Research


ASCO 2015: Drug combination promising for some lung cancer patients

May 29, 2015 | by

Lung cancer patients in need of improved treatment options may soon get good news, with a new combination therapy showing promise where other treatments have failed.

lung cancer

City of Hope researchers share findings on a promising combination treatment for lung cancer.

Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope, will be among the researchers presenting data this week on a combination of the drugs cabozantinib and erlotinib. They’ll be discussing their study at the American Society for Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

Although lung cancer treatments have improved overall with the introduction of tyrosine kinase inhibitors, some patients develop resistance to the drugs. The common culprit is the resistance mutation known as T790M. Often, patients without that mutation also become resistant to the treatment.

That leaves patients without use of one of the primary type of drugs used to treat their disease.

“Lung cancer patients with these mutations have an unmet need, and they don’t have significant options right now,” Reckamp said. » Continue Reading


Brain cancer treatment helps men with advanced prostate cancer

May 29, 2015 | by
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City of Hope is developing cures for men by bridging the lab and clinic. Here, Karen Aboody works with Jacob Berlin.

Although science and medicine have much in common, their practitioners are immersed in work that often appears to be worlds apart. Developing cures together — that is, translating science into meaningful, effective medical treatment — requires boundless creativity and perseverance.

This journey often starts when City of Hope’s scientists and clinicians share their recent discoveries and challenges in the lab and clinic. This open forum enables them to make new connections and consider possibilities for improving treatment for patients.

One such connection was made when Karen Aboody, M.D., professor of neurosciences and a renowned translational scientist, shared advances using neural stem cells to treat cancer with Jonathan Yamzon, M.D., a urologic oncologist who spends his days treating men in the clinic. Yamzon was intrigued by the potential of this science to target prostate cancer.

As a result, a team of researchers has embraced this promising new approach as a way to cure men. Yamzon and Aboody, along with Jacob Berlin, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine, and Jeremy Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular pharmacology, are now collaborating to bring neural stem cell therapy to men fighting prostate cancer — patients in urgent need of novel therapies for their disease.

Hormone therapy is the standard treatment for prostate cancer. The approach essentially starves cancer of testosterone, which the tumors need to grow and spread. But in many men, the cells mutate to produce testosterone on their own and keep growing, in effect becoming resistant to therapy. At this point, higher doses of chemotherapy may be effective, but would be too toxic to tolerate. This is where targeted neural stem cell therapy could step in. “We’re looking to treat patients who really don’t have any other options,” Yamzon said.

» Continue Reading


ASCO 2015: Clinical trial assesses options for triple-negative breast cancer

May 28, 2015 | by

A clinical trial currently being conducted at City of Hope and elsewhere suggests that researchers are developing improved treatment options for young women with advanced triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly difficult-to-treat disease.

breast cancer

A trial being presented at ASCO finds a combination of carboplatin and a PARP-inhibitor is a promising approach to breast cancer, shown, that has spread.

George Somlo, M.D., a professor in the departments of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research and Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, will present early results from the trial this week at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago. The meeting, May 29 through June 2, will draw oncologists from around the country to discuss research, treatment and best practices.

Somlo’s presentation – about a randomized, phase II national study – is focused on a particular regimen for women with advanced breast cancer who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. The study examines the effectiveness of a PARP inhibitor known veliparib. Participants in the study either receive the drug on its own or in combination with carboplatin.

“We’re learning that triple-negative breast cancer consists of at least a half-dozen subtypes, each of which may require personalized therapies,” Somlo said. “We must intensify our current laboratory and translational research to improve next-generation clinical trials for much better control and eventual cure of triple-negative Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.”

A cancer is considered triple-negative when it doesn’t respond to any known targeted therapies; such cancer occurs in about 15 percent of women with breast cancer. But, as more tumor targets are identified and the subtypes of triple-negative breast cancer become more clear, the treatments can become more targeted as well. » Continue Reading


Cancer Insights: What I’ll be looking for in Chicago – an ASCO 2015 preview

May 27, 2015 | by

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is a U.S.-based organization that ties together oncology health care professionals (doctors, nurses and pharmacists) from around the world. The organization’s annual meeting represents a key forum in which scientific breakthroughs in oncology are unveiled. Attendance is nothing short of spectacular – last year, the meeting drew 34,000 attendees with just over half coming from outside of the U.S.

