Purging pancreatic cancer with bacteria-based immunotherapy

July 1, 2015 | by
pancreatic cancer

City of Hope researchers have identified a promising new strategy: a bacterial-based therapy that homes to tumors and provokes an incredibly effective tumor-killing response.

The outlook and length of survival has not changed much in the past 25 years for patients suffering from an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer known as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). These patients still have few options for therapy; currently available therapies are generally toxic and do not increase survival by more than a few months.

Now, City of Hope researchers have identified a promising new strategy: a bacterial-based therapy that homes to tumors and provokes an extremely effective tumor-killing response.

In a study that appears in the journal Cancer Immunology Research, published by the American Association for Cancer Research, they report that the therapy frequently triggered the complete regression of pancreatic tumors and significantly extended survival in preclinical mouse studies. The study was led by Don J. Diamond, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Experimental Therapeutics at City of Hope, who believes that this method can be used to treat a variety of cancers that share similar features to PDAC.

Bacteria-based therapies have been used to treat solid tumors for decades and are commonly used to treat bladder cancer. Typically, an attenuated (i.e. weakened) form of the microbe is used as the therapy itself, or as a delivery vector to generate anti-tumor responses confined only to the cancer site. » Continue Reading

New clinical trial harnesses CAR-T immunotherapy to fight brain cancers

June 30, 2015 | by
Already pioneers in the use of immunotherapy, City of Hope researchers are now testing the bold approach to cancer treatment against one of medicine’s biggest challenges: brain cancer. This month, they will launch a clinical trial using patients’ own modified T cells to fight advanced brain tumors.


A new clinical trial at City of Hope uses CAR-T cell immunotherapy to treat brain cancers.

One of but a few centers in the United States offering human studies in chimeric antigen receptor or CAR-T cell therapy, City of Hope is the only center investigating CAR-T cells in injection form, administered directly to brain tumors. In this first-in-humans study, patients with advanced brain tumors will receive injections – directly at the tumor site – of immune cells genetically modified to recognize certain markers on cancer cells.
“The data from our preclinical studies makes us confident that this treatment has the potential to be very powerful and last longer than previous attempts at immunotherapy for brain cancer,” said Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of neurosurgery at City of Hope. “This could take the treatment of brain tumors to the next level, and open up a new avenue of treatment to patients who badly need it.”

» Continue Reading

Brain cancer: New advances in research, treatment, technology (w/PODCAST)

June 29, 2015 | by

Behnam Badie, M.D.

Behnam Badie is the director of the Brain Tumor Program and chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope.

Brain cancer may be one of the most-frightening diagnoses people can receive, striking at the very center of who we are as individuals. Further, it often develops over time, causing no symptoms until it’s already advanced.
Listen to City of Hope Radio as Behnam Badie, M.D., director of the Brain Tumor Program and chief of the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, discusses how City of Hope’s nationally recognized experts in neurosurgery and neuro-oncology not only employ today’s most advanced therapies, but are also on the leading edge of research and discovery, giving brain cancer patients the best treatment options possible.




For other interviews with City of Hope experts,  go to our list of City of Hope podcasts.


Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what’s required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

Maryland governor’s diagnosis puts focus on non-Hodgkin lymphoma

June 26, 2015 | by
non-hodgkin lymmphoma

Maryland’s governor’s diagnosis with non-Hodgkin lymphoma highlights current, and future, treatment advances against the disease.

When Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced earlier this week that he has the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, he was giving voice to the experience of more than 71,000 Americans each year. The announcement came with Hogan’s promise to stay in office while undergoing aggressive treatment for the disease.

That promise highlights the advances made against non-Hodgkin lymphoma, as well as the need for additional therapeutic options. In both the delivery of the most advanced possible care, and the creation of new treatment options, City of Hope is a national leader.

The most effective treatment plan for non-Hodgkin lymphoma starts with proper diagnosis, City of Hope experts said. There are many different subtypes of the disease, which is marked by tumors that develop in the immune system’s lymphocytes, or white blood cells. Often, as in Hogan’s case, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is diagnosed in later stages, but it’s nevertheless highly treatable; some 70 percent of patients are alive five years after diagnosis.

