protein puts the immune system’s brakes on, keeping its T cells from recognizing and attacking cancer cells, said Dr. Antoni Ribas, the study’s principal investigator and a professor of medicine in the division of hematology–oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

For many years, when using immunotherapy to fight cancer, doctors’ strategy has been to bolster the immune system so it could kill the cancer cells. But the approach had limited success because PD-1 prevented the immune system from becoming active enough to attack the cancer. Keytruda, in effect, cuts the brake lines, freeing up the immune system to attack the cancer.

“This drug is a game changer, a very significant advance in the treatment of melanoma,” said Ribas, who also is a researcher at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. “For patients who have not responded to prior therapies, this drug now provides a very real chance to shrink their tumors and the hope of a lasting response to treatment.”

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UCSF doctor receives leadership award from National Cancer Institute

Will support Katie Kelley’s efforts related to gastrointestinal cancer.

Katie Kelley, UC San Francisco

Katie Kelley, M.D., a gastrointestinal oncologist at UC San Francisco, has received the 2014 Cancer Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This highly competitive category was open to members at certified cancer centers only. The award, a $100,000 supplement to the Cancer Center Support Grant over a two-year period, will support Kelley’s effort related to her clinical leadership roles.

Her clinical research focus lies in the design and conduct of clinical trials of novel targeted agents and combination therapies in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and cancers of the biliary tract.

Her translational research efforts have already enriched the research environment within UCSF. Specifically, Kelley has taken the lead role in addressing the critical need to better understand the complex tumor biology and identify therapeutic targets in hepatobiliary cancers at UCSF.

Kelley began her training and experience in clinical research during the research phase of her fellowship in hematology/oncology at UCSF in 2007 when she joined the Gastrointestinal Oncology Group. As a fellow, Kelley completed the UCSF Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) course, “Training in Clinical Research” in 2008 and received extensive informal training from mentors in GI Oncology, including Alan Venook, M.D.; Margaret Tempero, M.D.; Emily Bergsland, M.D.; and Andrew Ko, M.D.

With support from this award, Kelley will continue her leadership roles and participation in institutional and multisite trials at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center (HDFCCC) and will apply her training, education and leadership skills to the leadership of the Clinical Research Support Office as its director.

Kelley’s long-term goal is to build upon her training and experience in translational clinical research, multidisciplinary collaborations, and experience as an executive officer for a National Clinical Trial Network to build a program in hepatobiliary cancers at UCSF as well as to contribute substantively to the design and conduct of clinical research across the HDFCCC. Former HDFCCC recipients include Ko, who received the award in 2012.

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Researchers ID enzyme that controls spread of breast cancer

UC San Diego findings offer hope for treatment.

A tumor with reduced levels of enzyme UBC13 (top) and a control tumor (bottom) that has spread to the lungs.

Researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine have identified an enzyme that controls the spread of breast cancer. The findings, reported in the current issue of PNAS, offer hope for the leading cause of breast cancer mortality worldwide. An estimated 40,000 women in America will die of breast cancer in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society.

“The take-home message of the study is that we have found a way to target breast cancer metastasis through a pathway regulated by an enzyme,” said lead author Xuefeng Wu, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UC San Diego.

The enzyme, called UBC13, was found to be present in breast cancer cells at two to three times the levels of normal healthy cells. Although the enzyme’s role in regulating normal cell growth and healthy immune system function is well-documented, the study is among the first to show a link to the spread of breast cancer.

Specifically, Wu and colleagues with the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center found that the enzyme regulates cancer cells’ ability to transmit signals that stimulate cell growth and survival by regulating the activity of a protein called p38 which when “knocked down” prevents metastasis. Of clinical note, the researchers said a compound that inhibits the activation of p38 is already being tested for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

In their experiments, scientists took human breast cancer cell lines and used a lentivirus to silence the expression of both the UBC13 and p38 proteins. These altered cancer cells were then injected into the mammary tissues of mice.  Although the primary tumors grew in these mice, their cancers did not spread.

“Primary tumors are not normally lethal,” Wu said. “The real danger is cancer cells that have successfully left the primary site, escaped through the blood vessels and invaded new organs. It may be only a few cells that escape, but they are aggressive. Our study shows we may be able to block these cells and save lives.”

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New hospital will embrace next frontier of cancer treatment

UCSF Bakar Cancer Hospital opening Feb. 1.

The 70-bed UCSF Bakar Cancer Hospital will open Feb. 1.

When urologist Peter Carroll, M.D., M.P.H., did his residency at UCSF 30 years ago, cancer was “a word that was whispered,” a knowledgeable patient was someone who just followed doctor’s orders and oftentimes a diagnosis wasn’t made until disease was advanced.