ASCO 2015: What's hot

ASCO 2015 preview: For a medical oncologist specializing in prostate, kidney and bladder cancer, the annual meeting of the nation’s top oncologists is a learning opportunity that can’t be missed. One of the most promising topics is about a clinical trial using gene therapy.

This year’s meeting begins Thursday in Chicago. After a busy clinic today, I’m going to hop on a red-eye and make my way there. As a medical oncologist focused on prostate, kidney and bladder cancer, I’ll be focused on the following research in particular:

1. “Gene therapy” for bladder cancer: The BOREALIS-1 trial: For years we have longed for new therapies for advanced bladder cancer. It’s been three decades since cisplatin (a standard chemotherapy agent) was introduced for the disease, and since that time, we’ve had virtually no effective drugs developed. This appears to be changing dramatically.

My friend and colleague Przemyslaw Twardowski, M.D., was involved in an international study evaluating a novel drug called apatorsen. Apatorsen represents a sort of “gene therapy” – a short strand of DNA that enters the cancer cell and shuts down its defense mechanisms. At this meeting, we will see data suggesting that when added to chemotherapy, apatorsen led to an impressive improvement in survival.

That data is a real glimmer of hope for patients with advanced bladder cancer. » Continue Reading


ASCO 2015: Cancer research brings new and better therapies to patients

May 26, 2015 | by

Anyone who tours City of Hope will almost certainly be taken by two key buildings: City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center for Cancer Immunotherapeutics & Tumor Immunology.

cancer research

City of Hope scientists will share their cancer research breakthroughs at the ASCO 2015 annual meeting in Chicago.

The heart of the campus, in more ways than one, the two buildings are a stone’s throw from each other. The hospital is dedicated to treating cancer patients who are currently fighting their disease, and the research institute to finding the treatments and cures these patients need – and efficiently bringing those innovations to the clinic.

That drive to help patients is what inspires so many City of Hope physicians and scientists to attend, and present research at, medical conferences. There, they can share their discoveries with their peers worldwide, as well as learn about new advances and developments in cancer research and care. One of the most notable of those conferences will take place this week in Chicago.

Thousands of researchers and physicians will convene in Chicago May 29 through June 2 for the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, including a delegation from City of Hope who will share findings about a number of cancers and treatment approaches, including assessments of potential new therapies and comparisons of current therapies.  » Continue Reading


Skin cancer treatment: Research combined with a comprehensive approach

May 23, 2015 | by

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States today, and its incidence is on the rise. Forty to 50 percent of light-skinned Americans who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once in their lives.

skin cancer treatment

Skin cancer treatment is improving, especially for melanoma (shown here). Clinical trials and ongoing research have fueled the advances.

Most of these skin cancers – about 3.5 million cases – are the basal cell and squamous cell types, which are highly treatable if caught early. “A lot of people get basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but not a lot of people die of them,” said City of Hope board-certified skin cancer surgeon Laleh Melstrom, M.D., of the lesions that typically appear on the face, the tops of the ears and the scalp.

Added City of Hope dermatologist and assistant professor Jae Jung, M.D., Ph.D.: “For most small, nonmelanoma skin cancers, surgical incision is curative 95 percent to 99 percent of the time.”

In contrast, there are just 79,000 cases of melanoma diagnosed in the United States each year – and 10,000 deaths.

Despite its relative rarity compared to these other forms of skin cancer, melanoma makes up about 50 to 75 percent of all skin cancer deaths, according to Melstrom. “Melanoma has seen a lot of progress in the development of targeted therapies to treat for systemic disease, but early surgical intervention remains the most effective strategy for preventing metastatic disease and prolonging survival,” she said.

If doctors can catch it at Stage 1, “melanoma has a five-year-survival rate approaching 98 percent,” Melstrom said, adding that “the vast majority of melanomas are early stage and curable. Just 12 percent or so present late and have a mortality risk.”

But, with leading-edge research and skin cancer treatment, the City of Hope skin-cancer team is at the forefront of the attack on even later stages of this most-deadly form of skin cancer. » Continue Reading


Lifestyle and cancer: What cancer experts say (w/VIDEO)

May 22, 2015 | by


The connection between lifestyle and cancer is real. Knowing that, what can individuals do to lower their risk?

