For many people who receive a cancer diagnosis, one of the first things they want is information – about the cancer itself, about treatment options, about side effects they may experience, about what it all means.
Cancer is a disease driven by gene mutations. These mutated genes in cancer fall into two major categories: tumor suppressors and oncogenes. Mutations in tumor suppressor genes can allow tumors to grow unchecked – a case of no brakes – while mutations in oncogenes can activate cell proliferation, pushing the gas pedal all the way to the floor.
As growing numbers of people diagnosed with cancer receive testing to have their cancer genetically sequenced, researchers and clinicians are learning volumes more about specific mutations and genetic alterations that can occur in each type of cancer.
2022 was an impressive year for the University of Colorado Cancer Center, and we were able to share more than 125 stories highlighting our research, patient care, education, and community partnerships.
A promising new study released by the University of Colorado Cancer Center suggests that recurrence of certain cancers can be significantly decreased by irradiating only a select set of lymph nodes near a tumor rather than all of them.
The best screening test for colorectal cancer is the screening that gets done, because it decreases a person’s chances of getting colorectal cancer and significantly reduces their risk of dying from colorectal cancer.
When a person has lived with colorectal cancer for a long time, and gotten to the point of not responding to therapies as much or at all, it’s common to develop cachexia. This debilitating condition is a multi-systemic wasting syndrome that can cause weight loss, a loss of muscle and bone mass, fatigue, and frailty.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and, when caught and treated early, is considered curable. But when prostate cancer becomes metastatic, meaning it spreads to distant organs, it is no longer considered curable and novel treatment strategies are needed.
Every person who receives a cancer diagnosis experiences the symptoms of the disease and treatments differently. However, a common thread is that the disease can influence every aspect of life, even after a person reaches no evidence of disease (NED) status.
The effects of cancer are not just physical, especially in advanced stages of the disease. People living with a cancer diagnosis may experience depression, anxiety, and fear, or feel demoralized by the weight of new and unanticipated burdens.
Three University of Colorado Cancer Center scientists have received a combined total of almost $2 million in grant funding from the American Cancer Society (ACS) to support research addressing a broad spectrum of cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
Among the many lessons collectively learned during the initial months of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic was this: The experience was uncharted psychological and emotional terrain. It wasn’t uncommon for people across the globe to express uncertainty about how to navigate new stresses and new emotions.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis can feel like crossing the border into a new country, one with its own language, customs, and laws. Following a cancer diagnosis, people may find themselves sprinting to absorb a new vocabulary of often intimidating words.
An enzyme that has been identified as instrumental in the progression of many types of cancer is meeting its match in inhibitors synthesized and evaluated by University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center researchers.
There were a lot of things Jim White thought he’d never do: stay in one place long enough to feel roots grow beneath his feet, meet the love of his life, have a child whose daily joy in discovering the world reignites White’s own joy.
The University of Colorado Cancer Center is pleased to announce several leadership transitions that will support the center in its mission to overcome cancer through innovation, discovery, prevention, early detection, multidisciplinary care, and education.
It’s worth noting, in light of recently published research, that a majority of people won’t be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes. According to the National Cancer Institute, about 40% of people will, which means 60% won’t.
One of the most impactful advancements during the past decade in treating ovarian cancer is the use of PARP inhibitors (short for poly adenosine diphosphate-ribose polymerase). PARP inhibitors are a type of cancer drug that blocks the PARP enzyme from helping to repair DNA damage in cancer cells.
May is National Cancer Research Month, during this time we aim to raise awareness of the high-quality, innovative cancer research happening at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. This research continues to help the more than 16.9 million people in the United States who are living with, through, and beyond their cancer diagnoses.
Black and Hispanic children diagnosed with brain and central nervous system (CNS) cancers have worse outcomes than their white counterparts in the United States. The reasons behind this are unclear but may include socioeconomic factors and/or limited access to quality care. Now, researchers at the University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center and Children’s Hospital Colorado on the Anschutz Medical Campus are collaborating to better understand these disparities, as well as develop ways to reduce the burden of disease in these populations.
In the midst of a global pandemic, it seems odd to be asking my 18-year-old neighbor about the dangers of vaping. However, keeping a safe six-foot distance away and wearing homemade masks, we’re able to hold a decent conversation across the front lawn. My question is simple: Is vaping dangerous? His answer: “I don’t know, but I think it is safer than smoking a cigarette.”
In July 2019, Emily McClintock Addlesperger was on vacation in Maine with her husband, Jason, when she felt sick and was airlifted to Portland with internal bleeding. A tumor on her ovary had burst. It was Monday. On Saturday, she passed away. Emily was 44 years old.
Nearly two thousand people living in Colorado will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer (HNC) in 2020. Generally, a very aggressive disease, head and neck cancer require expert care that is not widely available in community cancer clinics. However, patients that are not well-represented in clinical studies, especially Hispanic patients, are less likely to get care from centers that specialize in the disease, such as the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the United States. In Colorado more than 2,500 people will be diagnosed with the disease and more than 1,400 will die of it in 2020. While advances in lung cancer treatment have gifted many patients with more time, the benefit of these treatments is limited by the racial and socioeconomic status of some patients in Colorado. A new study at the University of Colorado Cancer Center focuses on reducing disparities in lung cancer patients with diverse backgrounds.
University of Colorado radiation oncologist Chad Rusthoven, MD, was recently awarded the prestigious Dr. Charles A. Coltman Jr. research fellowship award from the Hope Foundation for Cancer Research. The award provides two years of salary support to engage early career investigators from Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) affiliated institutions in clinical trial research.
