Powered by philanthropy: Bold science, better cancer treatments
February 16, 2015 | by City of Hope
At City of Hope, innovative scientific research, important clinical studies and vital construction projects are all powered by philanthropy. Generous supporters fuel a powerful and diverse range of progress in science and medicine, enabling researchers and clinicians to improve cancer treatments and create cures not just for cancer, but also for diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses.
Take a look at what City of Hope supporters have helped build, launch and create over the past year:
Improving care through science
Innovative approaches: In 2014, John Williams, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine, pushed ahead in his research on meditope technology. As described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these engineered peptides “fit” into antibodies, much like a lock and key, making it possible to selectively deliver material to cancer cells.
This research has already earned funding from the prestigious W. M. Keck Foundation, which is helping Williams’ team advance its applications. Those include the recent development of several new meditopes that can be attached to therapeutic antibodies targeting several different forms of cancer, including breast cancer.
Working toward a new therapeutic: Linda Malkas, Ph.D., associate chair of molecular and cellular biology and deputy director of basic research, is collaborating with Robert Hickey, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular pharmacology, to develop compounds that eradicate cancer cells with minimal effect on normal cells.
Working together at Indiana University before joining Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope, they discovered that a specific protein expressed in the nucleus of cancer cells allows tumor cells to repair their DNA, proliferate and likely evade eradication by chemo- or radiotherapy. Now at City of Hope, they have created a synthetic compound that targets this protein, called cancer-associated proliferating cell nuclear antigen, which appears to selectively inhibit tumor growth.
Searching for better biomarkers: As director of the Translational Biomarker Discovery Core, Hickey is identifying factors in blood, tissue or body fluids that could serve as minimally invasive cancer diagnostics.
In one project, he is collaborating with Courtney Vito, M.D., assistant clinical professor of surgery, to develop biomarkers that predict the spread of breast cancer; an accurate prediction could save women from complications associated with sentinel lymph node biopsy, a procedure routinely performed during surgical removal of a breast tumor.
In another, he is partnering with Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., professor and director of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, to develop biomarkers that can be used to assess whether women at increased risk for breast cancer respond to a chemoprevention regimen that could reduce that risk.
Improving the ability to transplant islet-producing cells: Teresa Ku, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases Research, is collaborating with Art Riggs, Ph.D., chair of the department, and Wendong Huang, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular diabetes research.
They have identified a novel mechanism to encourage pancreatic stem cells to differentiate into insulin-producing cells. They have also identified a novel cell nuclear particle that may play an important role in the replication of insulin-producing cells. These findings will help Riggs, Ku and Huang improve their technique in generating more insulin-producing cells for transplantation. This work was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Research in diabetes and its complications: Rama Natarajan, Ph.D., National Business Products Industry Professor in Diabetes Research and director of the Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, was awarded a $2.2-million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
This funding will further Natarajan’s investigations into the role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in slowing or stopping diabetes-related kidney damage. She has already identified two key miRNAs that modulate the progression of diabetic nephropathy. These crucial findings will help to develop treatments that slow or stop kidney damage that results from diabetes.
Moving science from the lab to the clinic
T cell immunotherapy: Under the direction of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, and Christine Brown, Ph.D., associate director of the T Cell Immunotherapy Laboratory, researchers continue to advance studies using genetically modified T cells as an immunologic treatment for cancer.
Under one Food and Drug Administration investigational new drug (IND) application, they are treating patients undergoing autologous transplant for recurrent lymphoma to introduce a tumor-specific immune response to reduce the chances of relapse. Another IND trial seeks to extend these studies to patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — making City of Hope's program the first and only program in California to use genetically modified T cells to treat patients with this disease. Further, a clinical trial is underway for patients with malignant lymphoma who are not undergoing autologous transplant — making City of Hope's program the only one in California to offer this therapy.
The program also completed preclinical laboratory research for an approach targeting acute myeloid leukemia (AML), in which a patient’s T cells are genetically modified to recognize the antigen CD123 and then kill the AML cells. We expect that the first patients in the world will be treated here at City of Hope in 2015. (Watch a video on cancer-killing T cells.)
Novel approach to prevent lung cancers: Binghui Shen, Ph.D., co-leader of the Molecular Oncology Program and professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Biology, is studying anti-inflammatory drugs for preventing lung cancer.
In collaboration with physicians Dan Raz, M.D., and Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-directors of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program, the research has demonstrated that, when administered separately, aspirin and the drug triptolide (a derivative of a Chinese herb called Thunder God Vine) each have the effect of moderately suppressing lung cancer development in mice. When combined, however, these two agents reduced the incidence of lung cancer in mice from 70 to 5 percent.
