Reshma Mahtani, DO

Funded by Hooters

Our research project focuses on improving the lives of women battling breast cancer by increasing their participation in clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies that help us find better ways to treat cancer. Right now, breast cancer is a big concern, especially for Black and Hispanic women. We want to change that.

We plan to host special events in South Florida where women can learn about clinical trials in a simple way. We will have experts talking about what clinical trials are, who can join, and what the benefits and drawbacks might be. These events will be in different counties like Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. We know each place has its own challenges and needs, so we’re adapting our approach to help as many women as possible.

Not many women join clinical trials, which means we don’t learn enough about new treatments. Our project aims to change this by reaching out to communities and making sure everyone has the right information. We especially want to help women from backgrounds that haven’t had many chances to be part of research.

Our goal is to make these events easy to understand and welcoming. We’ll even provide information in Spanish for our Hispanic community. By doing this, we hope to inspire more women to join clinical trials. The research we do together could lead to better treatments and better chances of beating breast cancer. We’re excited about the possibility of helping more women survive and feel better during their fight against cancer.

Brian Czerniecki, MD, PhD

Funded by Hooters

In patients with hormone positive breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body eventually the cancer can stop responding to hormone blocking pills and their cancer starts to grow again.  In this project we will develop vaccines that eliminate breast cancer cells that no longer respond to hormone blocking pills. This will cause the remaining breast cancer cells start responding again to hormone blockers.  The result of these vaccines would be that those patients with hormone positive breast cancer will have a much longer time where that the hormone blocking medication would work. The immune response would also help to kill more of the breast cancer cells. This should mean that patients will live much longer with hormone positive breast cancer that has spread. This research will be tested first in mice and then in patients with hormone positive breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.

Manmeet Ahluwalia, MD, MBA, FASCO

Funded by Hooters

We are testing a drug, tucatinib with a form of focused radiation called stereotactic radiosurgery for a type of breast cancer (HER2-positive) that affects 20-25% of breast cancer cases when it spreads to the brain.

This study will help find out if the combination of tucatinib and radiation is safe and if patients can tolerate it well without too many side effects.

About 40 patients with this type of breast cancer that has spread to the brain will be part of the study. First, they will receive the drug tucatinib along with the focused radiation treatment. After that, they will continue taking tucatinib along with two other medicines called capecitabine and trastuzumab. These three medicines are already used as the standard treatment and have been effective for patients like these. Patients will receive this combination until their tumor grows back or if there are serious side effects.

This study will also help find out the correct dose of tucatinib to use. Additionally, the study will answer how well the treatment works and how it affects brain function.

Tracy Crane, PhD

Funded in partnership with Miami Dolphins Foundation

Lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in the United States. People who are diagnosed with lymphoma often receive chemotherapy treatment, which can cause a lot of physical and emotional side effects. Although lymphoma is common, not that much is known about how nutrition or physical activity could help lymphoma patients.

Because so little is known, this research study plans to first explore if nutrition and exercise is something that lymphoma patients are interested in and able to do during chemotherapy. Secondly, this research study will look into whether the nutrition and exercise plan helped patients with the side effects of chemotherapy on their body, mind, and quality of life.

Patricia Moreno, PhD

Funded in partnership with Miami Dolphins Foundation

Our goal is to make sure all women with cancer get medical care that is consistent with what is important to them, no matter their race and ethnicity. To do this, we will work together with community health workers, who are trusted professionals that help connect people from their communities to medical care through education, support, and advocacy. Our past research shows that community health workers want to help cancer patients get the right care. They can do this by having conversations about advance care planning, which is a way for patients to think about the kind of medical care they would want if they became too sick to speak for themselves. However, community health workers need more training to have these conversations with patients. We will create a program to teach community health workers how to help patients with advance care planning. Next, we will improve the program by getting feedback from community health workers and making changes based on their suggestions. Finally, we will test this program by having community health workers have advance care planning conversations with cancer patients based on what they learned. We will then get feedback from both the patients they talk to and the community health workers to find out whether these conversations were useful. In the future, community health workers could work together with doctors to make sure that cancer patients get the right medical care so that they live as well as possible during their cancer journey.

Aditi Dhir, MD

Funded in partnership with Miami Dolphins Foundation

Sarcomas are cancers of the bone and muscles, often seen in children and young adults, which are very hard to treat with very few patients surviving. Our aim is to improve treatment options for these patients. A vaccine trial using patient’s dendritic cells which are a type of immune cells, modified to identify and attack the individualized cancer was conducted at Sylvester comprehensive cancer center in 2019. Surprisingly, we noted good response in a few patients, who remain cancer free over 2 years from receiving the vaccine treatment. Therefore, the aim of this research proposal is to study the immune/non-immune cells of the surgically removed tumors and blood of patients treated on this trial. Using special high-resolution imaging methods in which key immune markers are tagged in the tissue, we will describe the immune cells in each patient’s cancer environment and correlate these to whether the patient did or did not respond to the cancer vaccine. We will also measure key immune cells in the blood of these patients collected after vaccine treatment and compare this with response to the vaccine. These detailed immune studies on patient tissue and blood samples will then guide future anti-sarcoma cancer vaccines and potential immune cell therapy to cure these aggressive cancers.