When a blood cancer patient needs a bone marrow transplant, there are four common donor sources: A matched related donor (sibling), a matched unrelated donor (from a donor database), a half-matched donor, or umbilical cord blood. Of course, there are plusses and minuses to each approach, but consensus has generally ranked a matched sibling first, followed by a matched unrelated donor, with cord blood and half-matched donors reserved for patients without either of the first two options. Now a University of Colorado Cancer Center study based on a decade of research and treatment may reshuffle this list. In fact, the comparison of 190 patients receiving cord-blood transplants with 123 patients receiving transplants from the “gold standard” of matched sibling donors showed no difference in survival outcomes between these two approaches, with significantly fewer complications due to chronic graft-versus-host disease in patients receiving transplants from cord blood.
The international First-line Radiosurgery for Small-Cell Lung Cancer (FIRE-SCLC) analysis led by University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers and published today in JAMA Oncology details clinical outcomes for 710 patients with brain metastases from small cell lung cancer treated with first-line stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), without prior treatment with whole-brain radiation (WBRT) or prophylactic cranial irradiation (PCI).
In 1844, multiple myeloma was first treated with a rhubarb pill and an infusion of orange peel. Since then, more than 15 drugs have earned FDA approval to treat multiple myeloma and with so many options, a major question has become what cocktail and sequence is best?
In the summer of 2019, Dr. Neil Box toured Colorado with the Sun Bus, attending events with over 700,000 participants and reaching 26,000 people in 46 service days. Free skin cancer screens identified 96 suspected skin cancers, including six cases of dangerous melanoma. The tour also gave Dr. Box the opportunity to hear what people think about skin cancer and sun protection.
March 5th: The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Colorado is reported in a young man who had been on vacation to Italy before continuing his vacation amid the skiing and snowboarding crowds up in Vail.
March 10th: While I am in my lung cancer clinic, I get an email from Harry Ren, a doctor from the Shanghai Pulmonary Hospital who had worked with us previously. He had heard COVID-19 was in Colorado. Harry warns me to wear protective equipment, to keep myself and the team safe. Over 3,000 Chinese doctors and nurses have gotten sick from COVID-19.
March 11th: The World Health Organization officially labels COVID-19 a pandemic.
March 12th: We admit our first lung cancer patient with COVID-19 symptoms – a potential “patient zero” for us. Bert, short for Roberta, is a wonderful 77-year old retired publisher, who appeared to be responding to her treatment but then developed increasingly difficult breathing and low-grade fevers over a week.1 On her CT scan there are new infiltrates in both lungs. She had received immunotherapy together with her last chemotherapy which can cause inflammation in the lungs. We send blood tests for different infections, including COVID-19.
Bert is stabilized and kept under isolation conditions. Steroids, which can be used to treat inflammation in the lungs, but which could worsen some infections, are kept in reserve while the test results are awaited.
March 16th: All my work meetings have become virtual. From our respective rooms and offices, the clinical and research teams discuss ongoing clinical trial accruals; then new and difficult cases in our weekly Tumor Board.
March 17th: My clinic has changed dramatically. I see a fraction of the patients I would normally see in person; the rest are through telehealth appointments. Our scheduler jokes that tech support for older patients has now become an everyday part of her job.
March 19th: There is little traffic and I get rock star parking at the clinic. We still do not have the COVID-19 results back on Bert. It has been 7 days since she was admitted. Her other infectious tests are all negative.
I do my usual phone call with the thoracic oncology consortium that I direct – 14 University Hospitals and Cancer Centers across the USA and Canada. Patient accruals to clinical trials are down. Everything is becoming bottlenecked. Patients are scared. Staff are scared. However, the feeling on the call is that, as doctors, this is what we went to medical school for.
Because medical situations are the explosions we run toward rather than away from. In medicine, we are used to chaos. We are used to finding and protecting the possible, under a barrage of the uncontrollable, the impossible.
On the call among my colleagues, we all feel as if we are the shepherds of our own flocks. Patients with lung cancer are, in theory, no more susceptible to catch COVID-19 than anyone else, but if they do catch it, they will have a higher risk of dealing with the worst of the symptoms COVID-19 has to offer.
I finish off the day with a Remote Second Opinion from Israel.2 In Haifa, the patient and her children are now faced with not just the stress of her lung cancer growing, but a new kind of stressor. To determine the next best treatment would require a biopsy but going into the hospital to get this done could increase her risks of COVID-19 infection. To not get the biopsy would mean hunkering down with a progressing cancer or switching straight to chemotherapy in the absence of rational alternatives. The risks they are most worried about all relate to catching COVID-19. The risks from her progressing cancer appear clearer.
There are internet adverts for virus killing light-wands. Hydroxy-chloroquine, an anti-malarial and anti-inflammatory agent, is being thrown around as a possible ‘treatment’ for COVID-19 without any debate about the source or extent of the data available to support these claims. I revisit how patients with cancer can fall prey to promises of miraculous results from unproven treatments simply because they so desperately want the good news to be true.
March 21st: I get Bert’s COVID-19 test result back. She is negative. She finally starts steroids and her treatment can move on. It took 9 days to get her results back and we can only test people who are in-patients in the hospital. Any attempt to halt the spread of the virus by isolating known positive people using these tools is doomed to failure.3 Instead we have only one solution for the entire population: Keep distant, keep clean.
March 26th: Colorado as a state is ordered to stay at home. In the Cancer Center, we set in place jeopardy and double, triple and quadruple jeopardy plans. Who covers whose patients in the event one of our lung cancer doctors gets quarantined or sick. We even establish back-ups across other tumor-types in case whole teams are incapacitated.
March 31st: My thoughts on the similarities between how we are all dealing with COVID-19 worldwide and what patients with cancer have already been through from the moment they were diagnosed crystalize after a particular conversation in the clinic. The patient said to me, “Now you know what it’s like:”
This is what not knowing whether you will be well next month or on the verge of death feels like.
This is what not knowing if you will be financially ok or ruined because of matters beyond your control feels like.