Shen hypothesizes that the combination of both drugs creates an anti-tumor microenvironment that directly kills lung cancer cells by blocking their key survival mechanisms. His new research seeks to increase the understanding of how triptolide and aspirin may lower the risk of lung cancer recurrence and eliminate cancer.
Global innovators in treatment
Setting international standards for robotic-assisted radical surgery: Timothy Wilson, M.D., Pauline & Martin Collins Family Chair in Urology and chief of the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology, hosted a two-day international conference to determine best practices for robotic-assisted radical cystectomy in treating muscle-invasive bladder cancer.
The conference invited a group of leading physicians in radical cystectomy and included some of the pioneers of the procedure. These worldwide experts reviewed data and formulated a “best practices” white paper for publication.
Improving prevention and surveillance: City of Hope recently acquired the new UroNav Biopsy System, which has been identified by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as one example of the future of prostate cancer care.
This technology fuses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images with real-time ultrasound to allow urologists to perform a prostate biopsy with unprecedented precision. City of Hope researchers and clinicians are using the UroNav system to more accurately stratify disease risk – identifying those who need immediate treatment, and those who will be best treated with active surveillance.
This acquisition will allow City of Hope to continue pioneering innovative research, as well as to formalize an active surveillance program for prostate cancer.
Targeting kidney tumors with fluorescent imaging: For patients with early stage renal cell cancer, the standard of care is a partial nephrectomy to remove the cancer and spare normal kidney tissue. This procedure is very challenging because a surgeon cannot precisely visualize the margins between cancer cells and healthy tissues. City of Hope developed an innovative technique to illuminate the tumor for more precise treatments.
City of Hope was the first on the West Coast to combine the state-of the-art da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, near infrared imaging technology and a special fluorescent dye called indocyanine green. This improves the surgeon’s ability to see the kidney and distinguish the blood vessels feeding the kidney from those vessels supplying the tumor. Then surgeons can remove cancerous tissue with greater accuracy while preserving as much healthy kidney as possible — and most important — enabling patients to retain their kidney function after surgery.
Treating cancer with noninvasive energy waves: MRI-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) is a new low-risk treatment option with great potential to become a leading cancer therapy, especially for patients unable to receive surgery or radiation due to the high risks. City of Hope is one of only a few centers in the United States studying this technology for patients with prostate cancer.
Ultrasound consists of energy waves that become heat in the body and “ablate,” or remove, tissue. Using MRgFUS, the doctor directs a focused beam of ultrasound to destroy a tumor, while sparing the surrounding tissue. MRI)and thermal mapping allow physicians to track the ablation’s progress in real-time. This noninvasive treatment allows patients to heal faster, without the long-term side effects of radiation, chemotherapy or other pharmacologic therapies. And because focused ultrasound does not use ionizing radiation, it can be repeated as needed to reduce the likelihood of any tumor cells being left behind.
Jeffery Wong, M.D., professor and chair of radiation oncology, and his colleagues are looking into possible benefits for patients with prostate cancer. City of Hope is the first center in the U.S. to treat patients with localized, slow-growing prostate cancer using MRgFUS. With promising results, a clinical trial is now underway to treat 40 patients at leading cancer centers across the country. Wong is the primary investigator for this nationwide trial.
Treating the whole person through patient-centered care
Helping patients make important care decisions: The Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center hosted its first observance of National Healthcare Decisions Day in April 2014, with another observance planned for April 2015.
Over the past few years, the Biller Patient and Family Resource Center has promoted advance care planning, discussing with patients their goals for treatment and their wishes about end-of-life care. The center's staff featured the simple tool GoWish, a card game designed to help patients, families and physicians approach conversations about end-of-life care.
The four-hour National Healthcare Decisions Day event was attended by more than 300 people, including patients, caregivers, family members and City of Hope professional staff, with resounding positive feedback and requests for additional events to be held throughout the year.
Teaching couples how to cope: In response to research that shows that one of the most important factors in helping women cope with cancer is the presence of a supportive partner, City of Hope’s Department of Supportive Care Medicine has pioneered Couples Coping with Cancer Together.
This program, which supports both women battling breast cancer and their partners, was born out of an innovative strengths-based couple intervention pilot program called Partners’ Clinic, led by Matthew Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., Liliane Elkins Professor in Supportive Care Programs, and Courtney Bitz, L.C.S.W.
Now Bitz is translating information gathered from the Partners’ Clinic to build a new model program for patient and partner support and education. Couples Coping with Cancer Together reframes cancer as an opportunity for couples to grow closer and stronger. Facing challenges — armed with an openness to learn how to express emotions and support each other in a new way — can actually strengthen relationships instead of deplete them.
