Independent scientific research starts with funding – and mentors

July 24, 2015 | by   

K grantsBecoming what’s known as an independent scientific researcher is no small task, especially when working to translate research into meaningful health outcomes. Yet that independent status is vital, enabling researchers to lead studies and avenues of inquiry that they believe to be promising.

Clinicians, especially, can find themselves with little training in the intricacies of research studies and analyses.

“While training as a fellow, you are busy learning the clinical side,” said Joanne Mortimer, M.D., vice chair and professor of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research at City of Hope. “Having enough time to learn research so that you can be independent is not realistic.”

To bridge that gap, and help develop clinical scientists, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers mentored career-development awards, known as K awards, for young researchers and clinicians. These awards are intended to develop scientists who can be a connection between the lab bench and the patient bedside. That connection, and the people who create it, are at the heart of what’s known as translational medicine.

As a leader in translational medicine, City of Hope has been home to a significant amount of K12 funding – with the “12” referring to the method of distribution, that is, through the institution, rather than to individuals – for the past 20 years. » Continue Reading

Lessons from my leukemia diagnosis and cord blood transplant – Alex Tung

July 23, 2015 | by   
City of Hope patient Alex Tung

Leukemia patient Alex Tung waited six months for a bone marrow match, but because of his Chinese heritage, the search proved more difficult than expected. Instead, he signed up for a clinical trial transplant that used umbilical cord blood.

720 days. That’s how long Alex Tung, 38, had to give up surfing after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. For most people, even some surfers, such a hiatus wouldn’t be a big deal, but for Tung, surfing has been everything.

The Southern California resident began surfing when he was in elementary school, immediately falling in love with the sport and the ocean. As an adult, Tung would head straight to the beach to go surfing. It was his version of meditating. Nothing mattered when he was in the water.

“When I’m in the ocean, I feel more connected to mother nature,” Tung said. “It clears my mind, gives me positive energy and soothes my soul. It’s my escape. It’s everything to me.”

It was in the ocean, in early 2014, where Tung first noticed red dots on his body. He didn’t think much of it at the time.

Then, in May of that year, he went on a surfing trip to Hawaii. That’s when he also started noticing bruises on his legs and found himself getting tired easily. When he returned home to Cerritos, he decided to finally take his family’s and friend’s advice to make an appointment with his doctor.

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Cancer Insights: The myth of closure – by Stephen J. Forman

July 22, 2015 | by   
Stephen J. Forman

Stephen J. Forman, the Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, reflects on loss and the “myth” of closure.

There are few among us who have not experienced loss of a friend or loved one, often without warning, or like those of us who care for people with cancer, after a lingering illness. It is a time when emotions run high and deep, and as time passes from the moment of loss, we often hear how important it is for those who have most directly experienced the void to gain closure in order to move on with their own lives. We seek that closure as a way of tidying up, fearing that the memory of that person or a well-meaning comment may provoke unintended pain or undo what time is said to heal. The reality is, closure is a myth.

My personal and professional experience with those who have lost family and friends, including children, has taught me that going on with life is not the same as gaining closure. The wound of loss is indelible and a part of each person’s life forever, punctuated by many moments of recollection. It is sometimes predictably provoked by a date on the calendar and, less predictably, by a sight, sound, aroma, melody or a place that evokes an immediate awareness of that person, long after their physical presence in our lives has ceased. We continue to think about those dear to us, perhaps not every day, nor with the same intensity, but our lives are populated by those whom we know and, sometimes more profoundly, by those whom we remember. The experience of these personal moments, seemingly forever paused in time, can cause us to feel alone, even while in the presence of others. This aloneness is heightened by a false expectation that these experiences should, and will, at some point be over. » Continue Reading

Neurosurgeon receives Breakthrough Award for study of brain metastases

July 21, 2015 | by   
Rahul Jandial headshot

Rahul Jandial, assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, received the Department of Defense Breakthrough Award, which will support his research to further understand why women with HER2-positive breast cancer have higher rates of brain metastases.

