Highlights from the 2012 AACR Annual Meeting: Research from NCI-designated Cancer Centers

Last Updated: 4/4/2012

Six blood samples with purple or orange caps, sitting in a yellow trayThis past weekend, more than 18,000 academic, industry, and government scientists; cancer survivors; philanthropic representatives; and industry professionals gathered in Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research. Founded in 1907, AACR is the world’s largest—and was the first—professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research.

Over its four days the meeting features hundreds of speakers and sessions, thousands of papers presented in poster sessions, and dozens more minisymposia. As you might expect, NCI-designated Cancer Centers and their dedication to important research were on full display. Below are some highlights. Please check back often; this list will be expanding as embargoes expire.

  • Cancer Institute of New Jersey

Functional Link Identified Between Two Causes of Breast Cancer Treatment Failure. Research from The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) shows a functional link between two major causes of treatment failure in breast cancer, showing the protein behind one of these causes plays a role in increasing the drug resistance properties of the other.  The work, investigators say, could help to identify targeted therapies.

Coordinated Blocking of Cancer Cell Survival Pathways Could Play Role in Developing New Melanoma Therapies. A coordinated effort to block signaling pathways that promote cancer cell growth and survival enhances programmed cell death in melanoma.

Vaccine Regimen that Strengthens Body’s Immune Defenses Associated with Stable Disease in Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer. A series of vaccine injections given directly into a pancreatic cancer tumor is shown to be associated with stable disease in patients who are not candidates for surgery. Early results of a clinical trial being conducted at CINJ are being presented during a poster session.

  • Case Comprehensive Cancer Center

Network signatures of survival in glioblastoma multiforme. A “systems” approach to finding networks of genes that may characterize short-term GBM survivors from long-term GBM survivors, rather than looking for individual proteins. (Added 4/4/12)

Proteomics signature of long-term versus short-term survival in glioblastoma. This study sought to identify protein biomarkers that can help physicians determine which patients may benefit from standard treatment for GBM.  Using research tumor samples from patients with short-term survival (defined as fewer than nine months after diagnosis) and patients with long-term survival (who lived greater than 18 months after diagnosis), the investigators found 183 proteins to be significant between survival groups.  Biomarkers have been identified in other cancers such as breast and colon but progress in treatment for GBM patients has been slowed by the absence of biomarkers to define treatment response.

  • Fox Chase Cancer Center

Researchers Uncover a Viable Way for Colorectal Cancer Patients to Overcome Drug Resistance. The results, which highlight the use of a novel drug called ARI-4175, may eventually point to new approaches that can be used in treating other cancers. (Added 4/4/12)

Researchers Develop a New Cell and Animal Model of Inflammatory Breast Cancer. The new model may provide scientists with a better understanding of the disease and help with developing effective interventions. (Added 4/4/12)

New Compound Targets Key Mechanism Behind Lymphoma. The product, once available in the clinic, could be the first to hit a pathway that drives multiple types of lymphoma. (Added 4/3/12)

Scientists at Fox Chase Discover Link between Estrogen and Tobacco Smoke. The findings suggest that new therapies targeting estrogen’s metabolism may help prevent or treat lung cancer. (Added 4/3/12)

Protein Aurora-A is Found to be Associated with Survival in Head and Neck Cancer. Fox Chase scientists suggest that the findings could also serve as a new target for treatment.

The Protein Survivin Could be a Useful Biomarker for Pancreatic Cancer.

New Boost for Pancreatic Cancer Therapy. Additional compounds may help first-line drug kill cancer cells.

Researchers Identify a Gene that Predicts Recurrence in Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck. Results could lead to personalized treatment strategies for patients with this type of cancer

Researchers Uncover New Clues to the Development of Blood and Other Cancers. Latest findings from Fox Chase Cancer Center reveal that targeting inflammatory pathways may lead to new therapies.

Scientists Identify Key Protein Players in Hard-to-Treat Breast Cancers.

  • Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

Stopping the Spread of a Deadly Childhood Bone Cancer. Many children with the bone cancer osteosarcoma die after the tumor spreads to their lungs. In a critical step toward finding a way to stop metastasis, researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center say they have discovered an agent that prevents this cancer from spreading to the lungs in mice with the disease. (Added 4/3/12)

Two Specific Agents Worse Than One in Treating Endocrine Resistant Breast Cancer Cells. A new class of agents known as c-Src inhibitors is being tested in a number of different ways to treat breast cancer, but researchers at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center caution that they should not be used in combination with estrogen to treat endocrine resistant breast cancer. Their new study shows that using estrogen and a c-Src inhibitor, PP2, cancel each other out.

  • Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center

Chemo may get boost from cholesterol-related drug. Johns Hopkins investigators are testing a way to use drugs that target a cholesterol pathway to enhance the cancer-killing potential of standard chemotherapy drugs.  Their tests, in mouse models of pancreatic cancer, may yield new and more effective combinations of current and possibly new anti-cancer drugs. (Added 4/3/12)

Scientists Reprogram Cancer Cells With Low Doses of Epigenetic Drugs. Experimenting with cells in culture, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have breathed possible new life into two drugs once considered too toxic for human cancer treatment.  The drugs, azacitidine (AZA) and decitabine (DAC), are epigenetic-targeted drugs and work to correct cancer-causing alterations that modify DNA. The researchers said the drugs also were found to take aim at a small but dangerous subpopulation of self-renewing cells, sometimes referred to as cancer stem cells, which evade most cancer drugs and cause recurrence and spread.