“To make sure that the correct type of NHL is diagnosed, the first step after the initial diagnosis is having the biopsy reviewed by a reputable hematopathologist,” said Leslie Popplewell, M.D., associate clinical professor and staff physician in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope.

Patients who come to the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center at City of Hope enter one of the largest and most successful treatment centers that specializes in both non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin lymphoma. The center offers a state-of-the-art range of therapies. » Continue Reading

Brain tumor expert Jana Portnow: ‘I want to help … as much as I can’

June 18, 2015 | by

Jana Portnow, M.D., associate director of the Brain Tumor Program at City of Hope, didn’t expect to specialize in treating brain tumors. But, early in her career, she undertook a year of research on pain management and palliative care and, in that program, got to know many patients with brain tumors. After that, there was no going back.

Jana Portnow, brain tumor expert

Jana Portnow feels a special affinity for brain cancer patients. That’s part of the reason she’s helping create new options for them.

Portnow said she feels a special affinity for patients with brain cancer, even though she often seems to be giving them bad news. “They are grateful for what I do for them and surprisingly not resentful that their prognosis is not good,” she said. “I think that I would feel very angry if I had an illness that took away my ability to communicate or walk.”

That capacity to put herself in her patients’ place may be one reason her patients feel that same affinity for her, understanding that Portnow is trying everything she can to give them more time.

“Brain tumors affect the organ that is the key to our humanity,” Portnow said. “Our sense of self comes from our brain. And because brain tumors are so invasive and deadly, I want to help people battling brain cancer as much as I can.”

A great deal of Portnow’s work is focused on developing new treatments for brain tumors, specifically for glioblastoma, the most common type of malignant primary brain tumor in adults (“primary” means that it originated in the brain) and the most aggressive. » Continue Reading

Mathematical oncology: Where math modeling meets cancer research

June 16, 2015 | by
Russell Rockne, Ph.D.

Russell Rockne joins Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope to build the new Division of Mathematical Oncology.

Many oncologists, not to mention their patients, might think that there’s no place for mathematical analysis in the treatment of cancer. They might think that all treatment decisions are based on unique factors affecting individual patients, with no connection to other patients and their treatment regimens. Russell Rockne, Ph.D., is determined to change that misconception.

Rockne is a mathematical oncologist, which means he uses mathematics as the means of discovery in cancer research.

In addition to investigating questions of cancer biology, Rockne uses outcomes data from large groups of patients to create predictive mathematical models, or algorithms, in the hope of generating effective stand-alone or combination therapies for individual patients. The algorithms loaded with clinical data essentially create a more precise treatment map for individuals experiencing similar cancers.

He joins City of Hope as an assistant professor in the Department of Research Information Sciences, bringing with him a background in both science and art. Formerly, a postdoctoral researcher in mathematical oncology at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Rockne received his doctorate in mathematical biology, and masters in applied mathematics from the University of Washington, Seattle, and his bachelor’s in mathematics and fine art from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

In this interview, he explains the potential for a mathematical oncologist to – if not change the world – at least improve cancer treatment.

» Continue Reading

Explained: Breast cancer treatment options of today – and tomorrow

June 12, 2015 | by

When explaining breast cancer treatment options, breast cancer specialists typically discuss the best therapies currently available, working with their patients to create the most effective treatment regimens. Recently, however, City of Hope specialists – in oncology, surgery and immunology – came together to discuss not only the best treatments of today, but also the most-promising treatments of tomorrow, explaining to current patients how very different therapeutic options could look in the not-too-distant future.

breast cancer treatment options

Breast cancer treatment options are improving. City of Hope physicians recently offered some breast cancer patients at City of Hope a primer on the best treatment options of today, and those of tomorrow.

Leading the session was James Waisman, M.D., clinical professor at City of Hope, a specialist not only in breast cancer oncology, but in connecting with his patients. Waisman understands just how much patients want to know about breast cancer treatment and where it’s going. On Sunday, June 7, Waisman hosted what he calls a patient research update, a primer specifically for patients about the latest avenues in breast cancer research.

With him were Yuman Fong, M.D., chair of the Department of Surgery, and Peter P. Lee, M.D.,  the Billy and Audrey L. Wilder Professor in Cancer Immunotherapeutics and chair of the Department of Cancer Immunotherapeutics and Tumor Immunology.

