Hanlee Ji, M.D.

Funded by Gastric Cancer Foundation

My research interest is cancer genetics with an emphasis on clinically relevant questions that will improve our understanding of the cancer genetics of clinical phenotype and simultaneously improve patient care in oncology.  I have extensive bench research experience in the fields of genome sequencing technology development, human genetic analysis through human genome sequencing and molecular assay development.  My research benefits from the various innovations in genomic and genetic technologies that my group has developed. 

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.

Stephen Mack, PhD

Funded by Mark and Cindy Pentecost in memory of Chika Jeune

Pediatric brain tumors are the most common cause of cancer related death in children. Diffuse midline glioma (DMG), a type of childhood brain tumor, is universally fatal. Our lab has demonstrated in mouse models that DMG is responsive to two classes of treatments known as epigenetic and metabolic therapies. A major challenge in patients, however, is that single drugs are unlikely to be effective against this highly aggressive malignancy. Our grant proposal seeks to test the efficacy and biology of a combinatorial treatment of three drugs against DMG in an effort to generate pre-clinical data which could be potentially advanced to clinical trials in patients. In addition, our grant seeks to understand how these therapies influences the population of cells within a given tumor that may confer therapeutic resistance. We envision that these therapeutic and molecular insights will advance our understanding of DMG and lead to novel treatment paradigms.

Michael Verneris, MD & Steven Dow, DVM, PhD

Funded by the 2019 Wine Celebration Fund a Need for Canine Comparative Oncology

Osteosarcoma (OS) is a common and devastating cancer of the bone which occurs in both dogs and humans. Upon diagnosis, the majority of dogs require amputation and chemotherapy.  Despite this, most relapse within a year of diagnosis.  In humans, OS is the most common bone tumor of adolescents and young adults (AYA). Pediatric and AYA patients with metastatic OS at diagnosis or who relapse after frontline therapy have an extraordinarily poor prognosis, with only a 20-30% survival at 5-years.  Despite concerted attempts, these outcomes have not changed in >25 years.   

Due to similarities in genetics, biologic behavior and treatment responses, canine OS is considered the best model of pediatric and AYA OS. We have used this model to investigate new immunotherapies and some of these have been translated into human trials (NCT03900793).  In preliminary studies, we have determined that canine OS overexpress a protein known as B7-H3, which is absent in normal dog tissues (heart, liver, brain, kidney and spleen).  We also find that both dog and human OS are infiltrated with tumor associated macrophage (TAM), which suppress immune responses to the tumor.  The Dow lab has designed and tested methods to deplete these TAMs and the Verneris lab has been testing ways to target B7H3 using cellular immunotherapy with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs).  Here, we will bring these two approaches together to test whether the improve outcomes in rodent xenograft models and in pet dogs with macroscopic pulmonary OS metastases in a clinical trial at CSU 

Sascha Tuchman, MD, MHS

Funded by the 2020 Victory Ride to Cure Cancer

African Americans develop a form of blood cancer called multiple myeloma more often than Caucasians. On average, African Americans live less long with it. That may be in part because African Americans take part in clinical trials less often. Clinical trials are studies designed to develop new treatment drugs. Those trials can sometimes help people to live longer with this illness. We are trying to improve how many take part in clinical trials at UNC. We are creating an easier, more comfortable doctors’ office to get care at and take part in trials at UNC. We are making it easier for African American researchers at UNC to work on this important issue. We will make a video that shows what clinical research is. It will show why it can be helpful to take part in research. The video will be shown to African Americans and other patients treated at UNC. The UNC team will compare how many African Americans join multiple myeloma trials before and during this grant. If more African Americans enroll in multiple myeloma trials after the grant begins, it would show that these efforts have helped solve this problem. That may help African Americans with multiple myeloma to live longer. IT will also help make important progress in this research.  

Linda Sutton, MD

Funded by the 2020 Victory Ride to Cure Cancer

Cancer is caused by changes that happen in the genes of cancer cells. Special tests can find genes that start or promote cancer growth. New drugs can target cancer causing genes and kill cancer cells. The Duke project team wants to increase awareness and use of both the special tests and the new drugs. The project will bring a group of experts together to talk about patient cases and help find the best medicine for patients. If medicines are not available, the project team can find clinical trial options for patients. The team will also provide training to doctors and nurses on new tests for cancer genes and medicines. We will create information to help patients learn about the special gene tests and how the results can help the doctors choose the right medicine to treat their cancer. When the project is finished, the team hopes to provide the information and tools created to other local doctor’s offices and patients.


Marcia Henry, PhD, MSCR

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

Both Orleans and Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana have a higher than usual number of women with breast cancer.  This is because minority women and women living in small towns are more likely to have breast cancer.  These women are also more likely to die from the disease.  New breast cancer treatments are tested in clinical trials. It is important to test them to see if they are safe and if they work.  When women with breast cancer are deciding what to do, many never consider joining clinical trials.  The women that the new drug is supposed to help are not tested. This is often because they do not know about available breast cancer clinical trials. 

We will work with community leaders and physicians to give women information about clinical trials. Community members will help us make the information easy to understand. The information will be provided in many ways. Small meetings can be used to allow questions and answers. PSAs on TV and radio. Social media and podcasts can also be used.    

We expect to have more women with breast cancer to consider joining clinical trials. This may result in an increased number of breast cancer survivors in these communities.  By the end of this study we will have educational materials that can be shared with other women. We will also have a blueprint for developing community relationships. The names of community partners will be kept for future efforts to improve breast cancer survival in other parishes across the state.   


Jessika Contreras, MD

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

The early detection of breast cancer through screening mammogram has resulted in higher rates of cure for patients. Women are able to be diagnosed at an earlier stage and undergo less intensive treatment. Unfortunately, women from a racial/ethnic minority group are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced disease which results in higher rates of death from breast cancer. Factors that contribute to disparities include lack of access to early screening, unequal access to improvements in cancer care, and lack of insurance coverage. 

Advancements in Radiation Oncology have improved the treatment of early stage breast cancer by decreasing the total treatments from 25 to only 5 treatments. This reduces the overall treatment time, making it a more convenient and cost-effective approach. However, this treatment is not readily available to underserved patients, which is evident in the fact that this group is not fully represented in clinical trials.  To improve outcomes by expanding access to care for medically underserved women, we propose to partner with local organizations to make screening mammography available at no cost to uninsured or underinsured women. We will implement a study that would enroll patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer who then have surgery to receive a treatment course of radiation. The primary objective of this study would be to demonstrate that outcomes in this underserved population are similar to those established by large clinical trials.  


Manali Bhave, MD

Funded by Hooters of America, LLC

There have been significant advances in the treatment of patients living with metastatic breast cancer. Some of these advances are due to a fairly new type of technology looking at changes in the DNA of the tumor (somatic next-generation sequencing (NGS)) and/or in patient’s normal cells (germline NGS) that may impact a patient’s prognosis and/or treatment options, including the opportunity to enroll on clinical trials.

Very few studies have looked at patient understanding and knowledge on this type of advanced testing (next-generation sequencing), though of the studies available, there appears to be a low level of patient knowledge on next-generation sequencing and a gap in expectations as to how this form of testing can impact a patient’s clinical care.

The aim of our study is to increase the enrollment of patients with metastatic breast cancer into clinical trials that match patients to specific therapies based on their NGS through 1) increasing patient knowledge and understanding of NGS and 2) using the education tool to identify the change in the rate of NGS testing, as well as change of treatment recommendations based on these results. 


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