TAG: "Cancer"

American Cancer Society to honor UCSF breast cancer specialist

Surgeon Laura Esserman to receive tribute from nationwide organization.

Laura Esserman, UC San Francisco

The American Cancer Society will pay tribute to Laura Esserman, M.D., M.B.A., an internationally known leader in the field of breast cancer care and research.

A surgeon and 20-year member of the faculty at UC San Francisco, Esserman is leading an effort to change the delivery of breast cancer services and the information systems used to support both research and patient care.

She will be honored Tuesday (March 19) at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. Established in 1913, the American Cancer Society is a nationwide voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer.

As a professor of surgery and radiology, Esserman co-leads the Breast Oncology Program and serves as associate director of the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

She is a member of President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) Working Group on Advancing Innovation in Drug Development and Evaluation, which is studying how the federal government can best support science-based innovation in the process of drug development and regulatory evaluation.

Esserman has worked at UCSF to develop interdisciplinary teams of clinicians and researchers to bring the best care to patients and find the best platform to integrate translational research and improve the delivery of breast cancer care.

Director of the Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center at UCSF, she is founder and faculty leader of the program in Translational Informatics spanning the disciplines of bioinformatics, medical and clinical informatics, systems integration, and clinical care delivery.

Esserman is the principle investigator of the I-SPY TRIAL program, a multisite neoadjuvant clinical trial that has evolved into a model for translational research and innovation in clinical trial design. I-SPY combines personalized medicine with a novel investigational design to identify women at high risk of early breast cancer recurrence. It is under way at 19 major cancer centers around the country.

Esserman has recently launched a University of California-wide breast cancer initiative called the Athena Breast Health Network, a groundbreaking project designed to follow 150,000 women from screening through treatment and outcomes, incorporating the latest in molecular testing and Web-based tools into the course of care.

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Cancer database wins Innovation in Networking award

Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California honors UC Santa Cruz’s CGHub.

David Haussler, UC Santa Cruz

David Haussler, UC Santa Cruz

The UC Santa Cruz Cancer Genomics Hub (CGHub) has been honored by the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) as the recipient of the 2013 Innovations in Networking Award for High-Performance Research Applications.

UCSC has built CGHub, a 5-petabyte database, to store tumor genomes sequenced through National Cancer Institute (NCI) projects. Through this effort, CGHub is tackling the significant computational challenges posed by storing, serving, and interpreting cancer genomics data.

The CGHub mission is to facilitate the work of scientific researchers. It is designed to be a fully automated resource, appearing to the user as an extension of the user’s home institute computing system. Making such vast amounts of data accessible to collaborating researchers nationally and internationally requires advanced networking to allow the research to be carried out as seamlessly as possible.

The project is led by UC Santa Cruz bioinformatics expert David Haussler. Haussler is a distinguished professor of biomolecular engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UCSC and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “By providing researchers with comprehensive catalogs of the key genomic changes in many major types and subtypes of cancer, these efforts will support the development of more effective ways to diagnose and treat cancer,” Haussler said.

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Gene probing tool advances disease knowledge

UCSF scientists find more precise way to “turn off” genes.

Wendell Lim, UC San Francisco

Wendell Lim, UC San Francisco

Scientists at UC San Francisco have found a more precise way to turn off genes, a finding that will speed research discoveries and biotech advances and may eventually prove useful in reprogramming cells to regenerate organs and tissues.

The strategy borrows from the molecular toolbox of bacteria, using a protein employed by microbes to fight off viruses, according to the researchers, who describe the technique in the current issue of Cell.

Turning off genes is a major goal of treatments that target cancer and other diseases. In addition, the ability to turn genes off to learn more about how cells work is a key to unlocking the mysteries of biochemical pathways and interactions that drive normal development as well as disease progression.

“We’ve spent energy and effort to map the human genome, but we don’t yet understand how the genetic blueprint leads to a human being, and how we can manipulate the genome to better understand and treat disease,” said Wendell Lim, Ph.D., a senior author of the study. Lim is director of the UCSF Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology.

The new technology developed by the team of UCSF and UC Berkeley researchers is called CRISPR interference – not to be confused with RNA interference, an already popular strategy for turning off protein production.

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New cancer council combines local centers’ strengths

UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and Salk, Sanford-Burnham institutes collaborate.