This is what worrying that every minor symptom is the start of something far more deadly feels like.
This is what consuming every piece of news, hoping for a breakthrough, knowing that most of the breakthroughs you find are not real, but you still consume them because anything is better than nothing, feels like.
This is what watching others die and wondering if you will be next feels like.
But now we have to worry about COVID-19 as well.
That same day I see Bert again. She looks great and feels great. Her treatment, without the immunotherapy, is set to continue. Life goes on.
An important goal of early-phase clinical trials is to discover a drug’s possible side effects. But despite FDA guidelines seeking to standardize this reporting, a University of Colorado Cancer Center study finds significant variation in how drug side effects are reported, potentially making some drugs seem safer or less safe than they really are.
Immunotherapies have revolutionized the treatment of many cancers. The most common anti-cancer immunotherapies are called checkpoint inhibitors, which block a handshake between the protein PD-L1 on tumor cells and the protein PD-1 on immune system T cells. Checkpoint inhibitors including pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) block the action of PD-1 and atezolizumab (Tecentriq) blocks the action of PD-L1, but the result is largely the same: When this tumor-to-T-cell handshake can’t take place, the immune system attacks the cancer.
With the first cases of COVID-19 reported in Colorado, CU Cancer Center reached out to Thomas Campbell, MD, Professor in the CU School of Medicine Division of Infectious Diseases to ask what cancer patients should do to keep themselves safe.
It is said that ignorance is bliss. In some cases, choosing to not acknowledge a “truth” or “fact” is detrimental to an individual. However, there are times when not knowing is the thing that keeps you going. Take Lydia Mallernee for example. When she was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2018, Lydia was unaware that she had two to eight months to live.
When you think about what defines Colorado’s Front Range, adventure sports including rock climbing are near the top of the list. More and more, biosciences and medical innovation including cancer research are high on the list, too. Now a fun event at the Denver Bouldering Club combines the two. On February 29, the 7th annual Heart & Soul Climbing Competition will raise money and awareness for research at University of Colorado Cancer Center.
“Cancer is something that has affected every member of our staff personally – you could go through the crowd at Heart and Soul and every person would have their own cancer story.
Climbing is a selfish pursuit to some extent, and this is our way to step outside our own bubble and say there’s something else going on in the world,” says John Gass, the gym’s climbing services manager.
The fun event is appropriate for all ages and ability levels, from beginners who can rent climbing shoes at the gym, to pros who will compete for $4,000 in cash prizes in the Open division. Since the inaugural event in 2014, the Heart and Soul Climbing Competition has raised just over $70,000 for cancer research through ticket sales, day-of donations, and online fundraising (if you can’t make it to the event, click to donate!).
“We’ve gotten bigger and better every year,” Gass says. “This year, we’re hoping to push the bar even higher and make it to that $100,000 mark for cancer research. If we can knock it out of the park, we can make it happen!”
CU Cancer Center researcher James Costello, PhD, promises to keep his welcome speech to 5 minutes, tops, before the 7pm finals. And you may even catch a few of his postdocs climbing earlier in the day – if you see folks in blue CU Cancer Center tee shirts, encourage your kids to ask them about their research! Pointing the flow of the climbing/research collaboration in the other direction, Denver Bouldering Club staff recently had the opportunity to tour labs at CU Cancer Center to see their money at work.
“A couple years ago, one of our employees was going through chemo at the same time he was helping with the event. It was really empowering for him and showed us all why we do what we’re doing,” Gass says.
Tickets are $55 until Feb 28 and $65 at the door. Registration includes free food and door prizes donated by event sponsors including Friction Labs, Milestone Homes, Organic Climbing, Groove Toyota Scion, Stone Brewing, Metolius, X-Cult, Escape, Rhino Skin Solutions, Honey Stinger, Brazos Wine Imports, and more.
Really, don’t be shy: “Heart and Soul takes that stress you feel at most climbing comps and replaces it with a community feel where we’re all supporting each other and supporting cancer research,” Gass says.
See you there for this truly only-in-Colorado event!
On a sunny fall Saturday after a CU Buffs win, my 13-year-old, Leif, and I walked down to Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall to talk with strangers about cancer. Among others, we spoke with a mid-60s visiting Arizona State football fan, a very cute eight-year-old girl, and some guy with dreadlocks named Carl. We asked them three questions: What is cancer, How do you get cancer, and How do you treat cancer? I also asked these same questions of University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers including Nobel Laureate, Tom Cech, PhD, director of the CU Boulder BioFrontiers Institute, and D. Ross Camidge, MD, PhD, Joyce Zeff Chair in Lung Cancer Research and Director of the CU Thoracic Oncology Clinical and Clinical Research Programs. Can you guess who said what?
As you age, your cancer risk increases. It seems so obvious! And maybe because it seems so obvious, the connection between aging and cancer has received surprisingly little research attention. Basically, the story has been the longer you live, the more time you have to accumulate a cancer-causing genetic mutation, and we’ve largely left it at that: The more time, the more risk. But recent research shows that in addition to the “accumulation of mutations over time” theory, cancer requires (or at least benefits from) a host of other aging-associated changes that let these cells with dangerous genetic changes take root and grow. Some of these changes, for example those to the tissue ecosystem and the immune system, may be preventable or even reversible.
These features of age and cancer that go beyond just the idea of risk over time are the topic of a new academic journal, appropriately titled Aging and Cancer, by the publisher Wiley. The founding Editor-in-Chief will be CU Cancer Center Deputy Director, James DeGregori, PhD, the Courtenay C. and Lucy Patten Davis Endowed Chair in Lung Cancer Research at the CU School of Medicine.
