Henry Ford said it well: “Working together is success.” For biomedical researchers, this is especially true. The challenges they face often require expertise from multiple fields to find answers and solutions.
Scientists seeking cures for type 1 diabetes in particular must overcome biological, medical and technological barriers that make the disease particularly difficult to address. A breakthrough grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust will help.
Joyce Niland, Ph.D., the Edward and Estelle Alexander Chair in Information Sciences, is principal investigator on the three-year, $228,000 grant — the first obtained from the Helmsley Charitable Trust by a City of Hope investigator. It will support and encourage the attendance of diabetes researchers at annual Human Islet Cell Research Network (HIRN) conferences.
The HIRN was recently launched by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to understand how human beta cells — the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin — are lost in people with type 1 diabetes. Chief among the network’s objectives is to find innovative strategies to protect or replace functional beta cells in those living with the disease.
The network focuses on research that will lead to a greater understanding of the early stages of the type 1 diabetes disease process in humans. The grant from the trust will help make it easier for members to learn, collaborate and advance their work by providing opportunities for exchange of scientific ideas, fostering collaborations, generating additional joint projects and supporting junior investigators who may not otherwise be able to attend.
Known for his ability to bring together, and lead, effective research teams, world-renowned translational research scientist and physician Larry W. Kwak, M.D., Ph.D., has joined City of Hope in a key leadership role within the institution’s new Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.
As director of the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center, Kwak will shape the next generation of research and treatments for all types of lymphoma. Kwak also will serve as the inaugural associate director for developmental therapeutics and translational research for the comprehensive cancer center, and he is the first holder of the title of Dr. Michael Friedman Professor for Translational Medicine.
In other words, Kwak will integrate basic scientific discoveries into clinical use.
“What makes me excited to come to work every morning — my passion — is moving lab discoveries to clinic,” he said. “One of my key roles will be to help our faculty develop their ideas and bring them to first-in-human clinical trials.”
Updated: May 1
No parent ever wants to see their child hurting or sick in any way. Joanne Cooper’s daughter Amanda wasn’t sick, though. She seemed healthy. Vibrant. A straight-A student whose only major health ailment had been bouts of stress-related nausea.
Then a blood test revealed that Amanda – now 9 years old – had myelodysplastic syndrome – her blood stem cells were not maturing into red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets. She needed a bone marrow transplant, and none of her family members were a match.
“I remember Dr. (Stephen J.) Forman saying to me, ‘What do you want?’ I looked at him and said I wanted a miracle,” Cooper said. “I just wanted the thing to be gone.”
Forman told her that a matching donor for her daughter could be found. Amanda had her transplant in February 2013. As Cooper recalled: “‘This is the miracle,’ he said. “And it really was.”
That miracle came from a young man in Germany named Lars Nijland. Amanda and her parents Greg and Joanne Cooper thanked him in person at City of Hope’s 39th annual Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion. The Coopers were among the 4,500 patients and family members who celebrated survival and second chances. The festivities kicked off with Amanda and another patient, Yesenia Portillo, meeting their unrelated donors for the first time.
Noe Chavez became animated when he recalled the story:
“We were running a health event, screening folks for diabetes,” said the enthusiastic City of Hope population health researcher, “and this man comes over and starts talking to us about the trouble he’s having with his eyes. I spoke with him, listened for a while, then I made some calls and found him a doctor. The point is, this guy felt comfortable opening up to us. If we hadn’t been there, who knows if he would ever have received the care he needed.”
Although it happened far from California and long before Noe Chavez, Ph.D., arrived at City of Hope to investigate cancer statistics among minority communities, the episode stayed with him, informing much of what he does, not just during April’s Minority Health Awareness Month, but 365 days a year.
“Being right there in the community teaches you humility. You learn so much, listening to people’s stories, hearing about their needs,” he said.