Scott Lippman, UC San Diego

San Diego is a powerhouse for cancer research, home to the University of California, San Diego Moores Cancer Center – the region’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center – and two NCI-designated centers for basic research: the Salk Institute Cancer Center and the Cancer Center at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

These singular enterprises have now formed a novel collaboration – the San Diego National Cancer Institute Cancer Centers Council, or C3 – to leverage their distinct and combined resources and talents.

The NCI designation means these three cancer centers are already among the best in the nation. They are moving forward with a formalized structure to facilitate collaborations in key areas. This new partnership will allow San Diego’s cancer researchers to accelerate the understanding of and innovative treatments for cancer, the nation’s second leading cause of death.

“San Diego’s cancer centers are rapidly unlocking the genetic and molecular mechanisms involved in cancer and are in the vanguard of a new era in cancer science,” said Tony Hunter, Ph.D., director of the Salk Institute Cancer Center and American Cancer Society professor. “The C3 partnership will allow us to build on the city’s foundation of groundbreaking cancer research and harness our collective strengths to produce the next generation of therapies.”

“The mission of C3 is to both exploit and create collaborative opportunities that can only happen in a place like San Diego, with so many exceptional cancer scientists and physicians,” said Scott Lippman, M.D., director of UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and Chugai Pharmaceutical Chair in Cancer Research. “Our goal is to build a structure for increased interaction among the cancer center faculties, leading to a deeper understanding of cancer and, ultimately, more and better treatments.”

“We are in the midst of a transformative decade in cancer research – one in which we have tools like whole-genome sequencing, high-throughput drug screening and nanotechnology to personalize cancer treatments, delivering medicines where they’ll do the most good and the least harm. This new partnership will better position all San Diego cancer researchers to get there faster,” said Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., Sanford-Burnham’s president, interim CEO and Cancer Center director.

Among C3’s goals:

  • Greater interaction between the cancer centers — clinical, translational, basic science and educational — with increased joint faculty appointments.
  • Enhanced collaborative research efforts, with members sharing resources in such areas as bioinformatics, genomics, clinical trials (at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center) and data storage.
  • Organized initiatives, such as symposia, conferences and forums, that expand and deepen scientific and public understanding of cancer and advance the field.

Voting members of C3 are:

  • Scott Lippman, M.D., director and Chugai Pharmaceutical Chair, UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center; senior associate dean and assistant vice chancellor for cancer research and care, UC San Diego
  • Tony Hunter, Ph.D., director, Salk Institute Cancer Center, American Cancer Society professor, Renato Dulbecco Chair
  • Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D., president and interim chief executive officer, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute; professor and director, NCI-designated Cancer Center
  • Barbara Parker, M.D., professor of clinical medicine, UCSD School of Medicine; deputy director for clinical affairs, UCSD Moores Cancer Center
  • David Cheresh, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Pathology, UCSD School of Medicine; associate director for innovation and industry relations, UCSD Moores Cancer Center
  • Geoffrey Wahl, Ph.D., professor and Daniel and Martina Lewis Chair, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
  • Ze’ev Ronai, Ph.D., professor and associate director, NCI-designated Cancer Center, scientific director at La Jolla, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

C3 will host regular meetings, with council chairmanship rotating every two years among the three cancer centers. Two previously established symposia — the Mahajani Symposium and the Preuss Foundation Seminar — will be sponsored by C3, as well as an annual retreat and an awards program to honor the best in local cancer science.

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Affordable care not enough to help Latinos overcome cancer care barriers

An array of obstacles compromise access.

Sally Maliski, UCLA

A combination of financial, cultural and communication barriers plays a role in preventing underserved Latino men with prostate cancer from accessing the care and treatment they need, according to a new study by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing.

The study, “Barriers to Prostate Cancer Care: Affordable Care Is Not Enough,” is published in the March issue of the peer-reviewed journal Qualitative Health Research.

According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Latino men. Additionally, Latino men are more likely to be diagnosed with later-stage disease than non-Hispanic white men.

“We found that an array of obstacles compromise access and frequently result in negative outcomes,” said Sally L. Maliski, associate dean of academic affairs at the UCLA School of Nursing and senior author of the study. “Sadly, these obstacles disproportionately affect underserved individuals and require a new focus on not only adequate health care coverage but also on the array of hurdles that limit patient access.”