For the past four years, neurosurgeon and scientist Rahul Jandial, M.D., Ph.D., has been studying how breast cancer cells spread, or metastasize, to the brain, where they become life-threatening tumors. Known as secondary brain tumors, these cancers have become increasingly common as treatment advances have enabled more women to survive their primary cancer.

Jandial’s goal is to find out how to find more effective treatments for these tumors, which eventually take the lives of thousands of women in the U.S. each year.

His expertise in the field recently helped him obtain a prestigious $700,000 grant from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (BCRP), part of the Medical Research Programs directed by the U.S. Congress.

Jandial, assistant professor in the Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, received what’s officially known as the Breakthrough Award, which will support his research to further understand why women with HER2-positive breast cancer have higher rates of brain metastases than women with other breast cancer subtypes.

The award highlights just how crucial Jandial’s work is. Approximately 40 percent of all women with HER2-positive breast cancer will develop brain metastases.

» Continue Reading

Learn about cutaneous T cell lymphoma (w/PODCAST)

July 20, 2015 | by   
Cutaneous T Cell Lymphoma

Christiane Querfeld is a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist with advanced fellowship training in cutaneous lymphoma. Her clinical practice focuses on the diagnosis, care and management of patients with cutaneous lymphoma and related diseases.

Cutaneous T cell lymphomas are types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that arise when infection-fighting white blood cells in the lymphatic system – called lymphocytes – become malignant and affect the skin.

A primary symptom is a rash that arises initially in areas of the skin that are not normally exposed to sunlight. From phototherapy to topical creams, the first defense is to relieve the itching.

But is it eczema? Is it psoriasis? When do you suspect cutaneous T cell lymphoma?

Mycosis fungoides is the most common type of cutaneous T cell lymphoma. Here, Christiane Querfeld, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Cutaneous Lymphoma Program at City of Hope, discusses the disease, its diagnosis and its treatment.


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.

This science camp tackles the art and science of medical diagnosis

July 18, 2015 | by   

There’s science camp, and then there’s “mystery” science camp. City of Hope’s new science camp for middle school students is of the especially engaging latter variety.

scienc camp

Junior medical investigator Natasha Kearl participates in City of Hope’s first science camp for middle school students.

From Monday, July 13, to Friday, July 17, rising middle-school students from across the San Gabriel Valley were presented with a “patient” with an undiagnosed disease. From there, they tackled the art and science of medical diagnosis.

The junior medical investigators explored the potential illnesses from which the patient might be suffering and then conducted tests that would eliminate potential diseases.

Alexandra Race, Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program coordinator at City of Hope, told the Los Angeles Daily News that what sets this science camp apart from others is that it has more of a medical focus.

“We combined both the medical aspect of City of Hope and the research aspect,” Race said in the interview. “They’re diagnosing a patient with this mysterious illness and they’re doing medical tests, but also using some of the principles of research.”

For 12-year-old Natasha Kearl from Glendora, California, who’s considering a career in the medical field, the science camp was a perfect fit.

» Continue Reading

Discovery of gene’s link to survival could aid breast cancer treatment

July 17, 2015 | by   
genes and breast cancer

Expression of the SERPINA1 gene appears linked to survival outcomes in women whose breast cancer tumors are both ER positive and HER2 positive, researchers have found.

Women diagnosed with breast cancer quickly learn their tumor’s type, meaning the characteristics that fuel its growth. That label guides the treatment of their disease, as well as their prognosis when it comes to treatment effectiveness.

Sometimes, however, doctors can’t accurately predict treatment effectiveness because their knowledge about tumor types has gaps. Each tumor genome is unique, and small variations in gene expression can affect how a particular tumor type responds to particular treatment regimens.

Women whose tumor types are both ER positive and HER2 positive, for instance, generally have more negative outcomes than women whose tumors are ER positive and HER2 negative. Estrogen receptor, or ER, positive tumors are fueled by the hormone estrogen. HER2 positive tumors make excessive amounts of a protein called HER2/neu and tend to be aggressive and fast-growing.

