In pursuit of cancer breakthroughs: A snapshot of current research

March 3, 2013 | by Elizabeth Stewart

Breakthroughs that help patients don’t happen by accident, not often anyway. Instead, they require painstaking work carefully conducted over time. City of Hope researchers understand this.

At City of Hope, research takes many forms, but the goal is the same: Improve care. At City of Hope, research takes many forms, but the goal is the same: Improve care.

They're currently exploring an array of avenues in their mission to improve care and outcomes. Here’s a look at some of their ongoing research:

T cell immunotherapy for cancer

Under the direction of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, researchers are studying genetically modified subpopulations of T cells to be used in the treatment of cancer.

Forman’s team has developed a platform for selecting, genetically altering and expanding T cells and now is conducting a clinical trial using this therapy to treat patients undergoing autologous transplant for treatment of recurrent lymphoma. The goal is to introduce a tumor-specific immune response to help reduce the chances of relapse.

In addition, the team is also studying the use of genetically modified T cells that recognize the IL-13beta2 receptor on brain tumors. The T cells are injected into the brains of patients who are suffering from recurrent glioblastoma multiforme, the most deadly type of brain cancer. This immune-enhancing treatment has the potential to help cure patients with a broad variety of cancers.

Based on the progress to date, protocols are now being planned to open in the next year at City of Hope that will focus on the treatment of patients with blood cancers as well as ovarian cancer.

Special treatment and care for young adult patients

Research at City of Hope and other centers has shown that some adolescents and young adults (AYAs) with cancer have better outcomes than others — and young minority patients often fare worse. Julie Wolfson, M.D., M.S.H.S., assistant professor of pediatrics, seeks to determine the causes of these disparities in care for AYAs.

She is studying patients age 15 to 39 in the Los Angeles cancer registry diagnosed with the most common adolescent cancers between 1998 and 2008. This study also analyzes whether patients’ race/ethnicity or where they have received care affected their survival while taking into account their disease, socioeconomic status and how far they traveled for their cancer care.

Ultimately, results of Wolfson’s research will help physicians and researchers understand the factors that help young patients access care and the barriers to care.

Addressing the complications of treatment

Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences, is collaborating with 121 institutions of the Children’s Oncology Group to overcome complications that childhood cancer survivors develop due to treatment.

Researchers have identified a genotype that signals increased risk for cardiomyopathy (deterioration of the heart muscle) in children who were treated with a common cancer drug called anthracyclines. Bhatia and her team are now developing tests physicians can use to determine if children have these genes.

Physicians can then use this knowledge to either prescribe different drug regimens to children at high risk, or give children additional drugs to protect the heart — drastically improving the quality of life for children and helping them thrive after cancer treatment.

Lung cancer screening and smoking cessation

More people die of lung cancer than of breast, colon and prostate cancers combined — and increases in survival rates for lung cancer lag far behind that of other kinds of cancers. Part of the reason is late diagnosis.

Typically, patients with lung cancer begin noticing symptoms when the cancer has reached an advanced stage, which means the chance for survival is low — but tumors found through lung cancer screening are detected when the disease is more easily treated.

City of Hope is piloting an integrated lung cancer screening and tobacco cessation program. Our screening program is the first in the nation, to our knowledge, to deliver a comprehensive tobacco exposure risk evaluation. And by helping people quit smoking, we can help reduce their risk before cancer develops.

Edited from the 2012 Philanthropy Update Impact Report. 

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