Penn State Cancer Institute Advances Clinical Research for AML Treatment Paradigm

For more than 20 years, Shin Mineishi, MD, director of the blood and marrow transplant program at Penn State Cancer Institute, had treated acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) according to the long-established paradigm focusing on allogeneic stem cell transplant. In the past five years, however, he has begun to see a shift in that paradigm with transplantation being the center piece of a larger treatment sequence. The new approach emphasizes pre-transplant therapy and post-transplant maintenance together with the transplant itself to improve the transplant outcome. Over the next several years, Dr. Mineishi and his colleagues at the Cancer Institute will be conducting numerous trials to test aspects of this new paradigm.

The new paradigm of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) treatment, illustrating the importance of post-transplantation maintenance therapy following hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).
The new paradigm of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) treatment, illustrating the importance of post-transplantation maintenance therapy following hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT).

Continue reading “Penn State Cancer Institute Advances Clinical Research for AML Treatment Paradigm”

Clinicians, Researchers Probe Link Between Cholesterol Synthesis Pathway and Disruption of Cancer Metabolism

When the first commercial statin was FDA-approved in 1986 for the treatment of elevated cholesterol, researchers began to investigate what other effects the compound might have. For the past three years, researchers at Penn State Cancer Institute have continued their investigation into the effects of statins in the treatment of cancer, studying the use of the isoprenoid pathway modulators, which are responsible for the synthesis of cholesterol. Raymond J. Hohl, MD, PhD, director, Penn State Cancer Institute, and medicinal chemist Jeffrey D. Neighbors, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, are currently engaged in multiple research efforts. One of these is a preclinical study funded by the Four Diamonds Foundation examining the smaller isoprenoid geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate (GGPP) synthase inhibitors as potential treatments for osteosarcoma, a pediatric cancer. Continue reading “Clinicians, Researchers Probe Link Between Cholesterol Synthesis Pathway and Disruption of Cancer Metabolism”

Upgraded Gamma Knife Technology Treats Previously Inaccessible Brain Tumors

Frameless option now available

Photo of Leskell Icon Gammaknife
The Leksell Gamma Knife® Icon™ uses a motion-tracking mask, an alternative to the head frame, that allows for new treatment options that were not possible in the past.

Treatment of malignant brain tumors can now be performed via precision radiosurgery using a flexible, removable mask placed over the face. This type of motion tracking technology has long been used to treat other types of cancers, such as lung and liver. This fall, Penn State Cancer Institute was one of the first in the country to utilize a new upgrade for Leksell Gamma Knife® Icon™ radiosurgery, using a motion-tracking mask in addition to the conventional headframe option. The radiation sources and beam technology are unchanged. According to James McInerney, MD, professor of neurosurgery, “By adding an alternative to the head frame, it allows for new treatment options that were not possible in the past.” This translates into hope for patients who had certain types of brain tumors that might have had fewer options before, due to challenges with precise access to certain tumors. Continue reading “Upgraded Gamma Knife Technology Treats Previously Inaccessible Brain Tumors”

Population Sciences to Develop Survivorship Program and Advance Research

As associate director of population sciences at the Penn State Cancer Institute, Kathryn H. Schmitz, PhD, MPH, is creating a thriving survivorship program. This program dovetails with Dr. Schmitz’s interest in clinical care and research combining exercise training and nutritional counseling in a behavioral oncology clinic. As such, she plans to conduct several studies on the effects of exercise on chemotoxicity in cancer patients.

Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, seated, and her team demonstrate the equipment available in the Exercise Medicine Unit.
Kathryn Schmitz, PhD, seated, and her team demonstrate the equipment available in the Exercise Medicine Unit.