The UCLA study looked at Latino men who were enrolled in Improving Access, Counseling and Treatment for Californians With Prostate Cancer (IMPACT), a state-funded public assistance program. The analysis revealed barriers throughout the entire prostate cancer–care process, including screening, treatment and follow-up care.

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International consortium builds ‘Google map’ of human metabolism

Recon 2 is most comprehensive virtual reconstruction of human metabolic network to date.

Researchers liken Recon 2 to Google mapping for its ability to merge complex details into a single, interactive map.

Building on earlier pioneering work by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, an international consortium of university researchers has produced the most comprehensive virtual reconstruction of human metabolism to date. Scientists could use the model, known as Recon 2, to identify causes of and new treatments for diseases like cancer, diabetes and even psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Each person’s metabolism, which represents the conversion of food sources into energy and the assembly of molecules, is determined by genetics, environment and nutrition.

The researchers presented Recon 2 in a paper published online March 3 in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Doctors have long recognized the importance of metabolic imbalances as an underlying cause of disease, but scientists have been ramping up their research on the connection as a result of compelling evidence enabled by the Human Genome Project and advances in systems biology, which leverages the power of high-powered computing to build vast interactive databases of biological information.

“Recon 2 allows biomedical researchers to study the human metabolic network with more precision than was ever previously possible. This is essential to understanding where and how specific metabolic pathways go off track to create disease,” said Bernhard Palsson, Galletti Professor of Bioengineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering.

“It’s like having the coordinates of all the cars in town, but no street map. Without this tool, we don’t know why people are moving the way they are,” said Palsson.

He likened Recon 2 to Google mapping for its ability to merge complex details into a single, interactive map. For example, researchers looking at how metabolism sets the stage for cancerous tumor growth could zoom in on the “map” for finely detailed images of individual metabolic reactions or zoom out to look at patterns and relationships among pathways or different sectors of metabolism. This is not unlike how you can get a street view of a single house or zoom out to see how the house fits into the whole neighborhood, city, state, country and globe.  And just as Google maps brings together a broad set of data – such as images, addresses, streets and traffic flow – into an easily navigated tool, Recon 2 pulls together a vast compendium of data from published literature and existing models of metabolic processes.

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Prestigious grant awarded to explore cancer spread, stem cell function

Mizutani Foundation grant to UC Davis scientist will advance understanding of cell function.

Frederic Troy II, UC Davis

Frederic A. Troy II, professor and chair emeritus of biochemistry and molecular medicine, has received a globally competitive research grant from the Mizutani Foundation for Glycoscience to better understand structural changes associated with metastasis of adult cancer cells and stem cells.

Troy’s study, titled “Functional Analyses of Polysialic Acid DP on Human Cancer and Stem Cells,” specifically focuses a compound found in neural cell adhesion molecules that can regulate the cell-to-cell adhesive processes on human cancer and stem cells. His laboratory will investigate the degree of polymerization of polysialic acid and its role in activating key cancer signaling pathways.

“A key question that remains unresolved in cancer, glyco-neurobiology and stem cell biology is how can the polysialic acid (polySia) glycotope on neural cell adhesion molecules modulate such a variety of functions in the developing nervous and immune system?” said Troy, one of the first faculty members hired by Nobel Prize winner Edwin G. Krebs when Krebs chaired the biological chemistry department at UC Davis School of Medicine in 1968. “These functions include cell migration, cell contact dependent differentiation, tumor metastasis, neural stem cell proliferation and differentiation, immune response, cell signaling and cytokine response, axon path finding, synaptogenesis, neural plasticity and cognition and memory.”

PolySia is an oncodevelopmental tumor-associated surface antigen that can be re-expressed on the surface of adult cancer cells. When this re-expression occurs, polySia becomes a metastatic factor that promotes tumor-cell detachment, invasion and colonization at distant sites. This fundamental event is a key molecular determinant in allowing polysialylated human cancer cells to detach and spread or metastasize throughout the body, a hallmark of malignancy.

The polySia glycotope modulates neuronal development. It is also expressed on human hematopoietic stem cells and regulates immune responses. In this case, the DP of polySia on human NK cells is responsive to their activation state.

“The Mizutani Glycoscience grant will allow us to test the hypothesis that the degree of polymerization of polySia chains on neural cell adhesion molecules is a critically important structural and conformational feature in regulating the myriad of cell adhesive and cell migration processes,” said Troy. “Such studies have not been previously reported.”

