February 3, 2017 | by Denise Heady
Defeating cancer cannot be done alone. It requires a team approach.
"We can. I can.," the official tagline for this year’s World Cancer Day, stresses how everyone, as a collective, can do his or her part to reduce the burden of cancer on a global level.
Physicians and researchers at City of Hope understand the importance of collaboration to find cures faster. They work in teams that are composed of experts from all disciplines, including surgical oncology, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, pathology, nursing, pharmacology, genetics, basic science, statistics and population sciences, cancer prevention, cancer control and quality of life.
Through these multidisciplinary teams, clinicians and scientists are able to collaborate on innovative treatments that have the power to change the way patients with cancer are treated.
Here are just a few examples of how City of Hope scientists and physicians are working together to create leading-edge approaches to end cancer.
Chief of neurosurgery at City of Hope, Behnam Badie, M.D., is working to transform brain tumor treatment using the body's own immune system to fight off cancer.
Badie, along with scientists Christine Brown, Ph.D., Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy at City of Hope, and Stephen Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and director of the T cell Immunotherapy Research Laboratory at CIty of Hope, recently launched a clinical trial that uses patients’ own modified CAR T cells to treat reoccurring glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor with a median survival of just over 14 months.
In this approach, patients receive injections – directly in the brain and/or ventricles – of immune cells genetically modified to recognize certain markers on cancer cells.
And it's working.
A recent case study on one of the first patients in the trial showed this treatment caused tumors in the brain and spine disappear, with no toxic side effects, dramatically improving quality of life for the patient.
The most exciting thing about our study is that it proves a better treatment may be attainable,” said Brown. “We can take a patient who has actively growing advanced, metastatic multifocal glioblastoma, and we can see regression of all lesions, including in the spine. To date, that’s unheard of.”
Many doctors rely on biopsies to create an individual treatment plan for patients. But a traditional biopsy can be painful and it comes with risks like infection and bleeding.
Now, though, that could change.
City of Hope scientist Jeremy Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Cancer Biology, and medical oncologist Sumanta K. Pal, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, are developing an alternative testing approach known as a “liquid biopsy.” This new method is capable of detecting tumor cells in the bloodstream, a much less invasive procedure compared with an extraction biopsy of tumor tissue.
The liquid biopsy simply involves taking a small sample of blood,” Jones said. “We now have the technology to pull from blood some of the same information we would get from cancer tissue.”
A potentially revolutionary new treatment is giving patients with breast cancer another fighting chance.
A combination of the p53 cancer vaccine and a drug that blocks a specific cancer-aiding protein has given one woman back her life after standard treatment failed.
At least 60 to 70 percent of her body was covered by lesions, inflammation and thickened, purplish skin,” said Yuan Yuan, M.D., breast cancer oncologist at City of Hope. “Six weeks into her treatment, the skin lesions were gone, her itchiness went away. It’s quite a dramatic response.”
Scientist Don Diamond, Ph.D., chair and professor in the Department of Experimental Therapeutics, developed the vaccine and has been studying its effectiveness in clinical trials at City of Hope since 2010.
The most frequent mutation across all cancers occurs in a gene called p53, which contributes to cells becoming oncogenic when they produce a mutant form of the p53 protein (p53 gene mutations are present in about 50% of malignancies).
Diamond’s vaccine boosts the immune response to many different mutant forms of p53. He currently is testing it on ovarian cancer and other solid tumors, such as pancreatic and gastrointestinal masses.