Hatem Soliman, MD

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

The goal of this project is to understand experiences of racial and ethnic minority patients with cancer with clinical trials. This is an important topic because racial and ethnic diversity in cancer clinical trials is low. This project will help us to understand difficulties patients have in joining clinical trials. It will also help us to understand reasons that make participating in a trial easier for patients. This project will allow patients to share their views on steps we can take to improve diversity in our trials. We will also compare feedback from medical oncologists and trial coordinators. This project will lead to the creation of an intervention to address to issues identified in this study. If successful, our goal will be to test out intervention in other settings.

Ronny Bell, PhD

Funded by the 2021 Victory Ride to Cure Cancer

Dr. Ronny Bell is a Professor in the Department of Social Sciences and Health Policy at the Wake Forest School of Medicine and Director of the Office of Cancer Health Equity at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Bell’s research focuses on disparities that impact health outcomes and health care access for racial/ethnic minority and underserved populations.

Florencia McAllister, M.D.

Pancreatic cancer is the 3rd leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, with a five-year survival rate of less than 9 percent. Activation of the immune response in the microenvironment is associated with better outcomes in pancreatic cancer patients. The tumor and gut microbiota has recently been shown to influence tumor progression by modulating the tumor microenvironment.

We have recently demonstrated that the composition of the gut microbiome may determine tumor behavior and outcomes in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) patients. We have identified specific bacteria signatures in the tumors of long-term survivors (LTS) compared to the stage-matched- short-term survivors (STS). We have also shown that transplantation of fecal microbiome from LTS or healthy controls of pancreatic cancer patients into a mouse model of PDAC significantly reduces pancreatic cancer growth. These important findings prompted us to target tumor microbiome as a therapeutic approach in pancreatic cancer patients. Here, we propose to transplant stools from PDAC long term survivals or healthy controls into PDAC patient to change their immune suppressive behavior to immunoactivated one. To this end, we will first analyze the changes in microbiome of PDAC patients after the transplantation of gut microbiome from long term survivals or health controls. Next, we will evaluate the tissue obtained from biopsy and surgical specimen for the changes in tumor microbiome of PDAC patients. Finally, we will characterize the tumor immune infiltrates from tissues obtained from PDAC patients to see if we can switch PDAC immunosuppressive TME into immunoactivated by fecal microbial transplantation. This proposal would be the stepping stone to move forward efficacy trials in PDAC patients combining FMT with standard treatment or immunotherapy.

James Ford, M.D.

Funded in partnership with the Goldberg Family Foundation

We need better tools to screen for and diagnose cancer earlier and at a curable stage in individuals that carry inherited mutations such as BRCA1/2 and other cancer susceptibility genes that put them at high risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, pancreatic and other cancersWe propose to use powerful new approaches for “next-generation” DNA sequencing from standard blood samples to identify circulating tumor DNA mutations as a very sensitive marker of early cancers in high-risk individuals.  These “liquid biopsies may prove to be a far easier and more sensitive way to screen for cancer than our current imaging based approaches using mammograms, MRI’s, etc.  To this end, we have been collecting blood samples from our genetically high-risk patients with and without cancer, and before and after prophylactic or cancer surgeries, for liquid-biopsy analyses using technology developed at Stanford.   

Michael Zinner, M.D.

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

The healthcare landscape has dramatically changed in South Florida, and we welcome you to be a partner in this transformation. Miami Cancer Institute at Baptist Health South Florida opened its doors in 2016 and is now seeing nearly 1,200 patients per day. The Institute, supported by a clinical and research alliance with Memorial Sloan Kettering, one of the leading academic cancer centers in the world, grants our patients access to the most advanced clinical trials for breast cancer. Patient accrual remains a huge challenge in clinical research, and the grant will go towards supporting recruitment for the important studies which in many cases, may give patients access to new therapies that are not yet readily available. The Institute will be proactive with the creation of recruitment materials as part of a well-coordinated campaign to address all aspects of enrollment as well as presenting information in an easy to understand and honest way including translation of all materials into Spanish. It is our goal to track enrollment efforts and adjust accordingly to what works best for our patient base and the community we serve. The mission of the breast clinical trial enrollment program is to provide innovative, patient centered cancer care through access to cutting edge treatments.

Michael Weber, Ph.D.

The goals of “precision medicine” in cancer are (1) to identify the molecules that drive
the cancer and (2) develop “smart drugs” that block these drivers. These “smart drugs”
should stop the cancer but not be toxic. Many “smart drugs” have been developed, but
the cancer cells adapt and find escape routes. We get many hopeful “responses” to
therapy but disappointingly few “cures.” Our research identifies escape routes that
cancer cells use to evade death, and then uses additional drugs to block the escape
from treatment.

