Knight Cancer signal achievements of 2016

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Lara Davis, M.D., and Payton Williams, a former patient, at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in a ceremony awarding Davis a young investigator grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels.

The staff and faculty of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute accomplished much together during the past year. Here’s a sampling of achievements that reflect the mission of delivering compassionate care and scientific discoveries that will end cancer as we know it:

Serving Oregonians across the state

  • U.S. News & World Report ranked OHSU among the nation’s top 40 for adult cancer care. The Knight Cancer Institute moved up a notch from last year to rank 36th among cancer hospitals, flanked by No. 35 Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego, and No. 37 Ohio State University James Cancer Hospital.
  • Dermatologists performed 363 free skin checks – nearly triple last year’s total – at the second annual War on Skin Cancer event. The Melanoma Community Registry signed up 317 new participants at the event, more than twice the number last year.

Developing new talent

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CURE intern Corinne Togiai speaking at the awards ceremony for her Kaiser Permanente Health Care Career Scholarship.

  • Since 2002, the Ted R. Lilley Cancer Cure Program has given hands-on research experience to 56 high school students who excel in science but come from communities that are underrepresented in medical and research fields. Among this year’s graduates, one became a Gates Millennium Scholar and two received Kaiser Permanente scholarships.
  • Research by Meghan Joly, Ph.D., with insights on poor survival in pancreatic cancer, was judged best by a postdoctoral fellow at the International Symposium on Pancreatic Cancer 2016.

Exhibiting leadership

  • Knight Cancer Institute member Charles R. Thomas, Jr., M.D., earned the distinction of Doctor-Citizen of the Year from the Oregon Medical Association for “outstanding contributions to the community, the practice of medicine, and to health care policy in Oregon.”
  • The Cancer Moonshot initiative led by Vice President Joe Biden, selected four OHSU faculty members – Sadik Esener, Ph.D., Joe Gray, Ph.D., Melissa Haendel, Ph.D., and Shannon McWeeney, Ph.D. – for working groups aiming to accelerate progress in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
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Esener, Gray, Haendel, and McWeeney

Delivering discoveries

  • A team including Paul Spellman, Ph.D., identified many of the altered genes and cell signaling pathways that drive papillary renal cell carcinoma, a poorly understood form of cancer that accounts for about 15 percent of kidney tumors. The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are likely to affect clinical recommendations, and should help guide the development of more precisely targeted therapies.

genomic drivers

  • Reviving hope for using tumor-specific immunity to fight prostate cancer, Julie Graff, M.D., presented the first evidence of meaningful clinical activity for PD-1 blockade in men with metastatic prostate tumors. Prior studies showed no evidence of anti-tumor activity with immune therapies that work by blocking PD-1 signals.
  • Researchers led by Peter Kurre, M.D., uncovered a specialized weapon deployed by acute myeloid leukemia: secreting membrane-bound vesicles, or exosomes, that are loaded with microRNA molecules that target and disrupt a pivotal control system in the blood-forming stem cells.
  • Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., and colleagues discovered a key immune signaling link that drives pancreatic cancer. They showed that inhibition of Bruton tyrosine kinase, or BTK, with the FDA-approved drug ibrutinib restores T cell–dependent anti-tumor immune responses. The preclinical work led to the initiation of clinical trials testing BTK inhibitors in pancreatic cancer and also in head and neck cancer.
  • In a study of more than 5,800 smokers discharged from the OHSU hospital over two years, David Gonzales, Ph.D., and colleagues obtained real-world data on factors that predict success in completing tobacco cessation, which they used to recommend strategies for improving referrals.

Collaborating to accelerate progress

  • The Beat AML Master Trial emerged from a collaboration started by the Knight Cancer Institute and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It is an umbrella trial designed to speed up discovery of new treatments for acute myeloid leukemia by matching patients with one of several different drugs selected to block a specific tumor mutation or signaling pathway.
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Lisa Coussens, Ph.D.

  • OHSU’s Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine directed by Joe Gray, Ph.D., began mapping the pancreatic cancer microenvironment with ClearLight Diagnostics, a company developing tissue-processing and imaging technology for viewing the interactions of proteins, DNA and other cellular components in three dimensions.
  • The Swedish biotech firm Immunovia and the Knight Cancer Institute reached another milestone in developing a blood test for the early detection of pancreatic cancer. The company’s antibody microarray was able to identify samples from patients with pancreatic cancer with 96 percent accuracy.

immunovia

Fulfilling the promise of early detection

Breaking new ground for cancer research

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Gov. Kate Brown at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Knight Cancer Research Building.

  • The building team won the city’s approval in December to push forward with the next phase of construction – still within a month of the planned date for securing permits. The building is on its way to LEED Platinum status for energy efficiency and environmental health.
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About the Author

Joe worked as a cell biology researcher at the Rockefeller University in New York City until he figured out he could make a living writing about science for newspapers and magazines. He's been a science writer with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute since September 2015.

A new way to guide cancer immune therapy

A new way to guide cancer immune therapy

Scrutinizing the immune cells infiltrating a tumor may reveal its vulnerability or resistance to immune-based therapies—and perhaps improve treatment success. Knight Cancer scientist Lisa Coussens and colleagues describe the work in a new paper.