Stephanie Correa, Ph.D.

V Scholar Plus Award – extended funding for exceptional V Scholars

Tamoxifen is an extremely effective drug for patients with estrogen sensitive breast cancer but it comes with a variety of side effects, including hot flashes. We use mice to test if symptoms similar to hot flashes are mediated by the effects of tamoxifen on the brain. We study a region of the brain that is very sensitive to estrogen and controls body temperature. We have identified differences in this region that are associated with changes in body temperature during tamoxifen treatment. Our immediate goal is to test if we can use this knowledge to block temperature changes in mice receiving tamoxifen. Our hope is that these studies could one day help us reduce hot flashes and improve the lives of breast cancer patients and survivors.

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.

Judith Villablanca, M.D.

Funded by the Dick Vitale Pediatric Cancer Research Fund

Only half of children with neuroblastoma that is found to be “high-risk” (HR-NB) live after getting the best known treatments. To change this, we need to know what makes HR-NB grow, and find new targets to attack. The New Approaches to Neuroblastoma Therapy (NANT) (www.nant.org) is a team of doctors working with patients and/or in labs to find new treatment ideas and test them in children whose tumor didn’t go away after getting the best known treatments. If NANT’s new treatments are safe and make some tumors get smaller, they are then tested in more children to see if the new treatment is better than the best-known treatments. A little blood, bone marrow, and tumor are also taken from patients on NANT treatments to study in labs to see why our new idea did or didn’t work, and how we can make them better. There are 18 NANT hospitals in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. NANT is the only group working only on new/better HR-NB treatments.  This grant will support NANT doctors, labs, and the people who work in the NANT office to quickly take new ideas from labs and turn them into treatments being given to children with HR-NB. It also helps us to store patient samples so they can be used to keep finding new and better ideas. Our goal is to find safe treatments that will help more children with HR-NB to live.

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.   

Karen Winkfield, M.D., Ph.D.

Funded by the 2019 Victory Ride to Cure Cancer

African Americans have the highest percentage of new cancer cases in the United States and the worst outcomes. Other diverse populations have difficulty getting to a cancer treatment center or need help figuring out the system one they arrive. Some people die from cancers that can be prevented or treated, simply because they are not aware of all of the treatment options. Cancer care can be very difficult because many times a patient has more than one doctor who is part of their care team. This can be scary and may make some people choose not to get cancer treatment, even if they can be cured. WFBCCC wants to make sure that everyone has access to the best cancer care possible. This may include patients participating in research that may improve outcomes for them but also may help provide information that can help tailor treatments for the next generation of cancer patients. It is important to make sure all populations are represented in studies that look at new treatments or supports for cancer patients. To meet that goal, we created a population health navigator program- people who are from the community who can help people learn about cancer, how to prevent it, what screening is required and what treatments are available. If someone is diagnosed with cancer, the navigator will assist that person by helping to remove barriers to care and will talk with patients about clinical research as part of their care.

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
“cures.”

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.

Pavani Chalasani, M.D.

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

The goal of “Campaign to Improve Access to Clinical Trials” at the University of Arizona Cancer Center (UACC) is to increase the clinical trial access to a diverse population in Arizona. Dr. Chalasani, Breast Cancer Disease Oriented Team Leader, will oversee the campaign to improves access by involving the breast multidisciplinary team, patient navigators and physician liaisons to develop educational materials and outreach programs. Patients and community physicians will be targeted through proposed outreach programs by developing targeted educational materials. Materials and training will be provided to introduce and educate about clinical trials to patients early by various members of their cancer team. The goal of this campaign is to become a model for other disease teams and cancer centers to implement to improve clinical trial enrollment.

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.

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