Researchers and physicians have known that women with tumors that are both ER positive and HER2 positive have poorer survival outcomes. What they haven’t known is how to predict how these women might fare.

The question is an important one because approximately 10 percent of breast cancer patients have such tumors. What researchers and physicians need are biomarkers – biochemical signs that can be reliably measured and analyzed for changes – that could help them predict outcomes for women with that particular tumor type.

They appear to have found one. » Continue Reading

Bladder cancer treatment is evolving. Here are 3 important advances

July 16, 2015 | by   

In years past, Bladder Cancer Awareness Month has been a sobering reminder of a disease with few treatment options. For patients with metastatic disease (disease that has spread from the bladder to distant organs), average survival is typically just over one year. Fortunately, things are changing.

stages of bladder cancer

Bladder cancer treatment is advancing. Here are three of the most promising approaches. (Illustrated here, bladder cancer in stages.)

Academic institutions like City of Hope now have a wealth of clinical trials for patients with bladder cancer. These clinical trials are examining drugs that work through a number of mechanisms distinct from chemotherapy. Highlighted below are the top three research and treatment advances that I feel are the most promising:

1. Redirecting the immune system

We have several ongoing studies looking at a class of drugs called programmed death-1, or PD-1, inhibitors. In a patient with cancer, the immune system is often suppressed, making it challenging for the body to mount any response against cancer cells. PD-1 inhibitors (and a closely related class of drugs called PD-L1 inhibitors) cause dormant immune cells to reactivate, therefore overcoming this suppression.

Not every patient will respond to PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors, but those who do often have extremely prolonged responses, with existing studies documenting survival of up to several years.

» Continue Reading

Lymphoma survivor Tina Wang: Now she’s looking to the future

July 15, 2015 | by   
mantle cell lymphoma survivor

College senior Tina Wang was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 22. After a stem cell transplant and a CAR-T cell therapy clinical trial at City of Hope, she’s now focused on the future.

Tina Wang was diagnosed with Stage 4 diffuse large b cell lymphoma at age 22.

She first sought treatment at her local hospital, undergoing two cycles of treatment. When the treatment failed to eradicate her cancer, she came to City of Hope.

Here, Wang underwent an autologous stem cell transplant and participated in a CAR-T cell therapy clinical trial. Now Wang is back in college studying nutrition and, this month, she celebrates one year of being in remission.

Here she answers questions about her diagnosis and her treatment experience at City of Hope.

What went through your mind when you were diagnosed?

At first, I was just shocked. I didn’t know what to do, what was going to happen. I don’t have a family history of any type of cancer, so at first I questioned if the doctor had misdiagnosed me. After a few days, I told myself that my only task was to follow all the necessary treatments. Other things could wait. » Continue Reading

City of Hope launches pituitary clinic for special, multidisciplinary care

July 14, 2015 | by   
Pituitary clinic

Neurosurgeon Behnam Badie and endocrinologist Behrouz Salehian have created a pituitary clinic with a multidisciplinary team of specialists that helps ensure patients receive the most effective treatment for their condition.

When Gilbert Fresquez, 72, lost an excessive amount of weight in late 2012, he didn’t think much of it. He assumed it was a side effect from a recent surgery to remove a carcinoid tumor in his small intestine.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later during a routine doctor’s visit that the retired business owner learned that his weight loss, along with his low production of testosterone, was due to a pituitary tumor, located just below his brain.

Pituitary tumors, which are primarily noncancerous, are known to be slow-growing, and many people can live years with one before having any symptoms. Eventually, however, these tumors can grow large enough to cause significant health problems such as vision loss, dizziness, headaches, unintended weight loss or weight gain, weakness, body hair loss and hormone deficiencies.

Doctors estimated that Fresquez’s tumor had been growing in his pituitary gland for nearly 10 years.

“I told Gil to put his Superman cape back on because I knew we had another battle in front of us,” said Fresquez’s wife, Marianne Nugent.

» Continue Reading