For example, DeGregori points out that the immune system changes dramatically with age, but the vast majority of anti-cancer immunotherapies are tested in young mice. Is it any surprise that many immunotherapies that show promise in (young) mouse models fail to show clinical benefit in (primarily older) patients? Or, for another example among many, additional attention at the intersection of aging and cancer could help to better define how frailty indexes influence cancer treatments offered to older patients, a topic being studied at CU by researchers including Drs. Dan Sherbenou, Tomer Marks, and Elizabeth Kessler.
“It’s the elephant in the room if the elephant was wearing camouflage,” DeGregori says, “as if it’s been hiding in plain sight all this time: These aging-associated physiological changes matter.”
Academic journals help to define fields of study, providing a forum for researchers from many disciplines to display and discuss findings that come at a topic from many angles.
“When you create a new forum that highlights an area of study, it stimulates the research – it creates a community, and it helps catalyze interactions with a community. Despite the fact that it should be slapping us in the face, until now it’s mostly been individual researchers here and there,” DeGregori says. “I would say this new journal will help coalesce a field.”
The journal, which is accepting submission for the inaugural issue publishing this spring, will include research papers, brief reports, opinions, commentaries, and reviews.
“This is a multidisciplinary journal,” DeGregori says. “We want to be a forum for research that looks at these connections, from basic research through clinical studies. If it’s really good solid science and it’s relevant to our focus and making an advance, we would be the forum for it.”
Interestingly, cancer research as a whole originally defined cancer by where it lives in the body – think lung cancer or breast cancer. Then the focus turned inside-out to examine the genetics driving cancers. Now cancer research is again broadening its focus to include study of the tissues where cancer grows – the “microenvironment” that acts for or against the disease. And what this research shows is that while mutation may create the potential for cancer, it’s largely the microenvironment that decides whether or not it grows.
“If a doctor has a patient and they want to know if a patient has a high risk of getting cancer, the first thing you should ask is their age. Instead, we tend to focus on things we can do something about – you can not smoke, you can maintain your weight and exercise, and by doing these things, you can reduce your risk of cancer. But you can’t stop yourself from getting old,” DeGregori says. “However, if we understand what factors associated with getting older increase the chance of getting cancer, maybe we could develop interventions to counteract this aging-associated risk.”
We used to define cancer by where it lives in the body – “lung cancer,” “breast cancer,” “prostate cancer,” etc. And the way we studied and treated the disease was compartmentalized, too, with researchers and clinicians focused on their areas of expertise, largely in isolation.
On Tuesday, November 5, University of Colorado Cancer Center members met to present cutting-edge research taking place in labs and clinics across CU Cancer Center consortium partners, including CU Anschutz, CU Boulder, CSU Flint Animal Cancer Center, the UCHealth system, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Denver Health, and the Denver V.A. Medical System. “As Director of CU Cancer Center, I have come to realize and experience the energy and collegiality of our cancer center, the vast amount of hard work and progress we’ve made over the past years,” said Richard Schulick, MD, MBA, CU Cancer Center Director, opening the event.
First to speak was Colorado Lieutenant Governor, Dianne Primavera.
“If you had told me 31 years ago in September that I would be standing here as Lieutenant Governor, I would have said that was cruel,” Primavera said. That’s because 31 years ago, Primavera was diagnosed with breast cancer and given five years to live. “I lost my job, my health insurance, my marriage crumbled under the pressure. How was I going to put food on the table and keep a roof over my daughters’ heads? And they had to cope with the fact their mother was dying.” Her search for a medical oncologist would treat her with hope instead of resignation brought her to Dr. William Robinson at CU Cancer Center.
“He said, ‘Oh hell, Diane, you’re healthier than 95 percent of the doctors in this hospital. Come with me and we’ll make you well — and he did,” Primavera says, mentioning that because on the day of the retreat she was technically acting governor, she would like to make a state mandate that Dr. Robinson can’t retire.
First on the scientific program was Craig Jordan, PhD, Nancy Carroll Allen Chair and Chief of the CU School of Medicine Division of Hematology. Basically, Dr. Jordan described an Achille’s heel of cancer stem cells, the cells that commonly survive chemotherapy and other treatments to restart many forms of the disease. This Achille’s heel is the dependence of cancer stem cells on a special form of energy. Most cells burn glucose; cancer stem cells burn amino acids. Now, based on these findings, doctors are using the drug venetoclax to block the uptake of amino acids by cancer stem cells, leading to a 91 percent response rate in patients with acute myeloid leukemia, a form of cancer that previously had a dismal prognosis. Additional clinical trials are testing combinations of venetoclax with other chemotherapies and targeted therapies in other cancer populations.
“It’s providing significant clinical benefit for patients with a horrible disease,” Jordan said.
Next, Diana Cittely, PhD, CU Cancer Center investigator and assistant professor in CU School of Medicine Department of Pathology described the role of estrogen in promoting brain metastasis in estrogen-negative breast cancers.
The problem is that breast cancers that don’t depend on estrogen, and especially those known as triple-negative breast cancers (that also don’t depend on HER2 or progesterone), are difficult to treat and especially likely to metastasize to the brain. What drives this dangerous behavior? Cittelly’s work shows that while estrogen doesn’t directly affect triple-negative breast cancer cells, it can affect surrounding brain cells in ways that promote cancer cell migration and invasiveness. Importantly, she suggests ways to stop the activity of estrogen in the brain that fertilizes triple-negative breast cancer metastasis.
“The cancer cells aren’t responsive to estrogen, but estrogen influences the microenvironment. We found that astrocytes – one of the main components of the microenvironment in the brain – are estrogen-responsive. When they are stimulated with estrogen, they produce chemokines, growth factors, and other things that promote brain metastasis,” Cittelly said. Specifically, she suggests that estrogen may magnify the effect on other known cancer-promoting pathways, including EGFR and TrkB.
