By: Alicia Di Rado and Shawn Le
|Vincent Chung is one of the City of Hope researchers who presented findings at the American Association of Cancer Research annual meeting.|
They flocked to San Diego armed with data — data that will make a difference in the battle against cancer.
City of Hope cancer specialists announced a variety of study findings at the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting, held April 12 to 15. Topics ranged from results of first-in-human trials to epidemiologic research on cancer risk, even touching on the cancer-fighting power of mushrooms and Chinese herbal medicine.
“Our oncologists’ presentations at AACR demonstrate the breadth of translational
research under way here at City of Hope,” said Robert Figlin, M.D., Arthur and Rosalie Kaplan Professor of Medical Oncology and acting director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Their participation reflects our progress toward our strategic goals.”
The Gastrointestinal Cancer Program’s Vincent Chung, M.D., for one, presented
findings in a plenary session on a unique, first-in-patients clinical trial. The prestigious trial sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline came “directly out of our phase one program in solid tumor oncology,” Figlin noted.
Melanie Palomares, M.D., M.S., of the Division of Population Sciences, discussed the
anti-estrogenic properties of mushrooms, while Shiuan Chen, Ph.D., director of the
Department of Surgical Research, shared findings about breast cancer’s resistance to hormone-based therapies. In all, City of Hope researchers gave or participated in more than three dozen presentations, including this sampling:
Exercise and breast cancer
Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., director of the Department of Etiology, was one of the first
researchers to examine the role of physical activity in reducing breast cancer risk. By the 1980s, research had established a link between estrogen and breast cancer development and growth. Bernstein wanted to identify factors that could lower estrogen levels, and exercise was one of her targets.
Findings from a growing body of research reveal that physical activity can lower breast cancer risk, independent of diet. Bernstein led an educational session at AACR to examine and discuss how changes in lifestyle and behaviors can impact cancer risk.
“Across the world, we’ve seen consistent results showing a reduction in risk with
increasing levels of activity,” Bernstein said.
Neural stem cells
Brain tumors have a well-deserved reputation as difficult cancers to treat. Not only are they located in very sensitive tissue, but they also may lie deep in the brain, making them inaccessible for standard surgery.
Karen S. Aboody, M.D., assistant professor in the divisions of Hematology &
Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and Neurosciences, is searching for other options.
She is investigating the potential use of neural stem cells in the treatment of brain tumors due to their ability to migrate to and congregate around tumors. Aboody has engineered a neural stem cell line with a modified gene that can produce anticancer therapy — but only when it comes into contact with a prodrug, a pharmacologic substance that needs an agent to activate it.
The modified neural stem cell, together with the prodrug, would potentially produce and concentrate the anticancer therapy locally to the tumor cells while sparing the healthy brain cells surrounding it. Aboody presented data on the development of the novel therapy and clinical trial program.
Capecitabine was the first oral chemotherapy approved to treat breast cancer and
colorectal cancer. Now, City of Hope researchers hope that combining it with an
ancient medication will boost its punch.
A traditional Chinese herbal medicine used for 17 centuries is often employed to
treat diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps and fever. Laboratory tests of PHY906, a
pharmaceutical grade version of this medicine, show it enhances capecitabine’s
impact on liver tumors. Yun Yen, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Department of
Clinical and Molecular Pharmacology and co-leader of the Developmental Cancer
Therapeutics Program, investigated the combination in early phase clinical trials for
hepatocellular carcinoma (a form of liver cancer) and presented data from phase I and II trials suggesting the combination is worth further study.
“Of the 30 patients enrolled in the multicenter clinical trials, three patients achieved minor response and 15 achieved a stable disease state. We also found that Asians had a higher overall 12-month survival rate than non-Asians in the trial,” Yen said.