Troy is also a member of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UC San Diego Glycobiology Training Center. He is past president of the professional Society for Glycobiology and an internationally renowned expert in the field of glycochemistry.

The Mizutani Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1992 to advance studies in the field of glycoscience, especially glycoconjugates, important compounds involved in cell-to-cell communications, from recognition to detoxification processes.

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Changing shape makes chemotherapy drugs better at targeting cancer cells

Making anti-cancer drug particles rod-shaped increases ability to target breast cancer cells.

Bioengineering researchers at University of California, Santa Barbara, have found that changing the shape of chemotherapy drug nanoparticles from spherical to rod-shaped made them up to 10,000 times more effective at specifically targeting and delivering anti-cancer drugs to breast cancer cells.

Their findings could have a game-changing impact on the effectiveness of anti-cancer therapies and reducing the side effects of chemotherapy, according to the researchers. Results of their study were published recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Conventional anti-cancer drugs accumulate in the liver, lungs and spleen instead of the cancer cell site due to inefficient interactions with the cancer cell membrane,” explained Samir Mitragotri, professor of chemical engineering and director of the Center for BioEngineering at UCSB. “We have found our strategy greatly enhances the specificity of anti-cancer drugs to cancer cells.”

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$1.75M grant to fund new treatments for pediatric cancer

UCSF research supported by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

Katherine Matthay (center), chief of pediatric oncology at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, speaks with a faculty member at the hospital.

Researchers at UC San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital have received a $1.75 million grant from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) to support the discovery of innovative treatments for childhood cancer.

UCSF has one of the leading programs in childhood cancer research in the United States, with laboratory scientists and clinical researchers collaborating to identify new targets for the treatment of leukemia, brain tumors, neuroblastoma and sarcomas.

In addition to the funding – $350,000 per year, renewable annually for up to five years – UCSF has been named a Center of Excellence (CoE) by the foundation. The CoE program aims to fund the research of leading childhood cancer institutions committed to developing and conducting early phase clinical trials.

As a Center of Excellence, UCSF will use half of the funds to enhance clinical trial infrastructure and half to support the training of scholars in drug development, allowing the clinical trial program to grow in the field of pediatric oncology. The center applicants were chosen by the foundation and invited to compete for funding. Other CoE institutions selected include Baylor College of Medicine and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

UCSF’s top-ranked fellowship program currently trains three fellows per year, with at least one fellow dedicated to developing a career in early phase clinical trials.

“This award will allow us to sustain our local program and to train young investigators in the skills needed to develop and lead early phase clinical trials for the future,” said Katherine Matthay, M.D., chief of pediatric oncology at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and the principal investigator for the grant.

The purpose of the Center of Excellence program is threefold:

  • Foster the evolution of new therapeutic concepts from the pre-clinical arena into fully developed clinical trials;
  • Rapidly and efficiently conduct phase one and phase two trials of highly innovative therapies;
  • Train individuals in the field of developmental therapeutics and cancer pharmacology.

“One of our strengths at UCSF is our emphasis on translational research,” said Matthay. “The ability to train new investigators in developmental therapeutics will capitalize on the very strong laboratory translational research at UCSF and bring new agents targeting pediatric cancer into the clinic.”

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Leukemia patients feel her caring touch

UC Irvine nurse practitioner roots for her charges throughout their treatment journey.

Karen Sommers, UC Irvine

When she was 8 years old, Karen Sommers watched a movie about a young woman struggling with leukemia. It made her realized that she wanted to help people with cancer.

Sommers has been doing exactly that for nearly 30 years, first as a registered nurse and today as a nurse practitioner caring for leukemia patients at UC Irvine Medical Center.

“I see patients from their first diagnosis through their last treatment,” she said. “I  take care of them every day when they are in the hospital, or several times a week if they are outpatients. I help them through their journey.”

Sommers is just one of the more than 1,300 compassionate nurses and nurse practitioners of UC Irvine Healthcare.

“Nurses spend more time with patients than any other member of the health care team,” says Karen Grimley, R.N., UC Irvine Medical Center’s chief nursing officer. “Our nurses approach patient care not only with clinical expertise, but also with an empathy for their patients that is truly inspiring.”