Sequencing Cancer Mutations: There’s an App for That. Using precise information about an individual’s genetic makeup is becoming increasingly routine for developing tailored treatments for breast, lung, colon and other cancers. But techniques used to identify meaningful gene mutations depend on analyzing sequences of both normal and mutant DNA in tumor samples, a process that can yield ambiguous results. Now, a team of researchers says it has developed an easy-to-use online computer software application that can clear up any confusion faster and cheaper than other methods currently used to do the job.

Whole Genome Sequencing Not Informative For All. With sharp declines in the cost of whole genome sequencing, the day of accurately deciphering disease risk based on an individual’s genome may seem at hand.  But a study involving data of thousands of identical twins by Johns Hopkins investigators finds that genomic fortune-telling fails to provide informative guidance to most people about their risk for most common diseases, and warns against complacency born of negative genome test results.

  • Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University

New Biomarker to Identify Hepatitis B-Infected Patients at Risk for Liver Cancer. Hepatitis B-infected patients with significantly longer telomeres—the caps on the end of chromosomes that protect our genetic data— were found to have an increased risk of getting liver cancer compared to those with shorter ones, according to an abstract presented by researchers at Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center. (Added 4/3/12)

  • Siteman Cancer Center

New imaging technique could speed cancer detection. A new imaging technique relies on light and sound to create detailed, color pictures of tumors deep inside the body. The technology, called photoacoustic tomography, may eventually help doctors diagnose cancer earlier than is now possible and tomore precisely monitor the effects of cancer treatment – all without the radiation involved in X-rays and CT scans or the expense of MRIs. (Added 4/3/12)

Siteman Cancer Center expert honored nationally for prevention efforts. Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, a disease prevention expert at the Siteman Cancer Center, will receive the Award for Research Excellence in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. (Added 4/3/12)

DNA sequencing lays foundation for personalized cancer treatment. Scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are using powerful DNA sequencing technology not only to identify mutations at the root of a patient’s tumor – considered key to personalizing cancer treatment – but to map the genetic evolution of disease and response to treatment.

  • University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute

Researchers Gain Better Understanding of Radiation-Mitigator Drug. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have a better way of understanding how a drug used to protect against and mitigate irradiation damage interacts inside human cells. The study was sponsored by the NIH and will presented as a poster presentation.

Researchers Build Mouse Model to Evaluate Compounds to Protect Against Radiation Exposure. Researchers have developed a mouse model that will allow scientists to study radiation-induced genetic changes and cellular defense mechanisms against radiation exposure at the same time. The study was sponsored by NIAD and will be presented as a poster presentation.

First-of-its-kind Study of Peptide Vaccine Shows Evidence of Immunological Response in Children with Gliomas. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) Brain Tumor Program have demonstrated that peptide vaccines in children with gliomas, the most common type of brain tumor, not only were well-tolerated but also showed evidence of immunological responses. This was sponsored by the NIH and will be presented as a poster presentation.

  • USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center

A fusion toxin for the treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The research identifies a toxin that could be an effective alternative approach to chemotherapy for the treatment of primary and relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer. (Added 4/4/12)

A novel ovarian cancer-imaging agent based on integrin ligation. Swenson and colleagues have developed a non-invasive radiologic method for the diagnosis of early stage ovarian cancer and the detection of residual disease after surgery or other treatment, which appears to be more effective than traditional methods such as MRI or CT scans. (Added 4/4/12)

Mechanisms underlying racial/ethnic differences in obesity-related cancer risk. While obesity is clearly linked to cancer—obese people are 50 percent more likely to die from cancer than lean people—not much research has been done on how race or ethnicity may affect that association. Minorities, blacks and Hispanics in particular, are more likely to be obese and minorities who are obese tend to experience more complications than obese Caucasians. (Added 4/3/12)

Exploring the colorectal cancer methylome. Data from The Cancer Genome Atlas Project shows that epigenetics plays a causal role in a variety of human cancers, in colorectal cancer in particular. Researchers compared the tumor’s methylome to normal colon tissue and identified several important clues about the genetic instructions that a cancer cell interprets. (Added 4/3/12)

Macrophage migration inhibitory factor (MIF) plays roles in proliferation, survival and migration of Ewing tumor cells by activation of a CD74-CD44 receptor complex. The identification and understanding of proteins called cytokines, which have been associated with the abnormal proliferation and survival of certain tumor cells, may help develop better-targeted therapies for those types of cancer. Researchers found high expression of the MIF cytokine in Ewing sarcoma tumors, indicating that the protein and its signaling pathways may be promising targets for Ewing tumor therapy. (Added 4/3/12)

Protooncogenic TLR4 generates NANOG-dependent tumor-initiating stem-like cells through LIN28-Let7 pathway in experimental and clinical carcinogenesis. Examining the interaction between environmental and genetic risk factors for hepatocellular carcinoma (e.g., heavy alcohol intake, high fat diet, hepatitis C), researchers have identified a signaling pathway that may help sensitize chemo-resistant cancer cells to drug treatment. Their research shows that other cancers such as lung and breast may have a similar pathway.

Integrative analysis identifies functional prostate cancer risk SNPs in genomic regulatory regions defined as enhancers. Researchers have developed a bioinformatics tool that consolidates large data sets to identify regions in the genome that may confer a higher risk for prostate cancer and other cancers. They have confirmed that eight of nine identified regions are associated in the development of prostate cancer.

Real-time sequencing of cancer and germline genomes for clinical trial optimization. Recent advances in next-generation sequencing have allowed the real-time identification of cancer mutations in the clinic. The presentation explores how best to incorporate these genomic measurements in clinical trials.

  • Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

Cruciferous vegetable intake after diagnosis of breast cancer and survival: a report from the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study. (Added 4/3/12)

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