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SU2C Scientific Leader Dr. William Nelson on Prostate Cancer

Early-stage prostate cancer: to treat or not to treat? Concern that low-grade prostate cancers may be overtreated once they are discovered has led to controversy about the value of prostate cancer screening and what should be done if low-grade cancer is discovered. Dr. William G. Nelson, vice-chairperson of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee, discusses the question in the blog of the American Association for Cancer Research, SU2C’s scientific partner.

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SU2C supported study of immunotherapy that helped President Carter

Scientists supported by Stand Up To Cancer have been instrumental in studying the impact of a new drug that is credited in part with getting rid of metastatic melanoma lesions in the brain of former President Jimmy Carter. MRI scans showed that the lesions were gone, Carter said, leaving him cancer-free just four months after revealing that he had melanoma that had spread to his brain. A portion of his liver had already been removed by surgery.

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Leader of SU2C Dream Team shows progress in pediatric cancer

Dr. John Maris, leader of the SU2C-St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Dream Team authored an editorial published on line Wed, November 18 in the New England Journal of Medicine in conjunction with research findings that hereditary genetic mutations account for 8.5% of childhood malignancies, a higher amount than. Yet they found a family history of cancer in only 40% of children with such mutations. These findings will likely influence new strategies for treating and tracking cancer in children and their families and may likely persuade oncologists and affected families that every child diagnosed with cancer have both normal and tumor tissue sequenced to identify any mutations in genes associated with cancer risk. According to Dr. Maris, “For years we were trained that the family history is the major clue to whether or not a genetic cause should be sought. This paper shows quite definitively that at best it’s an unreliable guide.

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SU2C-supported Scientists Report Progress in Potential Treatments for Prostate Cancer and Leukemia

A drug that is effective against some women’s cancers also has antitumor activity in certain cases of prostate cancer, potentially opening the way to new, targeted treatments of the most common cancer among males,
according to the lead article in the Oct. 29 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. It reported findings from a clinical trial, a study supported in part by the Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C)- Prostate Cancer Foundation Dream Team grant, which may allow doctors to predict ahead of time which patients will benefit from the treatment. The New England Journal of Medicine is considered the most widely read, cited, and influential general medical periodical in the world.

Published on the same day was a report on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. The treatment, which is still in development, has saved the lives of children with severe leukemia but is foiled in some cases by the development of resistance.
The SU2C-St. Baldrick’s Foundation Dream Team on pediatric cancer identified causes of the resistance in a paper published in Cancer Discovery, a leading journal of cancer research that is published by the American Association for Cancer Research.

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New approaches to target metastatic cancers

Over 90 percent of cancer deaths are caused by metastases – when the original tumor spreads to other organs. Only a few cancer cells in the original tumor, however, have the power to move and grow into a new tumor. Understanding how that power is gained may provide new tools to treat metastatic disease. Two recent papers, one from Dr. Zena Werb’s group at the University of California, San Francisco and the other from Dr. Owen Witte’s laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, report that the metastasizing breast and prostate cancer cells “borrow” from the biology of normal development in which immature stem cells obey signals to mature into an adult cell type. The researchers found that aggressive metastasizing breast and prostate cancer cells were genetically very similar to the normal breast and prostate stem cells that seed healthy organ development. By exploiting vulnerabilities in the very specialized programming of cancer stem cells, the researchers hope to develop new ways to treat metastatic disease. Dr. Werb served as a principal on the
SU2C Breast Cancer Dream Team. The abstract of her group’s article, is available
here. Dr. Witte serves on the President’s Cancer Panel and is co-leader of the
SU2C-Prostate Cancer Foundation Dream Team on Precision Therapy of Advanced Prostate Cancer. Several members of the Dream Team are co- authors of the article.

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An Innovative Research Grantee explores leukemia cell metabolism for new therapeutic approaches

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer in the U.S. Looking for new ways to treat a subtype of this disease that affects T cells (T-ALL), Adolfo Ferrando, PhD, and colleagues investigated the metabolic systems used by leukemia cells to process nutrients. They found that a common genetic change in T-ALL enables leukemia cells to use a key metabolic pathway for energy and, in laboratory tests, blocking that pathway shuts down the cancer cells’ metabolism, stopping their growth. They also discovered that another genetic change can activate rescue pathways allowing the cancer cells to develop resistance to the anti-metabolic treatment and continue to thrive. By understanding the fundamentals of tumor cell energy use in this way, the researchers hope to improve treatment and overcome drug resistance in T-ALL. Dr. Ferrando is a 2011 SU2C Innovative Research Grant recipient.

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Overcoming resistance

One of the biggest problems in cancer treatment today is the development of resistance to targeted therapies. Victor Velculescu, MD, PhD, and colleagues looked at tumors from patients with metastatic colorectal cancer to find out why some are resistant to a particular targeted treatment. They found a number of genetic changes in the resistant tumors and, based on that information, tested new drug combinations that overcame the drug resistance in laboratory tests. The hope now is to take this approach into the clinic so that doctors can select the right combination of drugs based on the genetic makeup of individual patients’ tumors. Dr. Velculescu is co-leader of the
SU2C-Dutch Cancer Society Dream Team on Molecular Early Detection of Colorectal Cancer and served as a principal on the SU2C Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team that just finished its grant term earlier this year.

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Malaria to treat cancer

A “trick” used by the malaria parasite when it infects a pregnant woman has given scientists new ideas for treating cancer. Malaria-infected red blood cells use a protein “hook” to latch on to a type of sugar molecule found on the surface of placental cells. Mads Daugaard, PhD, Paul Sorensen, MD, PhD, and colleagues, have discovered that the placental sugar is also on the surface of many cancer cells, but not on normal healthy cells. By fusing the malarial protein “hook” to toxic agents, the researchers were able to target the toxic agent to the cancer cells without harming healthy cells that do not have the sugar, thus stopping tumors in laboratory mice. The researchers now hope to develop this new type of anti-cancer therapy further for use in cancer patients. Drs. Daugaard and Sorenson, young investigator and principal, respectively, and co-corresponding authors, are members of the
SU2C- St. Baldrick’s Foundation Dream Team on Immunogenics to Create New Therapies for High Risk Childhood Cancers.

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SU2C’s MRA Melanoma Dream Team Leader bylines a story on the importance of clinical trials in cancer medicine.

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Keys to development of treatment resistance in melanoma found in SU2C-supported research

A research team led by Roger S. Lo, MD, PhD, of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), has tracked the changes in advanced melanomas that become resistant to some of the new targeted therapies, in the hopes of finding out how drug resistance occurs. In 2011, Dr. Lo received the Allan H. “Bud” and Sue Selig SU2C Melanoma IRG, named after the former commissioner of Major League Baseball and his wife, who have been major supporters of SU2C.

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