“We wanted to give patients the most current up-to-date vision about the direction of breast cancer treatment, with the goal to fundamentally shift the way patients with advanced breast cancer are treated,” Waisman said. The vision? “Much less toxicity and much better outcomes.” » Continue Reading

Unsatisfied with today’s therapies, brain tumor scientists make new ones

June 9, 2015 | by

Clinicians and surgeons at City of Hope aren’t satisfied with current treatments for brain tumors, nor are they satisfied with focusing on only one avenue of research. Instead, they’re exploring many potential – and promising – options to help people with cancer in the brain.

Those options are desperately needed. According to the American Cancer Society, 22,850 malignant tumors of the brain or spinal cord will be diagnosed this year, and 15,320 people will die.

brain tumor program research

Physicians and researchers in City of Hope’s Brain Tumor Program aren’t satisfied with the current treatment options for patients. So they’re creating new ones.

“The chance that a person will develop a malignant tumor of the brain or spine in one’s lifetime is less than 1 percent, but the survival rates for malignant gliomas, the type of brain tumor that is the focus of research at City of Hope, is poor,” said Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of neurosurgery and director of the Brain Tumor Program at City of Hope. In fact, the five-year survival rate for people age 45 to 64 is 6 percent; it’s 4 percent for those age 55 to 64.

Glioblastoma is the most common type of primary brain tumor in adults (with “primary” meaning that it originated in the brain) and the most aggressive. Surgery is the treatment of choice, because radiation has its limits, and most chemotherapy drugs can’t cross the blood-brain barrier. But surgery is not a perfect option. Removing all the tumor cells is virtually impossible due to the invasive nature of glioblastoma, and tumor recurrence is the norm. Most people live only 1.5 years after diagnosis.

Badie hopes that those numbers won’t be always be so grim. Here, he provides an overview of some of City of Hope’s most promising new treatments for brain tumors. » Continue Reading

Graduate school commencement launches tomorrow’s scientific leaders

June 8, 2015 | by
graduate school commencement

Members of the 2015 graduating class from the Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences pose with their mentors and teachers.

Updated June 15, 2015.

As a teenager living in Duarte, California, James Finlay organized 50 to 60 donors for a blood drive to benefit City of Hope, meeting his need for a community-service project on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout.

“That was my first major interaction with City of Hope,” he said. “I had very little sense of the research that goes on here.”

Finlay never imagined that two decades later he would be a student with not only an inside view of – but also a role in – the investigations conducted at City of Hope’s Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences. The renowned program trains a handful of select graduate students in the fields of chemical, molecular and cellular biology, as well as bioinformatics and genetics.

At 4 p.m. on Friday, June 12, Finlay was one of 12 graduate students who received Doctor of Philosophy degrees at the school’s 17th commencement ceremony, held in the Rose Garden on City of Hope’s main campus. Celebrating along with the graduates and their families were leaders of the school, City of Hope and the scientific community.

The keynote address was delivered by Harry Gray, the Arnold O. Beckman Professor of Chemistry at the California Institute of Technology and the founding director of the Beckman Institute at the California Institute of Technology. Gray is acclaimed for his research on a wide range of fundamental problems in inorganic chemistry, biochemistry and biophysics. » Continue Reading

The star of annual ASCO meeting? The human immune system

June 7, 2015 | by

Of the hundreds of important developments in cancer research and care showcased at one of the world’s largest medical meetings, featuring scores of studies about drugs, chemotherapy and radiation, the most exciting tool showcased for fighting cancer was the human immune system.

ASCO 2015 and research

The human immune system, in all its often problematic glory, was the star of the recent meeting of the nation’s oncologists.

For blood cancers and solid tumors alike, studies at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago showcased medicines adept at unleashing the immune system to attack cancers, including colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer. One study presented at the meeting compared standard chemotherapy with a drug called nivolumab, a “check-point inhibitor” that works by disrupting the signaling system used by cancer to avoid detection by the immune system.

“Patients in the trial who took nivolumab had nearly double the survival rate of patients treated with chemotherapy,” said Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope. Reckamp was an author of the study, which was also published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “This provides further evidence that immunotherapy is a treatment option for lung cancer.” » Continue Reading