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.”

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Hematologist-oncologist Guido Marcucci wants ‘a society free of cancer’

April 25, 2015 | by   

Guido Marcucci, M.D., wants to put himself out of business.

Marcucci Guido

Renowned hematologist-oncologist Guido Marcucci is co-director of the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research within our Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute.

A respected clinician and esteemed basic and translational scientist, Marcucci joins City of Hope as co-director of the Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research within the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute. In this position, and as director of the Division of Hematopoietic Stem Cell and Leukemia Research, Marcucci will guide research into improved treatments, and even cures, for leukemia and other hematologic malignancies.

“For a physician-scientist like myself, City of Hope is an ideal place to work because both the research and clinical missions are fundamental and equally important for pursuing a society free of cancer,” he said.

Marcucci said he has a long-held passion for cancer research, and in particular for understanding its root causes. “I have always been interested in answering the fundamental questions of what events initiate cancer, and I believe that leukemia can be used as a model to answer these questions,” he said.

Ultimately, Marcucci hopes his work will make cancer — and in particular, leukemia — a footnote in history. “I know what a devastating disease leukemia can be for patients and their families. I would love one day to be able to say that I helped to alleviate their suffering.”

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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

Take-away from new breast cancer screening guidelines: It’s personal

April 21, 2015 | by   

In light of the new breast cancer screening guidelines, which call for women to have mammograms every other year from age 50 to 74, it’s more important than ever for women to understand their individual risk.

breast cancer screening

New breast cancer screening guidelines call for women age 50 to 74 to have mammograms every other year.

On Monday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task force released new breast cancer screening guidelines that are a clear withdrawal from one-size-fits-all screening. For women at “average risk,” every other year from 50 to 74 seems to be the window that has the most benefit and least harm. For women at increased breast cancer risk, the guidelines say that earlier and more frequent screening should be considered.

“There is a push to advocate for the general population to discuss this with their physicians and for clinicians to be more educated – and that’s good. It’s individualized medicine,” said Lusine Tumyan, M.D., chief of breast imaging and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Diagnostic Radiology at City of Hope. “I think radiologists as a community would still like to see annual screening – biennial screening increases the number of cancers we miss. The whole point of screening is to catch the cancers early so we can treat patients early.” » Continue Reading

City of Hope helps build supportive care programs around the world

April 21, 2015 | by   

Cancer patients need, and deserve, more than medical care. They and their families need high-quality supportive care – that is, care that addresses their physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Health care professionals increasingly understand this, but starting such programs from scratch isn’t easy. That’s where City of Hope comes in.

supportive care

To provide truly superb supportive care, caregivers must address all the physical, mental and spiritual pieces of a patient’s life. Already experts in this type of supportive care, City of Hope caregivers are now training others around the world how to create their own programs.

An international pioneer in integrated care,  the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope provides a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and numerous other caregivers who work together to assess what cancer patients and their families need, and then fulfill those needs. Now, the department is teaching other hospitals and caregivers how to do the same.

In 2012 and 2013, the National Cancer Institute awarded two five-year grants – of $1.5 million and $1.6 million – to City of Hope’s Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center to, essentially, help change the world of supportive care. The first grant was intended to fund the training of cancer health care and administrative professionals in how to build and enhance supportive care programs. The second grant was meant to train the same population of professionals in how to implement comprehensive biopsychosocial screening programs.

These training programs are now well underway. » 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.”

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Brain tumor treatment needs new approaches. Here are 4 at City of Hope:

April 17, 2015 | by   

The need for improvements in treating malignant brain tumors has never been greater. Survival for many patients with these tumors are sometimes measured in just months.

One reason that therapeutic options are limited is that traditional surgery is deemed too risky for many brain tumors, especially for those in hard-to-reach areas or in parts of the brain that control vital functions. Further, traditional treatment approaches have yielded only minor advances in the past few decades.

That’s why Behnam Badie, M.D., chief of the Division of Neurosurgery, along with other researchers and physicians at City of Hope, are developing novel therapies for cancer of the brain. “Being a neurosurgeon is not enough,” Badie said recently in an interview with BBC. “It has to be through science and technology. And that’s one of the reasons I came to City of Hope.”

Here are four ways in which City of Hope is advancing brain tumor treatment.

1. Using stem cells to deliver drugs into tumors

Neural stem cells have the ability to deliver anti-cancer therapies directly to the site of a brain tumor, without damaging healthy tissue. The latest study of this approach – from Karen Aboody, M.D., professor in the Department of Neurosciences and Division of Neurosurgery, and Jana Portnow, M.D., associate director of the Brain Tumor Program – will help determine the maximum tolerated dose of neural stem cells that can be safely administered directly into the brain. The researchers are also studying the possibility of administering repeat doses of the neural stem cells. A phase I clinical trial of this approach is currently underway.

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