Helmsley Charitable Trust supports work of islet cell researchers

May 4, 2015 | by

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.

Joyce Niland

Joyce Niland has received City of Hope’s first-ever grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, supporting diabetes research.

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.

» Continue Reading

Physician researcher Larry Kwak’s passion? Moving discoveries to clinic

May 2, 2015 | by
Dr. Larry Kwak

Renowned physician researcher Larry Kwak takes the helm of City of Hope’s new Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center.

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.”

» Continue Reading

BMT patient Amanda Cooper, 9, has a ‘fun’ message for bone marrow donor

April 28, 2015 | by

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.

bone marrow transplant

Bone marrow transplant recipient Amanda Cooper and her teddy bear Honey Buns at City of Hope in 2013.

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.

» Continue Reading

Minority health awareness: Change starts with listening

April 28, 2015 | by

Noe Chavez became animated when he recalled the story:

minority health

Minority populations face a higher risk of cancer and other diseases than nonminority populations. Ending those disparities starts with listening.

“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

Gut microorganisms could influence outcomes of bone marrow transplants

April 26, 2015 | by
van den Brink

Marcel R.M. van den Brink will deliver the annual Karl G. Blume-Gerhard Schmidt Memorial Lecture, titled “Intestinal Microbiota and Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation.”

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.”

» Continue Reading

Myelofibrosis clinical trial aims to halt cascade of symptoms

April 24, 2015 | by

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 and blood platelets

Myelofibrosis patients often suffer from severely low blood platelets, or thrombocytopenia. A myelofibrosis clinical trial at City of Hope could lead to a new treatment option.

City of Hope is now testing a new drug, pacritinib, that could help boost those platelet counts in myelofibrosis patients with thrombocytopenia.

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

Clinical trials could lead to new options for colorectal cancer patients

April 23, 2015 | by
Clinical trials for metastatic colorectal cancer

Patients with metastatic colorectal cancer need more options. Two clinical trials currently underway at City of Hope could help provide those options.

Patients with metastatic colorectal cancer often stop responding to the primary drugs used against the disease, leaving them with few options and little hope. Determined to increase those options, doctors and researchers at City of Hope are conducting two clinical trials that could lead to new treatments for people with colorectal cancer, currently the third most common cancer in the U.S.

Marwan Fakih, co-director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program at City of Hope, highlighted those studies in a recent conversation, explaining how they show particular promise for patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. The first study will assess the potential impact of a new drug – one that targets a specific activated gene product, Fakih says – when used with a standard two-drug chemotherapy regimen. The second study will assess the maximum dosage of an investigational drug when used with a well-known three-drug chemotherapy regimen in patients who haven’t been helped by other therapies.

Here, Fakih answers questions about the two trials. » Continue Reading

To fight cancer, these researchers go where the action is – the nucleus

April 22, 2015 | by
molecular oncology

Molecular oncology researchers explore a cancer cell’s nucleus for new ways to fight tumors.

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

BMT reunion celebrates lives saved on the frontiers of science

April 20, 2015 | by

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.

bone marrow transplant

City of Hope has performed over 12,000 hematopoietic cell transplants, and has the best outcomes in the nation. Here are some of our survivors at the 2014 BMT Reunion.

“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

$6.8 million NCI grant will improve palliative care in clinical trials

April 18, 2015 | by
City of Hope's Betty Ferrell

City of Hope’s Betty Ferrell is testing a new palliative care model on patients in a phase I clinical trial.

Cancer patients who are participating in early-stage clinical trials need extra emotional and physical support due to their additional stress and often unique symptoms. Now an effort by researchers at City of Hope to create a model for such support has received a $6.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The grant will support work by City of Hope’s Betty Ferrell, Ph.D., R.N., and another institution to test a palliative care intervention program for cancer patients with a solid tumor who are also participating in a phase I clinical trial. The intervention aims to improve patients’ quality of life and symptoms and to promote the use of a hospital’s palliative care resources.
“The patients who are going on phase I clinical trials tend to be very sick,” said Ferrell, director of the Division of Nursing Research and Education at City of Hope and leader in the field of palliative care nursing and research. “Yet, they are volunteering to help us advance science by participating in our clinical trials and helping us advance treatments for the future. We want to make sure they are well-taken care of during the process and getting the best support possible.”

» Continue Reading