After a coffee break, York Miller, MD, described the best time to treat lung cancer: Before it fully forms. The period of pulmonary “premalignancy” is a bit like the more well-known period in which a colon polyp has not yet become cancer. Left to their own devices, these precancerous conditions often progress into cancer; Miller described the development of interventions to prevent this progression.
“As a pulmonary doctor, I’m interested in prevention and early detection of lung cancer,” Miller said. Specifically, he described deficiencies in normal processes of lung tissue repair that lead to an environment in which premalignant cells can grow (as in tissues affected by smoking or COPD).
“By keeping track of people over time, we have been able to see the progression from premalignant conditions to lung cancer,” Miller said, showing slides of patient lung tissue taken over decades, showing this progression. The progression often starts with a condition known as squamous dysplasia, frequently resulting from smoking. Treatments like iloprost cna improve dysplasia and reduce lung cancer risk. Miller’s current work is focused on immunotherapies to reverse squamous dysplasia and achieve similar cancer-prevention effects.
Then Sunnie Kim, MD, assistant professor at CU School of Medicine and gastroenterologist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (who arrived from the NIH only three months ago and so instead of a faculty photo is illustrated here with her Twitter profile image), spoke about her work with DNA damage and repair in cancers of the esophagus. Basically, the body seeks to repair DNA damage or kill cells with this damage, while cancer cells depend on DNA damage to create the differences that make them cancerous. This means that many cancers break these DNA repair pathways, often through the action of a gene called PARP.
“We’ve been thinking about adding DNA damaging agent with a checkpoint inhibitor — or the thought is doing a little lead-in with a DNA damaging agent to cause immune presentation, followed by a checkpoint inhibitor,” Kim says. Based on these ideas, Kim is running a clinical trial combining the PARP inhibitor, naraparib, with anti-PD-1 immunotherapy against esophageal cancer.
Sabrina Spencer, PhD, assistant professor in the CU Boulder Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, followed with a presentation describing how melanoma cells escape therapy long enough to develop the genetic changes that let them further resist therapy.
“If all the cells are initially drug sensitive, how do these cells survive the drug long enough to develop resistance mutations?” she asked.
To answer this questions, Spencer watched individual melanoma cells that depend on the gene BRAF evade anti-BRAF therapy. What she found is that even within three days of treatment, melanoma cells find a way to activate a survival pathway known as MEK – not with mutations, but with a more flexible and temporary way to allow these cancer cells to continue survival signaling. In fact, the FDA recently approved combination treatment in BRAF+ melanoma, using the drug dabrafenib against BRAF and another drug, trametinib, against MEK to delay this escape. Still, Spencer shows that 3 percent of BRAF+ melanoma cells continue to survive this combination treatment, and the question remained how? Spencer’s recent work with single cell RNA sequencing identified suspicious activation of 34 genes in these “escapee” cells that may drive their escape, half of which are targeted by the single gene ATF4 and 7 of which predict poor patient prognosis (making ATF4 or other genes in the ATF4 pathway possible targets to further reduce the escape of BRAF+ melanoma cells).
During lunch, attendees voted for grad student, postdoc and early-career scientist posters, including those describing new treatments for canine bladder cancer, emotional distress in head & neck cancer patients, chronic pain in young cancer survivors, autophagy inhibition in brain tumors, the role of macrophages in creating resistance to targeted treatments, and the role of ancient viruses in shaping the body’s response to cancer.
After lunch, Traci Lyons, PhD, spoke about factors that increase breast cancer risk in women undergoing postpartum mammary gland involution, the process by which the lactating mammary gland returns to its pre-pregnant state. Her previous work has implicated the molecule SEMA7A in the recurrence and metastasis of breast cancers across age and subtype. Now Lyons’ work shows that SEMA7A may drive cancer through suppressing immune system action against tumors. Findings may influence the design of drugs targeting SEMA7A directly, or clinical trials attempting to resensitize the immune system against breast cancers expressing SEMA7A.
Breelyn Wilky, MD, described a push to personalize the use of anti-cancer immunotherapies in the treatment of sarcoma. Basically, despite the fact that the genetics of sarcomas vary considerably, a one-size-fits-all approach to immunotherapy has been used to treat them. Wilky’s work suggests that subtypes of sarcoma may respond better when immunotherapy is combined with other targeted therapies, for example perhaps those against DGFRα/KIT, β-Catenin/APC/NOTCH, IDH-1/2 mutations, MDM2 amplifications, EZH2/INI1 expression loss, ALK fusion, or ASPSCR1-TFE3 fusion.
The retreat’s final scientific speaker was Evelinn Borrayo, PhD, CU Cancer Center Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement, who spoke about interventions to improve mental health outcomes among lung cancer and head & neck cancer survivors and caregivers. Interestingly, it is specifically because patients with these cancers are surviving longer that researchers are starting to turn their attention to issues of survivorship and quality of life. During November’s Family Caregiver Awareness Month, it seemed especially fitting that the CU Cancer Center retreat’s final scientific speaker included the experience of caregivers in her presentation.
Radiation is one of our best weapons against cancer. However, after radiation treatments, cancer often returns. Now an 2-year, $2 million National Cancer Institute (NCI) award to Boulder-based startup SuviCa, Inc. co-founded by CU Boulder and CU Cancer Center investigator, Tin Tin Su, PhD, hopes to find drugs that augment the effect of radiation to keep cancer at bay.
The difference in cancer outcomes between urban and rural Americans is so pronounced that the National Institutes of Health list “rurality” as a risk factor for death from the disease. For example, the 5-year survival rate for Coloradoans diagnosed with lung cancer is 70 percent, but the 5-year survival forruralColoradoans with the same diagnosis is only 55 percent. While we certainly continue to learn more about this urban-rural cancer care gap, the picture is already pretty clear: Not just in Colorado, but across the country, rural Americans diagnosed with cancer are more likely to die from their conditions than are urban Americans. The question has been what to do about it.
