Four City of Hope physicians will benefit from support totaling $550,000 through the generosity of the nonprofit group STOP CANCER for ongoing research into brain cancer stem cells, breast cancer prevention and the development of pancreatic cancer treatment.
STOP CANCER funds innovative cancer research at National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in Los Angeles County. The organization provides awards up to $150,000, with the recipients’ institutions providing in-kind support to double the value of the grant.
Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., was honored with STOP CANCER’s Career Scientist Development Award, while Melanie Palomares, M.D., M.S., Joseph Kim, M.D., and Karen Aboody, M.D., earned grants for continued work on specific cancers. The researchers will be honored at a STOP CANCER event on November 19.
Brain tumor stem cells
|Rahul Jandial will be honored by STOP CANCER. (Photo courtesy of Rahul Jandial)|
Jandial, assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery, was awarded a three-year, $150,000 grant (with a total value of $300,000 with in-kind matching funds) for his investigation into brain tumor stem cells. As Jandial noted, “Scientists have firmly linked cancer stem cells to certain cancers such as leukemia; but their role in solid organ tumors such as brain tumors is less clear.” Jandial hopes to find that evidence.
“Even with all the advances over the past four decades, the average lifespan of a patient diagnosed with glioblastoma currently is a dismal 14 months. Clearly we’re missing something” said Jandial. “This elusive missing component of our current therapeutic strategy may arise from a better understanding of cancer stem cells. Think of them as cancer seeds.”
Jandial sees the future of brain tumor therapy as a double-barreled approach of targeting both the standard, mature cancer cell and the cancer stem cell. Cancer stem cells multiply more slowly than standard cancer cells, which makes them less vulnerable to chemotherapy. These lingering cancer stem cells are thought to cause recurrence.
“All cancer cells are not created equal,” Jandial said. “In fact, the invariable recurrence that leads to patients dying from brain tumors could be due to the brain tumor stem cells that escape our current standard treatment of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
“We want to find a way to kill these brain tumor stem cells effectively and safely. This new approach is not guaranteed to work, but initial research in this field is very promising. We’re trying to deliver this promise to our patients, and the STOP CANCER grant will be a great help.”
The best defense for breast cancer
Palomares, assistant professor in population sciences and medical oncology, received an ongoing $25,000 through STOP CANCER’s Marni Levine Memorial Breast Cancer Research Award to fund continuing research into breast cancer prevention and the identification of biomarkers associated with breast cancer risk. Palomares was the first recipient of the Marni Levine award when it was started three years ago.
|Melanie Palomares (Photo by Markie Ramirez)|
“The best time to cure cancer is before it begins,” said Palomares, who noted her group’s prevention clinical trials explore nontoxic interventions to reduce breast cancer risk. These include the effects of natural food products such as grape seed extract and mushrooms.
She also is developing a new breast cancer prevention study among Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivors, whose radiation treatments at a young age leave them with a 20- to 55-fold increased risk of developing breast cancer later.
In addition, she has an ongoing study to identify breast cancer tumor markers. Participants are enrolled at the time of their initial breast biopsy, even before any cancer has been diagnosed. If diagnosed with a malignant tumor, they are followed every six months. Researchers collect blood samples to identify markers associated with cancer development.
A molecular key to pancreatic cancer
|Joseph Kim (Photo by Markie Ramirez)|
Kim, a gastrointestinal cancer specialist and assistant professor of surgery, was granted $25,000 through STOP CANCER’s Kim Gregory Memorial Research Award for his ongoing research into pancreatic cancer. He won a STOP CANCER Research Career Development Award in 2008.
“Patients dealing with pancreatic cancer do not have enough options available to them to overcome the disease,” said Kim. “We’ve been investigating the molecule CXCR4, which does nothing in healthy cells, but is highly active in the beginning stages and continued growth of pancreatic cancer.”
Kim is looking to develop a drug that targets CXCR4 to control and potentially kill pancreatic tumor cells. He also is examining pancreatic tumors for genetic markers that may help physicians identify the risk of tumor recurrence, which is common in many pancreatic cancer patients.
The National Cancer Institute also recently provided a significant grant backing Kim’s studies into CXCR4.
A seek-and-destroy mission
STOP CANCER has awarded $75,000 over three years for the Isadore Familian Memorial Grant to Aboody, associate professor in the Department of Neurosciences and the Division of Neurosurgery, to continue investigating the use of neural stem cells to selectively deliver cancer-killing drugs to malignant solid tumors and their metastases. Neural stem cells naturally home in on cancerous cells, so if researchers can harness them to target therapeutic agents directly to tumor cells, they may become a tool in the fight against cancer.
|Karen Aboody (Photo by Markie Ramirez)|
Aboody and her colleagues are performing lab research to evaluate neural stem cells in the treatment of metastatic neuroblastoma and breast carcinoma, in addition to brain cancers. “Our ultimate goal is to translate our novel therapeutic strategies to patient trials,” Aboody said, “to improve clinical outcome, as well as quality of life.”
STOP CANCER previously granted Aboody its Research Career Development Award in 2002.