That’s all changed with the introduction of routine use of imaging and other screening practices, in which, for example, an asymptomatic small kidney cancer might be spotted in a patient with suspected gallstones, said Carroll, interim director and head of the prostate cancer program at UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and associate dean of the UCSF School of Medicine.

Other pivotal advances include the development of new classes of treatments that has meant some cancers could be successfully managed as a chronic disease; and the advent of the Internet and social media providing patients with a wide window into information about their condition and prospective treatments.

“We’re witnessing a sea change in the way we respond to cancer. We’ve found that surveillance rather than treatment might be the best strategy for some low-grade cancers, while using novel therapy or combinations of treatments might offer the best chance for long-term survival for patients with some advanced cancers,” he said.

Carroll said clinicians are also learning that “treatment isn’t just determined by grade, staging, size of tumor, or even its site of origin and what it looks like under a microscope in some cases.”

“Advances in molecular biology, genomics and related technologies have led to a greater understanding of cancer at the molecular level,” he noted. “If we identify the genetic and molecular variations in each patient’s cancer cells, we can tailor treatments that target the molecular underpinnings of each patient’s disease.”

Embodying this evolution in cancer management is the new 70-bed UCSF Bakar Cancer Hospital, opening Feb. 1, 2015, at Mission Bay. It will be right down the street from the UCSF Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building, dedicated to uncovering the basic biological mechanisms of cancer.

“It will be the ‘Emerald City’ emerging from the fog in a location surrounded by dozens of biotech companies, which will promote a synergy facilitating the bench-to-bedside process of developing innovative treatments like precision medicine,” said Carroll.

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How California measures up in fight against cancer

Ahead of other states in some areas, behind in smoking-related policies.

UC Davis' Elisa Tong (left) , Elizabeth David (right) and Lori Bremner from ACS CAN give a media briefing on ACS CAN's 2014 cancer progress report.

In a media briefing at the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center today (Aug. 21), the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) released How Do You Measure Up?, an annual report that scores each state on how they are doing in the fight against cancer.

The 2014 report shows California is ahead of other states in breast and cervical cancer screening programs, protecting young people from tanning devices and broadening Medicare eligibility. The Golden State, however, is falling far behind in smoking-related policies, which are crucial to preventing deaths from certain cancers.

“Tobacco-related cancers continue to lead to the vast majority of cancer deaths we see in the state,” said Elizabeth David, thoracic and cancer surgeon at UC Davis. “We know that 85 percent of lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoking. This year, about 16,000 people in California will be diagnosed with lung cancer and about 35 Californians will die each day from the disease.”

Smoking also increases the risk of many other cancers such as head and neck, esophageal, pancreatic, uterine, cervical, ovarian, kidney, bladder, stomach, colorectal and leukemias, she said.

Lori Bremner, board member with the ACS CAN and 37-year leukemia survivor, said California is failing in comprehensive tobacco control, which should include increasing the price of all tobacco products, implementing comprehensive smoke-free policies and fully funding and sustaining state-wide tobacco-prevention cessation programs.

“Evidence clearly shows that raising tobacco prices through taxes encourages users to quit or cut down and, most importantly, it prevents kids from ever starting,” Bremner said. “California is woefully underfunded in tobacco-prevention programs compared to what’s recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Elisa Tong, an associate professor of internal medicine who conducts research on tobacco control, said California has more than 4 million smokers, which cost the state $9 billion a year in health care expenses.

“In Sacramento, we actually have the highest smoking prevalence rate among California’s urban areas,” said Tong, who said smoke-free policies are crucial for cancer prevention and to help people quit smoking.

“We can address tobacco-cessation at a patient level, but with comprehensive smoke-free policies, we can address the whole environment the patient lives in,” she added.

In 2014, it is estimated that more than 1.6 million people in the United States will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 580,000 people will die from the disease. In California this year, an estimated 155,920 will be diagnosed with cancer and a predicted 153 people will perish daily from the disease.

To view the complete How Do You Measure Up? report, visit www.acscan.org.

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Nanoparticles show promise for cancer treatment, possible HIV cure

UCLA-led team engineers vault nanoparticles to create novel drug delivery system.

A multidisciplinary team of scientists from UCLA and Stanford University has used a naturally occurring nanoparticle called a vault to create a novel drug delivery system that could lead to advances in the treatment of cancer and HIV.

The research team was led by Dr. Leonard Rome, associate director of UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute, and Dr. Jerome Zack, co-director of the UCLA AIDS Institute, both of whom are also members of UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Co-first authors on the study were Daniel Buehler, a UCLA postdoctoral researcher and Matthew Marsden, adjunct assistant professor in the department of medicine and a member of the AIDS Institute.