Jason Quinn started college at University of Utah as a pre-med business major. Then during a basic EMT training, the class watched a video of a procedure that included a drill and a knee, “And I knew right then that being a doctor wasn’t for me,” he says. That’s when “business took off and the MD not so much.”
Since earning an MBA/MHA, also at University of Utah, Jason has found a way to combine his two interests, specializing in healthcare administration. In eight years at University of Utah Health, Jason worked his way up to the position of Director of Finance, Accounting, and Research in the Department of Surgery. Now he joins University of Colorado Cancer Center as Assistant Director of Operations.
“At the end of the day, we’re all trying to cure cancer. It affects everyone. My goal is to work toward collaborations with our campus partners to learn how to fight cancer better, together,” he says.
Joining Jason in Colorado is his wife, Jill Quinn, who was recruited to the position of Director of Finance in the University of Colorado Department of Emergency Medicine, and also their three-year-old son, Jude, who recently started preschool – oh, and their two dogs: A golden-doodle named Bella and a mutt named Maya. Important family decisions include when to buy a house and whether to get Avalanche or Broncos tickets first.
“I grew up a hockey player and fan and so fully look forward to tickets to the Avs. I’m kind of excited to cheer for a basketball team I can get behind, and eventually despite the 1-4 start, I’d love to cheer for the Broncos. They have the same colors as my high school so it’s hard, but I’ll do my best,” he says.
However, it’s not just the city of Denver that allowed CU Cancer Center to recruit Jason away from his longtime home in Salt Lake City.
“Really, it’s the opportunity of what the Cancer Center is becoming,” he says. “It’s been so successful from a science and patient care perspective, and I’m looking forward to helping ensure the center is successful on an institutional level, as well.”
CU Cancer Center is best when scientists do science and doctors treat patients. The addition of Jason Quinn to our administrative structure will help our researchers and clinicians, as he says, “focus on the one overarching theme, which is how to treat, cure, and prevent cancer.”
Since its start in 1969, the Cancer League of Colorado (CLC) has raised over $16 Million dollars for cancer research and patient care in the state of Colorado. Not bad for an entirely volunteer-run organization! Maybe you’ve seen the organization’s Hope Ball, or the Race for Research, or, this year, the first annual Youth Creates Gala, which was held in the Englewood High School auditorium on August 10? Or maybe in early September, you were walking by the Convention Center, looked up at the roof of the Hyatt Regency Denver, and thought to yourself, “Hey, there’s Dinger the Dinosaur falling from the sky!” In fact, Dinger wasn’t falling from the sky – the Rockies mascot along with 192 other intrepid and compassionate souls were rappelling 39 stories from the Hyatt roof in what is certainly Cancer League of Colorado’s most death-defying event, Over the Edge 2019.
Among them was University of Colorado Cancer Center Deputy Director, the Courtenay C. and Lucy Patten Davis Endowed Chair in Lung Cancer Research, James DeGregori, PhD.
“The CLC has supported MILLIONS of dollars for cancer research in Colorado, including numerous grants to my lab. These grants have allowed us to pursue new directions in cancer research, leading to new discoveries that we believe will make a big impact on our ability to prevent, control, and treat this dreaded disease,” DeGregori says.
In fact, this was Dr. DeGregori’s second consecutive year rappelling to raise funds for cancer research. This year, he was willing to not only put his neck on the line, but also his pocketbook, agreeing to rappel even before he had secured the minimum $1,500 in donations (he would be responsible for any shortfall). Fortunately, the CU Cancer Center community came to his rescue, and Dr. DeGregori has now officially raised $1,830 for the event. And the good news is that there’s still time to get involved! Cancer League of Colorado is accepting donations to any rappeler, including DeGregori, until October 31. Longtime CU Cancer Center supporter, Gary Reece, is currently in the lead, though Mike Zitelli of team Wyoming Whisky, and Tina Lovelace of team Woodhouse Day Spa could conceivably finish strong to overtake Reece in the event’s waning minutes of fundraising).
“I’m absolutely terrified, but I did it anyway. Maybe it helped that I promised to pledge an extra $500 donation if I chickened out,” says DeGregori.
So far, the even has raised $332,642 and hopes to top $360,000 when all is said and done at the end of the month. These funds go directly toward research grants, service grants, and investigator initiated clinical trials. In the past, Cancer League of Colorado has directly funded trials including immunotherapy for relapsed women’s cancers, precisely targeted radiation therapy for pancreatic cancer, and even an innovative study exploring whether grape seed extract could slow the growth of watch-and-wait prostate cancer. Research grants have included (among many others), explorations of the intersection between obesity and cancer, a study defining the molecular damage of tanning beds, and a project looking at single cells within tumors to see how many different kinds of “cancer” are within any given cancer.
In other words, CLC funds go directly to projects that improve treatments for patients in Colorado and beyond. Many of these projects would never happen without CLC support.
So join us in donating in these last few weeks of fundraising to Dr. DeGregori or any of the other brave folks who participated in this year’s event. We may not realistically be able to help Dr. DeGregori top the leaderboard, but we can help to ensure that his studies and others at CU Cancer Center continue to make important advances against the disease.
On October 1, the American Cancer Society (ACS) Cancer Action Network (CAN) along with presenting sponsors University of Colorado Cancer Center and UCHealth hosted more than a hundred leaders from business, education, government, and research communities to answer an interesting question: What do a highly successful new treatment against leukemia stem cells, a new way to point the immune system at pediatric cancer cells, and new understanding of how Medicare expansion affects cancer outcomes have in common? The answer: All three are born in Colorado. Due in part to new investments in infrastructure and the recruitment of top talent, combined with a climate of collaboration and innovation, CU Cancer Center researchers are at the forefront of discoveries and initiatives that are driving a golden age of cancer prevention, research, and care.