Chavez and his colleagues at City 0f Hope’s Center of Community Alliance for Research & Education (CCARE) are the frontline troops in a broad initiative to understand why minority populations frequently endure higher rates of cancer and other diseases, and to develop programs capable of changing things on the ground. » Continue Reading
Some of City of Hope’s most high-impact achievements have arisen from City of Hope’s globally recognized bone marrow transplant (BMT) program. The annual Karl G. Blume – Gerhard Schmidt Memorial Lecture in Transplantation Biology & Medicine — commemorating two of the most influential and revered figures in the program and in the field as a whole — highlights current topics in transplantation research and treatment.
This year’s much-anticipated lecture takes place April 29 at 4 p.m. in Argyros Auditorium on the Duarte, California, campus. As always, the event precedes the annual Bone Marrow Transplantation Reunion, which this year occurs on May 1.
Marcel R.M. van den Brink, M.D., Ph.D., Alan Houghton Professor in Immunology and head of the Division of Hematologic Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, will deliver the talk, titled “Intestinal Microbiota and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation.”
“Research into the role of microorganisms in our health is rapidly expanding, and Dr. van den Brink’s work is some of the most innovative in the country,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. “I’m very happy to have him present his work as our honoree for this year’s lecture.”
To say that myelofibrosis patients need more treatment options would be an understatement. The severely low platelet counts, known as thrombocytopenia, that are one of the hallmark symptoms of the disease can lead to chronic fatigue and weakness that not only damage quality of life but, ultimately, shorten life span.
Myelofibrosis begins in the bone marrow, spurring an accumulation of malignant bone marrow cells and causing scarring that prevents the marrow from making enough healthy blood cells. As a result, the spleen and liver have to take over the cell creation function, leading to their enlargement and damage. For the patient, the result is anemia, extreme fatigue, bleeding and an increased risk of infection. Other symptoms include itching and pain.
Controlling the severely low platelet counts could counteract this cascade of symptoms and affect progression of the disease.
“City of Hope is committed to advancing the medical community’s understanding of myelofibrosis and thrombocytopenia through research studies,” said David S. Snyder, M.D., associate chair of the Department of Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “Finding new ways to support patients with chronic diseases is important and helps fulfill our commitment to this community.” » Continue Reading
Investigators working at City of Hope are making many significant inroads against many forms of cancer. To do that, they have to take a variety of approaches.
Molecular oncology researchers focus on abnormal cancer-associated activity in a cell’s nucleus. One especially prominent factor in many breast and ovarian cancers is the BRCA1 tumor suppressor. When BRCA1 activity is compromised, cells cannot properly repair breaks in chromosomal DNA, which encourages the accumulation of even more cancer-causing mutations. In short, this increases a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
In one study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Jeremy Stark, Ph.D., associate professor of the Department of Radiation Biology, reported that biologically speaking, two wrongs can make a right. Stark inactivated factors in a signaling pathway called 53BP1/RNF168 and found that intervention blocked lethal failure in DNA repair caused by mutations in the BRCA1 gene. » Continue Reading
Updated: May 1
Each year, City of Hope patients given another chance at life gather to pose for a picture like this one. Going on its 39th year, the celebration of patients free of blood cancers thanks to bone marrow or stem cell transplants has grown such that a photographer has to scale a cherry picker just to get them all in.
“Imagine this space if we didn’t have this program,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope. “There wouldn’t be any people. Just trees.”
Forman can remember when there was no such picture to take, when the first Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion consisted of a single patient and his donor – his brother. Since then, the event has expanded dramatically. Now, beloved Dodger baseball players offer their well-wishes to current patients and survivors, renowned musicians and comedians – cancer survivors themselves – perform for an empathetic audience, and patients meet their stem cell donors from across the globe.
The heart of the celebration is more than 4,500 patients and family members who celebrate their personal anniversaries, each wearing a button proudly proclaiming how long it’s been since their transplant, which ranges from months to decades. This year, the reunion was Friday, May 1. There – amid the cupcakes, barbecue, music and festive atmosphere for patients – physicians, nurses and other caregivers find the motivation that carries them to the next reunion. » Continue Reading