Our approach is already showing success in treating a blood cancer called Mantle Cell
Lymphoma. One of our combinations is causing complete responses in over half the
patients we treat. Unfortunately, many cases show resistance to our drugs, even
though the patients had never previously seen them. We are researching the ways that
cancer cells become resistant to these powerful drug combinations. Our goal is to
achieve deeper responses to therapy and turn the frequent “responses” into genuine

Hatem Soliman, M.D.

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

Only a small percentage of patients with cancer in the US enroll on to clinical trials. This is creating a bottleneck for the development of new treatments.  Efforts to improve how patients are identified for clinical trials are important to overcome this problem.  One such effort which is showing promise is to use an individual known as a “pre-screener” to aid the clinical team in identifying eligible patients. The pre-screener functions as an extra set of eyes to review information generated from our electronic medical record as their records come in from referring physicians.  They will be trained to look for patients meeting certain eligibility criteria and then notify the clinical team about the matches ahead of their visit. This will allow the team to better prepare and notify the coordinator for the study to be available at that time. The pre-screener will also serve as a resource for patients using our clinical trial education center in the clinic waiting area to help them navigate through the available information to identify a potential trial option to discuss with their physician during their visit.

Michael Kastan, M.D., Ph.D.

The Duke Cancer Institute and the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C. State University formed a Comparative Oncology Consortium (COC), taking advantage of their expertise and national leadership in their respective disciplines and their geographic proximity. The goals are to collaborate in pre-clinical and clinical cancer research activities in order to advance our understanding of both cancer causation (a high incidence of specific cancers in specific dog breeds provides opportunities to identify new cancer susceptibility genes and environmental factors in cancer causation) and of behaviors and genetics of specific tumor types, as well as to coordinate clinical trials in humans and canines so that novel therapies can be tested in both settings, with information gained in one setting informing the other. In addition to response outcomes of these cancer therapies, the ability to use biomarkers and pharmacology in the canine models can be a novel addition to the characterization of these new cancer therapies and these insights could result in significant enhancements of clinical trial designs (including dosing, scheduling, and combination therapies) when these treatments are tested in human clinical trials. Cost savings and improved clinical trials design would help encourage pharmaceutical companies to use the canine models as part of the assessment process and would benefit the canine patients by giving them access to these novel therapies.

Yong Zhang, Ph.D.

V Scholar Plus Award – extended funding for exceptional V Scholars

Cancer cells contain a set of highly active proteins. They can add small groups to a series of target proteins. These uncommon additions are often linked with tumors found in breast, liver, and other tissues. To date, it is still unclear how those aberrant additions cause cancer. To answer this question, it is crucial to know all the interaction targets for the additions in cancer cells. But no method has been made available to resolve this key issueIn this project we are aimed to create an innovative platform to achieve this goalOur research plan will use chemistry and biotechnology to make new tools for target identification. A particular member in this group will be chosen for this work. Because it shows much higher activities in diverse types of cancerThe full range of interacting targets for this protein will be clearly determinedMoreover, the patterns and levels of such interactions in cancer cells can be precisely measured by our creative approach. These findings will unveil the interaction networks of this cancerous protein to guide our further studies. The fundamental knowledge obtained from this work will advance our understanding of cancerImportantly, it will foster the development of new approaches for cancer detection and treatment. 

Yuliya Pylayeva-Gupta, Ph.D.

V Scholar Plus Award – extended funding for exceptional V Scholars

Pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive disease. It is the 3rd leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA. Only 8% of patients who can undergo surgery will survive past five years. Late diagnosis and lack of good treatment options are some of the reasons for this outcome. Recent progress in cancer immune therapy showed effect in cancers such as relapsed leukemia and metastatic melanoma. Unfortunately, immune therapy was not effective in patients with pancreatic cancer. One explanation for this result is that pancreatic cancer blocks immune responses against cancer. Thus, understanding how cancer promotes immune suppression is vital to our ability to treat this deadly disease. Our initial work has revealed that B cells promote growth of pancreatic cancer and resistance to immunotherapy. However, it is not clear how B cells promote cancer growth, and how targeting these cells can benefit patients. We propose to understand how B cells function in pancreatic cancer. The goal of this research project is to find new targets that can block immune suppression in pancreatic cancer. Using both mouse models of pancreatic cancer and patient samples, we hope to identify B cell based targets in pancreatic cancer. We ultimately hope to translate our findings into effective therapies that may also work with existing immune therapy treatments.

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