On World Cancer Day: Five ways City of Hope physicians, researchers are finding new ways to treat cancer

February 2, 2018 | by Denise Heady

Every day at City of Hope, physicians and scientists are working together to make cancer a thing of the past.
These collaborations often lead to better treatments — even cures — for a disease that impacts far too many people all over the world.
Today, nearly 14.5 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with some type of cancer. But it affects more than just the person diagnosed. It affects the patient’s family, parents, significant others, children, friends, relatives, colleagues — the list is endless.
Together, clinicians, scientists, patients, advocates, caregivers — everyone — has the power to change the way cancer is treated.

We can. I can." is the official tag line of World Cancer Day, and reminds people that everyone, collectively and individually, can contribute to reduce the impact cancer has on individuals, families and communities.

Here, we’ve spotlighted how teams at City of Hope are improving the care and treatment of patients diagnosed with cancer everywhere.

Advanced solid tumors have been proven hard to treat, particularly brain tumors, but there’s reason for optimism — recent advances in immunotherapy, such as CAR T cell therapy, mean patient outcomes and quality of life are continuing to improve. Early clinical trials at City of Hope have found that CAR T cells have the power to demolish deadly brain tumors that standard treatment could not destroy. CAR T solid tumor clinical trials, overseen by Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, Christine Brown, Ph.D., Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy and associate director of the T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory and Chief of Neurosurgery Behnam Badie, M.D., vice chair and clinical professor in the Department of Surgery, are being expanded in 2018 to include trials for patients with glioblastoma, HER2-positive brain metastasis and prostate cancer.


City of Hope is known worldwide for its pioneering breakthroughs in blood and bone marrow transplants. Today, the same physicians and researchers are now at the forefront of a specific kind of immunotherapy, known as CAR T cell therapy. This type of therapy doesn't boost the immune system, it transforms it. City of Hope’s Elizabeth Budde, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in City of Hope Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, recently reported on the first in-human trial where patients whose acute myeloid leukemia was no longer responding to standard therapies, along with a patient with a rare blood cancer called blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm, achieved a complete response after undergoing treatment with CAR T cell therapy. Budde is hopeful these results will lead to a more effective treatment option for patients, who currently have few therapies available to them.


The use of liquid biopsies, a less invasive method of accessing important genomic information in solid tumors, is increasing in clinical care, allowing for more individualized care for advanced-stage cancer patients. Sumanta K. Pal, M.D., associate clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and co-director of the Kidney Cancer Program at City of Hope, and his colleagues have created a dataset of over 30,000 advanced-stage cancer patients, derived from liquid biopsy use in clinical practice, which highlights the clinical impact of identifying alterations that are targetable by drugs with regulatory approval, including emergent resistance alterations.


While the population of the United States continues to age, fueled in large part by medical advances and baby boomers, the number of physicians who specialize in treating older patients is on the decline. Arti Hurria, M.D., The George Tsai Family Chair in Geriatric Oncology and director of the Center for Cancer and Aging, and her team are trying to change this. Since the creation of the Center in 2006, the team has grown from one oncologist to a multidisciplinary team of over 30, including experts from oncology, radiology, occupational therapy, social work, pharmacy and more. The center has initiated 20 clinical trials aimed at improving the care of older adults with cancer and more than 3,500 patients have been enrolled into Center for Cancer and Aging studies. The results of these studies have been disseminated in over 170 medical publications.


The positioning of the pancreas — which is nestled between organs such as the stomach, spleen, liver and gall bladder — makes early cancer detection difficult. The six-inch long organ is virtually hidden on most imaging studies and, as a consequence, pancreatic cancer tends to be diagnosed late. A multi-institutional partnership with institutions across the country is designed to change that. Led by Syed Rahmanuddin, assistant research professor, head of 3D Oncologic Imaging Center in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at City of Hope, is working on a strategy they describe as a “mammogram for pancreatic cancer.” The partnership, funded in part by a grant from the Kemper and Ethyl Marley Foundation, would change not only how the disease is detected and diagnosed, but also when the disease is diagnosed. 


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