Miguel and Bonita (Bonnie) Birge first met in high school, when Bonnie’s brother introduced them. The casual start became a lifetime commitment: they celebrated their 20thwedding anniversary in late June. Many others share their Aurora home, including four dogs, four cats and two snakes, which Miguel says are just as companionable and worthy of affection as the furry four-legged friends.
Healthy cells have a built-in self-destruct mechanism: Strands of DNA called “telomeres” act as protective caps on the ends of your chromosomes. Each time a cell replicates, telomeres get a little shorter. Think of it like filing your nails with an Emory board – after enough filing, you hit your fingertip – ouch! In the case of healthy cells, after enough replications, telomeres are “filed” away, leaving bare ends of the chromosomes exposed. At that point, healthy cells are inactivated or die. The eventual loss of telomeres is a major reason you are not immortal. This cellular mortality is also a major way your body fights cancer.
Cancer League of Colorado has generously pledged $150,000 to inspire others to support innovation in cancer research at the CU Cancer Center. CLC will match $2-to-$1 every gift made to the Investigator-Initiated Trial Program from now through September 30th, tripling donors’ impact and accelerating cancer research and developing new treatments.
“There are people in underserved communities and in rural areas in Colorado that are dying of cancers that are preventable and treatable,” says Evelinn Borrayo, PhD, the newly appointed Associate Director for Community Outreach and Engagement at University of Colorado Cancer Center. Her goal is to decrease these cancer disparities – to make sure that everyone in Colorado has equal access to cancer prevention and treatment.
Your immune system’s natural killer cells recognize and attack two major kinds of danger – cells infected by viruses and cells affected by cancer. When natural killer (NK) cells see a cancer cell, they kill it (naturally…). And a major research focus has been to define how NK cells do this “seeing.” One way NK cells see cancer is by recognizing bits of mutated DNA displayed on “silver platters” made by human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes.
Patients aren’t the only ones affected by cancer. Often alongside patients are family caregivers who struggle to keep their own lives on track while supporting their loved one’s treatment and recovery. It’s not easy. For example, a studyshowed that stress increases a family caregiver’s chance of death by 63 percent over four years. Now a nearly $4M grant from the National Cancer Institute to researchers at University of Colorado Cancer Center seeks to lessen the impacts of stress specifically on cancer caregivers who are also employed. The project hopes to help caregivers manage the demands of their jobs and their lives, while also meeting the day-to-day needs of their loved one with cancer.
The University of Colorado Cancer Center Cancer Research Summer Fellowship (CRSF) program provides the opportunity for about 40 undergraduate students to learn the basics of cancer research over the course of 10 weeks working in the laboratories of scientific mentors. In addition, the program helps participants explore the range of careers related to cancer science. One of these activities aimed at opening students’ eyes to career possibilities is the Explore Biotech Fieldtrip. This July, students visited the Biosciences 2 building, just north of the Anschutz Medical Campus, to see biotech in action.
“The biosciences buildings are incubators for startups, many of which are built around technologies that investigators discovered or developed here at CU. Because of my experience working in Tech Transfer with CU Innovations, I had an appreciation for how ideas become companies, and how innovations within companies get brought into public use,” says Education Manager, Jill Penafiel, who pioneered the Explore Biotech Fieldtrip in 2011.
The first stop was theCU Center for Surgical Innovation, where students observed third-year neurosurgery residents exploring new surgical techniques while operating on cadaver heads. In fact, one of the residents operating that day was a past participant of the CRSF program in 2012.
“It was really neat to see Dr. Timothy Ung in the surgical center!” Penafiel says. “Here was someone who was in the program many years ago as an undergraduate, now showing our current students one of the career paths open to them.”
Next, the group visited theGates Biomanufacturing Facilitywhere students learned about the manufacturing of cell lines, cell-based therapeutics, and biologic proteins used in basic science and clinical trials.
“Each area that we went today was amazing. It is great to see other facets of science/health care and to be reminded why I am excited for the future of medicine,” wrote one student about the experience. Another commented, “I earned a great deal, and it was definitely motivating to see so many cool applications of science.”
Then it was on to Touch of Life Technologies (ToLTech), the startup built around the innovative project by Vic Spitzer, PhD, to “thin slice” a human body to build a high-resolution digital representation of human anatomy.
“Students had the chance to experiment with two virtual reality setups of the visible human – they could remove and look at body parts within this virtual human standing directly in front of them,” Penafiel says. “I put on the VR mask, I walked into the back of the head of the person, and I could see the muscles holding the eyeballs in place. I also looked down through the body and saw the pelvic bones and interior structure. It was incredible!”
On a survey following the fieldtrip, 70 percent of students said they would consider a career in biotech. 100 percent of students asked that the field trip continue to be offered as part of the Summer Fellowship Program in future years. In fact, due to the success of this outreach, Penafiel plans to expand students’ opportunities to interact with area biotech, offering half-day, hands-on experiences as part of the summer 2020 program.
“My hope for an experience like this is to offer the possibility of additional careers for our students that are not only going into medical school. There is so much that can be done!” Penafiel says. “It definitely opened their eyes to the opportunities within biotech.”
Clinical trials bring new treatments to Colorado patients, often offering innovative options years before they are available to patients outside academic medicine. The problem is that even after laboratory work and animal studies show the promise of a new cancer treatment, opening and enrolling a human clinical trial requires a painstaking process of planning and approvals. The faster doctors and administrators can accomplish this work, the sooner a clinical trial becomes available. Now a new grant from the National Cancer Institute will help University of Colorado Cancer Center speed this process of clinical trial approval, making more trials available sooner to patients who need them.
“Trials are the lifeblood of the Cancer Center – it’s how we move cancer treatments forward. This grant will help to ensure we’re on the cutting edge of new therapies. The earlier we can get a trial open, the earlier we can start offering it to patients,” says Victor Villalobos, MD, PhD, medical director of the CU Cancer Center Cancer Clinical Trials Office.