Their findings could lead to cancer treatments that are more effective with smaller doses and to therapies that could potentially eradicate the HIV virus.

The paper is the cover story of the Aug. 26 print edition of the journal ACSNano, and it was recently published online.

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After ovarian cancer strikes daughter, mother raises money for research

Paulinda Babbini’s nonprofit raises money to fund ovarian cancer research at UCLA.

Paulinda Babbini and her late daughter, Robin Babbini, who died of ovarian cancer at 20. (Photo courtesy of Paulinda Babbini)

When Paulinda Babbini’s daughter, Robin, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2004 at age 17, the mother’s first reaction was shock. Robin was a typical, active teenager and honor student, co-captain of the cheerleading squad, homecoming queen and involved in the dramatic arts.

How could her baby have cancer at 17 — worse, stage three ovarian cancer?

But Robin did have ovarian cancer, a disease that will strike nearly 22,000 American women this year alone, killing more than 14,000. Ovarian cancer accounts for 5 percent of cancer deaths among women, and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.

Mother and daughter decided to fight and face the daunting disease together.

As part of her treatment, Robin underwent a total hysterectomy, followed by chemotherapy treatments. Unfailingly optimistic, Robin completed her classes, graduated from high school and began her freshman year at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

But six short months later, Robin’s cancer returned. She underwent another surgery, during which doctors discovered the cancer had spread. She fought on, joining the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and continuing her studies. She served as co-captain of her team at the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event. And despite her weakened condition, Robin gave a gut-wrenching, inspirational speech, hoping that one day there would be a cure found for ovarian cancer and no one would have to suffer like she had.

Just six weeks later, Robin lost her battle with ovarian cancer at 20.

“Losing a child is an anguish no parent should ever experience. It is utterly devastating. But how to move forward becomes the next challenge,” Babbini said. “I knew I had to shine a light on Robin’s memory and give her brief life a lasting purpose. Committing myself to fundraising to fight ovarian cancer keeps her in my heart.”

Babbini vowed that her daughter would not die in vain. Single-handedly, the grieving mother in 2010 launched the nonprofit The Ovarian Cancer Circle/Inspired by Robin Babbini and set out to raise money for ovarian cancer research. All the money she raises goes to fund the work of Dr. Sanaz Memarzadeh, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA and director of the G.O. Discovery Lab at UCLA.

The donations from The Ovarian Cancer Circle/Inspired by Robin Babbini have enabled Memarzadeh and her team to make critical steps in understanding why ovarian cancers are not detected early and why these tumors often relapse despite surgery and chemotherapy.

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Grant to fund work to develop new class of drugs for treating breast cancer

UC Santa Cruz’s Seth Rubin receives Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Award.

Seth Rubin, UC Santa Cruz

UC Santa Cruz cancer researcher Seth Rubin has received a $350,000 grant to fund his work toward the development of a new class of drugs for treating breast cancer. The grant is a Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Award from the congressionally directed medical research programs of the U.S. Department of Defense.

Rubin, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, will use the grant to build on his recent discoveries regarding a key tumor suppressor protein that is inactivated in most breast cancer cells. The retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein (Rb) helps regulate the cycle of cell growth and division, putting the brakes on cell proliferation when it is active. In normal cells, Rb coordinates cellular growth signals, turning on and off to ensure that cells divide at the right time. Genetic changes in cancer cells disrupt this regulatory pathway and allow cells to multiply out of control.

Rubin’s research has revealed important details of the molecular mechanisms involved in turning Rb on and off. These findings suggested the possibility of a new class of therapeutic molecules that target the retinoblastoma protein directly. Most attempts to target the retinoblastoma pathway with drugs have focused on blocking the action of other proteins that inactivate Rb.

“A common analogy is to think of cancer cells as being like a car with a jammed accelerator and broken brakes, so the cells can’t stop proliferating. Most drugs target the jammed accelerator and knock down proteins that are too active. We want to target the broken brakes and restore the tumor suppressor activity,” Rubin said.

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New mouse model points to therapy for liver disease

UC San Diego findings could have impacts on obesity, organ transplantation.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common affliction, affecting almost 30 percent of Americans, with a significant number suffering from its most severe form, called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. In recent years, NASH has become the leading cause of liver transplantation.

Development of effective new therapies for preventing or treating NASH has been stymied by limited small animal models for the disease. In a paper published online in Cancer Cell, scientists at the UC San Diego School of Medicine describe a novel mouse model that closely resembles human NASH and use it to demonstrate that interference with a key inflammatory protein inhibits both the development of NASH and its progression to liver cancer.