Addressing quality of life for patients and their caregivers: Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education, is leading several National Cancer Institute-funded studies to understand how to help patients and their caregivers experience the highest quality of life possible during and after treatment. In one study, Ferrell is testing a model of comprehensive care for patients with lung cancer and their family caregivers that extends across all phases of the disease. She intends to share the model widely with other cancer centers.
Major institutes established
Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute: In 2014, City of Hope established the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute at City of Hope, building upon the research and care initiatives that have made the institution a world leader in the treatment of patients with blood cancers. The institute also galvanizes a transformational model that will strengthen City of Hope's mission to develop more powerful therapies and cures for patients everywhere.
It is composed of: the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research, the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center, the Center for Multiple Myeloma Research, the Center for Stem Cell Transplantation and the Center for T Cell Immunotherapy. Researchers and clinicians across the institute are focusing on novel ways to integrate a variety of approaches to fighting the most costly and difficult illnesses of the 21st century.
Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute: With an estimated one in three people in the U.S. projected to be diagnosed with diabetes by 2050, the need for visionary research is more crucial than ever. That is why City of Hope has established the new Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute with a $60 million investment.
The institute will provide additional infrastructure and resources to significantly expand basic and translational research. Arthur Riggs, Ph.D., serves as director of the institute, and Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D., is associate director. With the Diabetes & Metabolism Research Institute, City of Hope is poised to continue its strong leadership worldwide in advancing the understanding and treatment of diabetes and its complications.
City of Hope welcomes new faculty
Guido Marcucci, M.D., joins City of Hope as the new director of the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research within the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.
An internationally acclaimed hematologist-oncologist, Marcucci has expertise in treating patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and other malignancies. He has received numerous competitive NCI grants for his clinical and research work focused on how AML develops, as well as on prognostic assessment and treatment of the disease.
Widely published, Marcucci currently serves on the editorial board of three journals, including Blood and the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Marcucci comes to City of Hope from The Ohio State University (OSU) Comprehensive Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio, where he held The Charles Austin Doan Chair of Medicine at OSU’s College of Medicine, and was the associate director for translational research at the cancer center.
City of Hope is also proud to welcome Yuman Fong, M.D. as chair of surgery and associate director for international relations. Previously the Murray F. Brennan Chair in Surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Fong has been a pioneer both in the operating room and in the laboratory, crafting new surgical techniques and instruments, and creating entirely new treatment methods. Especially notable is his track record of launching human clinical trials of genetically modified viruses with the potential to fight cancer.
Fong has written more than 600 peer-reviewed articles, including more than 200 basic scientific articles, and over 350 clinically oriented peer-reviewed publications. As a principal investigator, Fong has received grant support continuously over the past 17 years, mostly from the NIH, and has been awarded five patents related to his work.
Fong’s superb abilities as a physician and surgeon, his commitment to educating our future surgeons and his remarkable creativity and productivity as a researcher all make him an ideal leader for City of Hope’s second century of discovery and care.
A new clinic dedicated to diabetes patients: As part of City of Hope’s mission to provide the most innovative and compassionate care to people coping with diabetes and other metabolic diseases, the institution recently established the new Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism Clinic.
Located on the lower level of the Geri & Richard Brawerman Ambulatory Care Center, the 3,320 square-foot clinic provides eight patient exam rooms, two treatment rooms, three consultation offices, advanced technology and dedicated work spaces for physicians and nurses, all in an aesthetic atmosphere that aims to put patients and their families at ease during treatment.
Kaplan Family Pavilion opens: This past November, City of Hope donors, faculty and staff celebrated the opening of the Arthur & Rosalie Kaplan Family Pavilion. Adjacent to the Visitor Center, La Kretz House of Hope and Platt Conference Center, and at the edge of Pioneer Park, the Kaplan Family Pavilion sits at the heart of City of Hope’s entertainment, reception and conference core.
This important facility provides a setting to preserve the heritage of the last hundred years, and reinvigorates our commitment to this institution’s mission and the challenges of the next hundred years. With the support of generous friends and industry donors, the Kaplan Family Pavilion consists of courtyards and a concert venue, along with multimedia, conference and presentation rooms.
The power of your support
Throughout City of Hope’s history, our goal has always been to provide excellent medical care that acknowledges the dignity of those in need. With your support, you are helping to pursue new ideas for powerful therapies — making a demonstrable difference in the way diseases are both treated and prevented. Thank you for joining us as we realize the next century of hope and discovery for millions of patients around the world.
Learn more about how to give to City of Hope.
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