Since 2003, UC Irvine Medical Center has been honored with Magnet recognition, an international designation signifying hospitals’ nursing excellence awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

“The nurses here treat you like this is your home,” says 20-year-old patient Emmanuel Leon, who spent four weeks in the hospital undergoing treatment for leukemia. “I’ve never been treated so well.”

Leukemia is a cancer that affects the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Some forms of the disease are most common in children, while others occur mostly in adults. Treatment usually involves chemotherapy and may also include radiation, targeted drug therapy and bone marrow transplants.

For Sommers, who works closely with the oncologists at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, taking care of leukemia patients means more than performing procedures. She also lifts patients’ spirits, comforts them when they have a tough day, roots for them in their fight against cancer and joins their joy when treatment succeeds.

“I am able to help my patients and their families manage this disease, sometimes for years. I see it as the greatest gift I can give,” explains Sommers. “And I receive so much in return. My patients teach me how to live.”

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‘NanoVelcro’ device refined to grab single cancer cells from blood

Improvement enables “liquid biopsies” for metastatic melanoma.

NanoVelcro chip

Researchers at UCLA report that they have refined a method they previously developed for capturing and analyzing cancer cells that break away from patients’ tumors and circulate in the blood. With the improvements to their device, which uses a Velcro-like nanoscale technology, they can now detect and isolate single cancer cells from patient blood samples for analysis.

Circulating tumor cells, or CTCs, play a crucial role in cancer metastasis, spreading from tumors to other parts of the body, where they form new tumors. When these cells are isolated from the blood early on, they can provide doctors with critical information about the type of cancer a patient has, the characteristics of the individual cancer and the potential progression of the disease. Doctors can also tell from these cells how to tailor a personalized treatment to a specific patient.

In recent years, a UCLA research team led by Hsian-Rong Tseng, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging and a member of both the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, has developed a “NanoVelcro” chip. When blood is passed through the chip, extremely small “hairs” — nanoscale wires or fibers coated with protein antibodies that match proteins on the surface of cancer cells — act like Velcro, traping CTCs and isolating them for analysis.

CTCs trapped by the chip also act as a “liquid biopsy” of the tumor, providing convenient access to tumor cells and earlier information about potentially fatal metastases.

Histopathology — the study of the microscopic structure of biopsy samples — is currently considered the gold standard for determining tumor status, but in the early stages of metastasis, it is often difficult to identify a biopsy site. By being able to extract viable CTCs from the blood with the NanoVelcro chip, however, doctors can perform a detailed analysis of the cancer type and the various genetic characteristics of a patient’s specific cancer.

Tseng’s team now reports that they have improved the NanoVelcro chip by replacing its original non-transparent silicon nanowire substrate inside with a new type of transparent polymer nanofiber-deposited substrate, allowing the device’s nanowires to better “grab” cancer cells as blood passes by them.

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UC researchers win new Breakthrough Prize

UC San Diego’s Napoleone Ferrara, UCSF’s Shinya Yamanaka among first recipients.

Napoleone Ferrara

Two University of California scientists are among the first winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, a new award recognizing advanced research. Founding sponsors of the prize include Google co-founder Sergey Brin; Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg; Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe; and Russian entrepreneur and philanthropist Yuri Milner.

Among the 11 honorees are Napoleone Ferrara, distinguished professor of pathology and senior deputy director for basic sciences at Moores Cancer Center, UC San Diego, and 2012 Nobel Prize winner Shinya Yamanaka, senior investigator at the UC San Francisco-affiliated Gladstone Institutes and a UCSF professor of anatomy who also holds appointments at Kyoto University. Ferrara is recognized for research leading to therapies for cancer and eye diseases; Yamanaka is recognized for his work in induced pluripotent stem cells.

Each honoree will receive $3 million — more than twice the amount of the Nobel Prize. The prizes are intended to provide recipients “with more freedom and opportunity to pursue even greater future accomplishments.”

Shinya Yamanaka

“I am delighted to announce the launch of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and welcome its first recipients,” said Art Levinson, chairman of the board of Apple and chairman of the board of the foundation overseeing the Breakthrough Prize. “I believe this new prize will shine a light on the extraordinary achievements of the outstanding minds in the field of life sciences, enhance medical innovation and ultimately become a platform for recognizing future discoveries.”

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