“These findings strongly call for clinical testing of relevant drugs in human NASH and its complications,” said senior author Michael Karin, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology in UC San Diego’s Laboratory of Gene Regulation and Signal Transduction. “Our research has shown that, at least in this mouse model, chemical compounds that include already clinically approved drugs that inhibit protein aggregation can also be used to prevent NASH caused by a high-fat diet.”

The increasing prevalence of NAFLD is linked to the nation’s ongoing obesity epidemic. In the past decade, the rate of obesity has doubled in adults and tripled in children, in large part due to a common diet rich in simple carbohydrates and saturated fats. NASH is characterized by inflammation and fibrosis, which damage the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the major form of liver cancer, and loss of function. Often, the only remedy is organ transplantation.

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FDA approves cervical cancer treatment based on UC Irvine-led study

Clinical trial found therapy effective in recurrent and metastatic cancer.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today (Aug. 14) approved bevacizumab, also known as Avastin, to treat persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer.

The approval is based on a clinical trial led by UC Irvine Health gynecologic oncologist Dr. Krishnansu S. Tewari and conducted by the Gynecological Oncology Group, now known as NRG Oncology.

The phase three randomized trial enrolled 452 women, including UC Irvine Health patients, and found that combining chemotherapy with bevacizumab extended median survival to 17 months, compared to 13.3 months for those receiving chemotherapy without it. The FDA approval allows its use in combination with paclitaxel and cisplatin or paclitaxel and topotecan.

Treatment with bevacizumab — an anti-angiogenesis agent that inhibits a tumor’s ability to form new blood vessels — caused no significant deterioration in patients’ quality of life, Tewari said. Trial results appeared in the Feb. 20 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This trial showed for the first time that a targeted agent could improve overall survival in a gynecologic cancer,” said Tewari, a professor of obstetrics & gynecology at UC Irvine. “Women with metastatic or recurrent cervical cancer don’t have many options. Now we finally have a therapy that helps them live longer.”

The findings already have changed U.S. treatment for advanced cervical cancer. Within a month of the study’s presentation at the June 2013 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network listed the cisplatin-paclitaxel-bevacizumab triplet in the NCCN Cervical Cancer Treatment Guidelines Update.

Although a difference of three to seven months may not seem like a long time, Tewari said it is important to understand that this patient population responds very poorly to even one line of therapy and that those minimal responses tend to be short-lived.

“We do not have the luxury of treating women who have advanced cervical cancer with multiple lines of therapy over many years, as we do with more [chemotherapy] sensitive malignancies such as ovarian or breast cancer,” Tewari said. “However, these findings show that we may be on the cusp of converting this disease from a terminal to a chronic condition where the 3.7 months provides a window of opportunity in which patients might benefit from new therapies, including other anti-angiogenesis drugs and immunotherapies that are now being studied.”

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MRI is a ‘game-changer’ in diagnosing prostate cancer

UC San Diego Health System is first to use new tool in San Diego.

Oncologists at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center are the first in San Diego to meld magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology with a traditional ultrasound prostate exam to create a three-dimensional map of the prostate that allows physicians to view growths that were previously undetectable.

An ultrasound machine provides an imperfect view of the prostate, resulting in an under-diagnosis of cancer, said J. Kellogg Parsons, M.D., M.H.S., the UC San Diego Health System urologic oncologist who, along with Christopher Kane, M.D., chair of the Department of Urology and Karim Kader, M.D., Ph.D., urologic oncologist, is pioneering the new technology at Moores Cancer Center.

“With an ultrasound exam, we are typically unable to see the most suspicious areas of the prostate so we end up sampling different parts of the prostate that statistically speaking are more likely to have cancer,” said Parsons, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Urology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “The MRI is a game-changer. It allows us to target the biopsy needles exactly where we think the cancer is located. It’s more precise.”

Armondo Lopez, a patient at Moores Cancer Center, had been given a clean bill of health using the traditional ultrasound biopsy method, but when his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels, a protein that is often elevated in men with prostate cancer, started to rise he began to worry. Parsons recommended a MRI-guided prostate biopsy. The new technology led to the diagnosis of an aggressive prostate cancer located in an area normally not visible using the ultrasound machine alone. The tumor was still in its early stage and treatable, said Parsons.

An early diagnosis typically improves a patient’s prognosis. In the United States, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men with more than 29,000 estimated deaths expected this year. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 66.

Lopez is thankful he will be able to celebrate his 58th wedding anniversary with his wife.

“Life is going on as normal,” said Lopez. “This is the wave of the future. I see this new technology as the way to save thousands of lives. I commend Dr. Parsons for taking the lead in San Diego in this area.”

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