“One of the most exciting things to me about the Penn State Cancer Institute is the environment of openness and excitement about combining changes in clinical care with research enterprises,” Dr. Schmitz states. In shaping her research strategy for Penn State Cancer Institute, Dr. Schmitz plans to draw on her prior experience studying the effects of exercise on women with elevated risk for breast cancer.1 She also transferred her Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Center grant, an open IRB protocol, from the University of Pennsylvania to Penn State Cancer Institute. The TREC initiative is a scientific research program created by the National Cancer Institute in 2005 to reduce cancers associated with obesity, poor diet and low levels of physical activity.2 Continue reading “Population Sciences to Develop Survivorship Program and Advance Research”

Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium: Leveraging Scientific and Clinical Expertise in the Fight Against Cancer

Penn State Cancer Institute has joined forces with the nationwide Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium (BTCRC), an organization that pools resources from 12 major educational institutions. Without the bureaucracy typically associated with larger cooperative groups, the BTCRC strives to advance the fight against cancer with greater speed and agility.

Overall study schema for Concurrent Durvalumab and Radiation Therapy
Overall study schema for Concurrent Durvalumab and Radiation Therapy (DUART) Followed by Adjuvant Durvalumab in Patients with Urothelial Cancer (T2-4 N0-2 M0) of the Bladder

This is evidenced in the ability of members to share their resources for clinical trial research, benefiting patients of member institutions by allowing them to gain access to clinical trials being conducted throughout the Consortium. The BTCRC was first established in 2011, and all current members, including Penn State Cancer Institute, were members by 2013. It arose as a result of the diminishing research opportunities for junior faculty and greater demands to pre-screen large populations to identify small, molecularly-enriched subsets.1 “Our membership in BTCRC allows access to new research ideas, often proposed by more junior investigators, in front of a national audience far more quickly than would otherwise be possible,” says Raymond Hohl, MD, PhD, director, Penn State Cancer Institute. Continue reading “Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium: Leveraging Scientific and Clinical Expertise in the Fight Against Cancer”

Groundbreaking Research Demonstrates New Mode of Carcinogenesis Hope for Far Less Toxic Treatment

An immunofluorescent image displaying two distinct subclonal populations of cells (red and green) that may cooperate in this chimeric tumor.
This immunofluorescent image shows two distinct subclonal populations of cells (red and green) that may cooperate in this chimeric tumor. (Image reprinted with permission from Allison Cleary and Edward Gunther.)

Penn State Cancer Institute has established a novel mode of breast carcinogenesis by discovering how communication between genetically distinct subclones contributes to tumor growth in Wnt-driven mammary cancers, a widely used murine breast cancer model.1 Although subsequent studies also have described cooperative interactions between certain tumor cell subpopulations, suggesting subclonal cooperation may be a common mechanism for the maintenance of tumor cell heterogeneity, this study, published in Nature, was the first to recognize the possible relationship. “As cancer biologists and clinicians have long known, cancers evolve,” says Edward J. Gunther, MD, professor of medicine, Penn State Cancer Institute. “But this idea that there are multiple subclones evolving in concert is new. Eventually, this broadened understanding will lead to a further evolution of cancer treatment strategies.” Continue reading “Groundbreaking Research Demonstrates New Mode of Carcinogenesis Hope for Far Less Toxic Treatment”

Group Unites Research and Clinical Care: Gynecologic Malignancy Specialists, Scientists, Nurses Work Together for Patient-Centered Solutions

Schematic of gynecologic malignancies group, with the patient at the center.
Schematic of gynecologic malignancies group, with the patient at the center.

Despite advances in surgical and chemotherapeutic options, patients with gynecologic malignancies continue to have poor survival statistics.1 This will only be improved when basic research translates into clinical practice and research focus is informed by actual clinical needs, believes Rébécca Phaëton, MD, assistant professor, gynecologic oncology, Penn State Cancer Institute. Dr. Phaëton and colleague, Nadine Hempel, PhD, associate professor, pharmacology, have started a gynecologic malignancies working group (GMG) at Penn State Cancer Institute to enhance interactions between clinical and basic researchers, and to utilize cross-disciplinary research resources, including pre-clinical disease models and clinical specimens, and patient data. Continue reading “Group Unites Research and Clinical Care: Gynecologic Malignancy Specialists, Scientists, Nurses Work Together for Patient-Centered Solutions”