City of Hope physicians recently came together to answer that precise question, explaining the links between cancer and the choices we make that affect our health.

Moderator Vijay Trisal M.D., medical director of City of Hope’s community practices and an associate clinical professor of surgical oncology, led the discussion. The featured panelists were Suzy Melkonian, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Santa Clarita and Mission Hills; Elizabeth Lynn Meyering, M.D., assistant clinical professor at City of Hope | Simi Valley; and Wei-Chien Michael Lin, M.D., associate clinical professor at City of Hope | Mission Hills.

Below are a couple of questions and responses addressed by the panelists. » Continue Reading


Mushroom powder linked to lower PSA levels in prostate cancer patients

May 22, 2015 | by


White button mushrooms seem fairly innocuous as fungi go. Unlike portabellas, they don’t center stage at the dinner table, and unlike truffles, they’re not the subject of gourmand fervor. But appearances can be deceiving when it comes to these mild-mannered Clark Kents of the food world.

white button mushrooms and prostate cancer

Powder made from white button mushrooms appears able to lower PSA levels in men previously treated for prostate cancer.

In a study led by City of Hope researchers, a powder made of white button mushrooms was found to reduce the levels of prostate specific antigen, or PSA, in prostate cancer patients whose PSA levels had been rising. And, even better, the powder caused no ill effects.

Here’s why that matters. A rise in PSA levels in men already treated for prostate cancer can be a harbinger of disease recurrence. So when those levels rise – and continue to rise – men know that further treatment is likely necessary. Men need a way to keep those PSA levels down or, more to the point, help prevent cancer’s recurrence.

White button mushrooms could be it. » Continue Reading


STOP CANCER supports innovative scientists with research grants

May 22, 2015 | by
Research grants

Mark Boldin, left, pictured with Steven Rosen, provost and chief scientific officer, received a research grant, along with Thomas Slavin and Yuan Yuan that will provide $50,000 in funding for three years, totaling $150,000 each.

Stopping cancer starts with research. To that end, STOP CANCER has awarded $525,000 in grants to City of Hope for 2015, supporting innovative research projects and recognizing the institution’s leadership in advancing cancer treatment and prevention.

Founded in 1988, STOP CANCER underwrites the work of leading-edge scientists. The organization’s grants provide initial support for new and established researchers, giving their work exposure that can lead to additional funding and major advancements in fighting cancers.

Three faculty members received Research Career Development awards that will provide $50,000 in funding for three years, totaling $150,000 each:

  • Mark Boldin, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, received an award for his research on lymphoma and microRNA biology. Boldin’s research group is investigating the role of microRNAs in the regulation of inflammation and cancer.
  • Thomas Slavin, M.D., assistant clinical professor of the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics, received an award to study the genetics of pancreatic and gastric cancers under the mentorship of cancer geneticists Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., director of the division, and Susan Neuhausen, Ph.D., The Morris & Horowitz Families Professor in Cancer Etiology & Outcomes Research and co-leader of City of Hope’s Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program. Slavin will examine the genotypes of individuals with pancreatic and gastric cancers to look for hereditary markers that could be used to determine hereditary cancer risk.
  • Yuan Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research, received the Margie and Robert E. Peterson Foundation Research Career Development Award to study novel therapeutics to overcome therapy resistance in breast cancer. Yuan’s research project will focus on an arginine-depleting enzyme utilizing breast cancer cell lines.

» Continue Reading


Researchers hunt cancer’s origins within the tumor microenvironment

May 21, 2015 | by

Cancer may not be the disease many people think it is.

cancer and the microenvironment

Cancer may not be a disease of proliferation so much as a product of its own microenvironment, leading researchers say.

Normally, cancer is considered to be a disease in which cells multiply at an extremely high, and unusual, rate – increasing the likelihood of genetic mutations. But increasingly, leading researchers at City of Hope and elsewhere are contending that cancer is, in large part, a disease of cell movement and so-called seeding.

If you’re looking for a culprit, they say, look to cancer cells’ microenvironment. That environment – with its fostering of cell accumulation and growth – likely encourages tumors to form. By looking at cancer in this revolutionary way, they hope to develop new and better treatments for a disease that continues to take far too high a toll.

On Thursday, May 21, Larry Norton, M.D., deputy physician-in-chief of breast cancer programs at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, shared his perspective on the topic. » Continue Reading