Brian Czerniecki, MD, PhD

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States and second leading cause of cancer death. When a woman is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) (cancer that has spread to other parts of the body) she has a less than 30% chance of surviving 5 years.  These statistics remain despite decades of research and many new treatments for MBC. This suggests that we need better ways to administer drugs for MBC.

Hormone receptor positive (HR+) breast cancer is fed or fueled by estrogen and progesterone, the natural hormones of the body. HR+ MBC is initially treated with drugs that block the estrogen and progesterone production in the body. However, eventually cancer cells can become “resistant” to these hormone blocker drugs, most commonly by developing a “mutation” in the receptor of estrogen called ESR1. Once this mutation develops, the treatment is more challenging and usually involves use of chemotherapy which can lead to patients feeling sick and having multiple side effects from treatment.

In this proposal we plan to enroll HR+ MBC patients who have already developed an ESR1 mutation and offer a novel way of targeting this mutation. This will help extend time on treatment with minor side effects and possibly increase survival. We will do so by creating vaccines out of their own immune system that will allow them to wake up and engage in the fight against their cancer. This treatment will be combined with standard of care hormone blocking therapy.

Neha Goel, MD

Funded in partnership with Miami Dolphins Foundation

Women who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods experience shorter breast cancer survival rates. One cause may be stress from social adversity. Social adversity includes exposure to violent crime, poverty, housing instability, and more. Studies have shown that this stress can lead to gene responses that increase inflammation and depress immune response. This can result in higher rates of metastasis (the spread of cancer cells to another part of the body) and shorter breast cancer survival. Previous research from our team has found that women in disadvantaged neighborhoods show these gene responses associated with worse outcomes. This study builds on this past research with a population that is both larger and more diverse. It will validate our previous findings and help us begin to identify how neighborhood disadvantage, stress, and more aggressive genes are related. It will set the stage for future interventions that can address this negative impact and reduce disparities in breast cancer survival rates.

Patricia Jones, MD, MSCR

Funded in partnership with Miami Dolphins Foundation

Liver cancer is deadly. Hepatocellular Carcinoma, or HCC, is the most common type of liver cancer. There are significant racial differences (disparities) in how long people with HCC survive. Black people with liver cancer do not live as long as White people. Also, Black patients are less likely to receive treatment. Previous studies have been unable to explain why these differences exist. We started a research study to learn about various factors that might contribute to these disparities. When we approach patients to participate, many say that they are too overwhelmed. Some patients do not understand what is happening when they are first diagnosed. In this study, we will ask patients and caregivers what needs we might be able to help with. We will also ask healthcare staff and patient advocates to identify what needs patients have. Together with patients, caregivers, advocates and medical staff, we will create a program that helps high-risk patients to navigate the health care system and provides extra support to the patients who need it most. This study is unique because we will train lay people to work as navigators, rather than nurses. By building a relationship between the patient and navigator, we will be better able to meet our patients’ needs. We expect this program to increase the number of patients that come to their appointments and get cancer treatment. This program may increase patients’ willingness to participate in research studies, which could dramatically improve our ability to understand and eliminate disparities in survival.

Maria Figueroa, MD

Funded in partnership with Miami Dolphins Foundation

Like computers, the cells that make up our bodies also have specialized ‘software’ that runs their specific functions. When cells in the blood become cancerous -known as leukemia-, they hijack this biological software. By doing this, the leukemia cells can grow very fast and quickly multiply. Despite the many different types of leukemia that exist, they all share certain defects in their biological software. We call these shared defects a ‘biological common denominator’ across all of them. As part of this biological common denominator of leukemia we have identified the abnormal loss of PDZD2. Although PDZD2 is a gene capable of stopping the growth of other types of cancers it has never been studied in leukemia. Normally, PDZD2 is present in healthy blood cells. However, when blood cells become malignant, they lose PDZD2. We will explore how loss of PDZD2 helps turn healthy blood cells into leukemia. Importantly, we will determine if treatment of cells with a synthetic version of PDZD2 can help stop the growth of leukemia cells. Our long-term goal is to develop a novel way to treat patients with leukemia. We expect that this synthetic PDZD2 will kill the leukemia cells while having no effect on healthy blood cells.

Mailing List Mailing List
Close Mailing List