Nurturing New Directions

Pelotonia Idea Grants Harness Imagination to Insight, Knowledge and Experience

Pelotonia cyclists propel themselves through the August Ohio countryside to personally support cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

A share of the funds raised by Pelotonia riders supports idea grants that enable OSUCCC – James scientists to break new research ground and produce data needed to garner grants for larger, more definitive studies.

In the past four years, 67 OSUCCC – James research teams have received Pelotonia idea grants. Awardees are selected through a peer-review process conducted by both internal and external scientists not competing for grants in the current funding year.

Since the program’s inception, $6.6 million in funding has been awarded. The collaborating researchers come from several Ohio State colleges and departments and three academic institutions, including Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Breaking new ground always involves some risk, but it can hasten the development of safer, more effective treatments and improved prevention strategies. Here are three examples of the Pelotonia idea grants awarded in 2014.

A New Approach to Cervical-Cancer Prevention

Paul Reiter, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Medicine and member of the OSUCCC – James Cancer Control Program

Mira Katz, PhD, MPH, professor of Public Health in the College of Public Health and member of the OSUCCC – James Cancer Control Program

About 12,900 women in the United States are expected to develop in 2015, and 4,100 are expected to die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. Yet, cervical cancer is largely preventable when women follow screening guidelines and receive regular Pap tests.

However, receiving a Pap test is not easy for all women. Pap tests are usually performed in a health clinic, and some women may have difficulty in accessing the healthcare system. This may be particularly true for women of low socioeconomic status and those living in rural areas.

This OSUCCC – James research team is using a Pelotonia idea grant to investigate a potentially different approach. It’s well known that several types of human papillomavirus (HPV) cause almost all cases of cervical cancer, and in the past few years cervical cancer screening recommendations have been revised to include testing for the presence of HPV for some women.

Current guidelines recommend that women ages 30-65 receive a Pap test and an HPV test every five years, or a Pap test every three years. One potential strategy for women to receive an HPV test is through HPV self-testing, which involves women collecting samples by themselves at home and mailing them in for testing.

With its Pelotonia idea grant, this team of OSUCCC – James researchers is developing and pilot testing an HPV self-testing program that will focus on women from Ohio Appalachia who have received infrequent or no prior cervical cancer screening. This geographic region is important to focus on because data suggest that cervical cancer incidence rates are higher among women living in Ohio Appalachia compared with women living in the rest of the state (8.7 vs. 7.8 cases per 100,000 females, respectively).

The interdisciplinary team is working closely with the Valley View Health Centers of Ohio Appalachia to conduct the study. The findings will provide needed information about the acceptability and feasibility of HPV self-testing as a potential cervical cancer screening strategy.

An Edible Plant Component That Might Help Treat Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Jianhua Yu, PhD, assistant professor of Medicine and member of the OSUCCC – James Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program

A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD, DSc, professor of Pharmacy in the College of Pharmacy and member of the OSUCCC – James Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) will affect an estimated 20,800 Americans in 2015, and 10,460 are expected to die of the disease. The malignancy affects mainly people aged 65 and over, and the five-year survival rate for this age group remains under 10 percent.

That five-year survival rate of older adults has remained unchanged for 40 years, largely because older patients are less able to tolerate therapies such as intensive chemotherapy and stem-cell transplantation that are effective in younger patients.

These OSUCCC – James researchers are using a Pelotonia idea grant to investigate a new, less toxic way of treating AML in older patients that uses a compound from plants found in Asia.

The compound is a type of lignin called phyllanthusmin C (PL-C). The researchers have evidence suggesting that PL-C can improve antitumor activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer (NK) cells, the immune system’s first line of defense against cancer cells and viral infections.

The researchers are using their Pelotonia grant to investigate the mechanisms by which PL-C enhances NK cell antitumor activity and to study the effectiveness of PL-C in preventing AML in an animal model.

The researchers note that, to their knowledge, this is the first time that a dietary lignin component has been demonstrated to significantly enhance human NK cell function. They believe their study might open a new avenue for cancer prevention.

Furthermore, because PL-C can come from an edible plant, they believe that if their findings are positive, they could lead quickly to a clinical trial that tests PL-C in humans.

Personalizing Therapy for Multiple Myeloma

Mitch Phelps, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmacy in the College of Pharmacy and member of the OSUCCC – James Leukemia Research Program

Ming Poi, PharmD, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmacy Practice and Administration in the College of Pharmacy

Craig Hofmeister, MD, associate professor clinical of Hematology and member of the OSUCCC – James Leukemia Research Program

Multiple myeloma is a leukemia-like cancer of a type of immune cell that produces antibodies. The disease remains incurable, but one treatment that prolongs life for many patients uses a potent chemotherapy drug called melphalan, followed by bone-marrow transplantation. The drug kills the cancer cells but at the same time wipes out the immune system, which is restored through bone marrow transplant.

Given in high doses, the drug can stabilize the disease and prevent progression for 30 months on average. Unfortunately, this progression-free period varies greatly from person to person, ranging from six months in some and up to 12 years in a few. In addition, each patient’s body handles the drug differently, so the nature and severity of side effects is difficult to predict and avoid.

This OSUCCC – James research team received a Pelotonia idea grant to reduce this uncertainty by developing a method to determine the optimal dose of melphalan for individual myeloma patients.

Their method combines clinical factors such as patient weight and kidney function, with assays to estimate how living cells from patients react to a standard concentration of the drug. The objective is to identify a dose of melphalan that maximizes myeloma-cell killing while minimizing the drug’s toxic side effects for each patient.

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