Teaming Up Against Cancer

Pelotonia-Funded Grants Support 8 Additional Cancer Research Projects

Eight teams of Ohio State faculty scientists recently received a combined total of $1.14 million in Pelotonia funding that will help them gather early data for innovative projects so they can apply later for larger grants from external sources to support these efforts.

The eight projects will be funded by the OSUCCC – James’ Intramural Research Program (IRP), which receives extensive Pelotonia support. IRP funding can include:

  • Idea Grants that support early work in high-risk, high-payoff research for which government grants are difficult to obtain;
  • Community Partnership Awards that support investigators who team with a community entity on a cancer-focused study;
  • Clinical Trial Awards, which support studies that seek ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer while providing participating patients with some of the most advanced treatments available anywhere;
  • Bridge Funding Awards, which help researchers with competitive renewal applications for National Cancer Institute (NCI) grants that were not funded on their first submission, or for grants whose initial funding has expired.

This IRP funding, awarded through a competitive peer-review process conducted by internal and external scientists not competing for grants in the current funding year, is critical at a time when government grants are difficult to obtain for the early pursuit of promising studies.

Over the past seven years, 108 OSUCCC – James research teams have received Pelotonia-supported IRP awards totaling $11.1 million. Each award provides support for two years.

“Scientists working on these creative projects are ‘thinking outside the box’ and need funding support to gain traction for ideas that could lead to breakthroughs,” says OSUCCC Director and James CEO Michael A. Caligiuri, MD. “They likely couldn’t pursue these projects without funding raised by the thousands of Pelotonia riders, virtual riders and donors.”

Here are summaries of the eight most recently funded projects:

Understanding Cancer Stem Cells in Ovarian Cancer

Investigator: Qi-En Wang, MD, PhD, OSUCCC – James Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program

Only 45 percent of ovarian cancer patients reach the five-year survival mark, mainly due to high rates of advanced disease and disease recurrence. Researchers believe cancer stem cells are the root of many solid tumors, including ovarian. OSUCCC – James researchers recently discovered a protein (DDB2) that stops the growth of ovarian cancer stem cells. This study further investigates mechanisms by which DDB2 stops cancer stem cell survival. Results may lead to better strategies for preventing ovarian cancer spread and recurrence.

Evaluating New Targets for Glioblastoma Treatment

Investigator: Deliang Guo, PhD, OSUCCC – James Molecular Carcinogenesis and Chemoprevention Program

Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common type of adult malignant brain tumor. Because most patients live only 12 to 15 months after diagnosis, new molecular targets are needed to improve patient survival. Guo and team recently revealed that a protein called SCAP is essential for activation of SREBP-1, a gene/protein involved in GBM growth. This study will advance knowledge of how cellular metabolism is “reprogrammed” in GBM— information that could help identify new molecular targets for the disease.

Improved Imaging for Bladder Cancer Diagnosis and Staging

Investigators: Cheryl Lee, MD, Chair, Department of Urology, and OSUCCC – James Urologist; and Metin Gurcan, PhD, OSUCCC – James Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics Program

Accurate staging of bladder cancer can be difficult with the imaging tools currently available, making it hard for urologists to recommend the best treatment for each patient’s disease characteristics. This study will develop pathological image analysis tools to accurately stage and stratify patients by disease risk. This will help urologists make treatment decisions that balance the best chance of long-term cancer control while avoiding over-treatment.

Stimulating the Immune System to Fight Cancer

Investigator: Robert Wesolowski, MD, OSUCCC – James Translational Therapeutics Program

Cancer activates cells that interfere with the immune system’s ability to kill cancer. Recent OSUCCC – James research showed that these cells—known as myeloid-derived suppressor cells—can be stopped with the drug ibrutinib. In preclinical studies, researchers also showed that ibrutinib was most effective in combination with a second drug that activates immune-boosting T-cells called immune checkpoint inhibitors. Initial results showed a complete elimination of breast cancer tumors in 50 percent of subjects treated with ibrutinib and immune checkpoint inhibitors. The team will conduct a pilot study to confirm these results in patients with metastatic solid tumors who will receive the immunotherapy with an immune checkpoint inhibitor called nivolumab.

Immunotherapy to Treat Patients with Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Investigator: Sumithira Vasu, MBBS, OSUCCC – James Leukemia Research Program

This grant will provide expanded support for two ongoing clinical trials in acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer that occurs in more than 62,000 people annually and affects the blood-forming cells in the marrow. The trials explore the combination of a more tolerable anti-leukemia drug, decitabine (DAC), given with a new targeted antibody that has been shown in preclinical testing to improve the immune system’s natural ability to recognize and eradicate cancer cells. This grant will help conduct studies to launch future studies combining decitabine and cellular therapies.

New Targeted Therapies for Thyroid Cancer

Investigator: Manisha Shah, MD, OSUCCC – James Translational Therapeutics Program, and Cynthia Timmers, PhD, Solid Tumor Translational Science Shared Resource

Thyroid cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the United States, but there is no curative treatment available for patients with subsets of the disease that have spread to other parts of the body. OSUCCC – James researchers have shown that two different targeted therapies, given alone or in combination, are effective for treating a subset of advanced papillary thyroid cancer patients with BRAF gene mutations. This grant will fund evaluation of patient tumors and blood to learn how cancer cells become resistant, which will guide research to help improve treatment.

Combining Radiation and Immunotherapy to Treat Brain Tumors

Investigator: Raju Raval, MD, DPhil, OSUCCC – James Translational Therapeutics Program

Glioblastoma is the most common primary adult cancer affecting the central nervous system, and treatment outcomes are very poor. Scientists believe that a variety of mechanisms prevents the immune system from eradicating these tumors. In this project, researchers will test the effectiveness of radiation with immune modulating treatments in a clinical model to identify potential ideal combination therapeutic strategies. This may lead to an optimal approach for translating these findings to human clinical trials.

Understanding Genetic Predisposition to Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Investigators: Clara D. Bloomfield, MD, OSUCCC – James Leukemia Research Program, and Albert de la Chapelle, MD, PhD, OSUCCC – James Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics Program

Differences in a person’s DNA make each person unique. These differences can also make individuals more susceptible to developing diseases like cancer. This study is aimed at discovering genetic differences that exist in the general (non-cancer patient) population that make people more susceptible to acute myeloid leukemia (AML). This information will help scientists better understand inherited risk of the disease to improve overall understanding of biologic causes of leukemia and inform future clinical practice.

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