The competitive, two-year grant, called a Cancer Clinical Investigator Team Leadership Award (CCITLA), will allow Villalobos to, in his words, “buy some time back from the clinic to focus on being medical director.” His goals include reorganizing the Cancer Clinical Trials Office to improve trials’ time-to-open, a metric that can also entice drug companies to offer new treatments in Colorado.
Between the discovery of a new treatment and its delivery to patients is the often overlooked and incredibly complex process of clinical trial design and approval. And while clinical trial administration may not grab headlines like the discovery of a new way to fight cancer or the first patient who benefits from treatment, the process of deciding exactly how, when and to whom a trial is offered is an essential step toward the ability to more successfully fight the disease. Simply, this CCITLA will allow Villalobos and his team to help Coloradoans fight cancer better.
I met Ben Walburn at 4:00am on a slushy spring morning four years ago in a Boulder parking lot outside the house of a mutual friend, Adam. It was still dark and clouds spit little wet icicles as Ben and I huddled by our cars in the glow of headlamps, blowing steam off insulated coffee cups while trying to raise Adam via text. The plan was to exploit Adam’s birthday as an excuse for a weekend rock-climbing trip somewhere dryer and warmer – was it Escalante or maybe it was Penitente? Finally, Adam texted back: His young kids had gotten sick overnight and he had to bail. Without Adam, the trip fell apart. Ben and I made vague plans to climb together at some point, but it never seemed to come together. He was in his early 40s, I was in my late 30s, and we were both busy. Besides, it wasn’t pressing – we had all the time in the world to make it happen.
Cancer treatment isn’t the same for everybody. Research by the University of Colorado Cancer Center Deputy Director, Cathy J. Bradley, PhD, and Assistant Professor, Marcelo Perraillon, PhD, shows that people in rural areas of Colorado are diagnosed with cancer at a later stage, do not get the same care, and have poorer outcomes than people living in urban areas.
Some of what we learn through the compassionate treatment of dogs with cancer goes on to help human patients. Now a study by researchers at University of Colorado Cancer Center and Colorado State University Flint Animal Cancer Center returns the favor: We know so many of the genetic changes that cause human cancer – the current study, recently published in the journalMolecular Cancer Therapeutics,sequences 33 canine cancer cell lines to identify “human” genetic changes could be driving these canine cancers, possibly helping veterinary oncologists use more human medicines to cure cancer in dogs.
The saying “God doesn’t play dice” is meant to suggest that nothing happens by chance. On the other hand, cancer seems like the ultimate happenstance: Don’t we all have a 43-year-old, vegan, triathlete friend fighting cancer? Does this mean that cancer plays dice? According to the traditional model of how cancer develops, yes: Every time a cell divides, you roll a die, and the more years you roll, the greater your chance of rolling an unfortunate mutation that causes cancer. Some young people get very unlucky and some older people get very lucky, but overall, the longer you live, the more times you roll the die, the greater your risk of developing cancer. It makes perfect sense.
A University of Colorado Cancer Center study presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting 2019 shows that while 73 percent of surveyed oncology providers believe that medical marijuana provides benefits for cancer patients, only 46 percent are comfortable recommending it. Major concerns included uncertain dosing, limited knowledge of available products and where to get them, and possible interactions with other medications.
In the years since Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971, the overall five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with the disease has risen from about 50 percent to almost 70 percent. Adding the influence of improved cancer prevention (especially the more than 50 percent reduction in smoking since 1964), combined with better screening and better therapies, makes an overall decrease in the cancer death rate of 27 percent just since 1995. Here, for May’s Cancer Research Month, we speak with University of Colorado Cancer Center Founding Director, Paul Bunn, MD, and current CU Cancer Center Director, Richard Schulick, MD, MBA about the innovations that have driven these improvements and the challenges that remain for the future of cancer research and treatment.
Paul Norman, PhD, was born in the Midlands region of Central England in the county town of Shrewsbury, which, coincidentally, is also the birthplace of the naturalist and explorer, Charles Darwin. And like Darwin, Norman set out on a mission to categorize the diversity of life. Only, while Darwin concerned himself with things he could see – the beak shape of Galapagos finches, for example – Norman explores the diversity of cells hidden inside our bodies. Even more specifically, Norman, who recently joined University of Colorado Cancer Center as a mentored member, researches the diversity of tiny proteins that sit on the surface cancer cells. What seems little could be very big: Differences in these proteins across ethnicities could help to explain the differences in cancer rates between human cultures.
Three University of Colorado Cancer Center scientists are among the latest to receive awards from theSt. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest non-government source of funding for childhood cancer research grants.
AstraZeneca is pharmaceutical company committed to developing novel anti-cancer drugs. The University of Colorado Cancer Center is one of the fastest-growing academic cancer research centers in the United States, with hundreds of scientists and doctors working to better understand the disease. Recently, CU Cancer Center leaders visited the AstraZeneca Research and Development Campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland to discuss how a handshake between CU’s academia and AZ’s industry could help both take steps toward the ultimate goal: speeding the delivery of new drugs to cancer patients who need them.
More than a decade ago, radiation oncologists noticed a nifty phenomenon: Sometimes radiation used locally against a tumor could excite the immune system to attack cancer systemically throughout the body. It was as if the use of radiation had somehow awoken the immune system to the presence of cancer. Since then, a massive effort has been underway to harness this effect, hoping to create this systemic anti-cancer activity with combinations of radiotherapy and immunotherapy.
The chemotherapy drug irinotecan creates DNA damage leading to cell death and is used to treat colorectal cancer, among other cancer types. Now a University of Colorado Cancer Center study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2019 suggests a way to make irinotecan work even better: When researchers added the experimental drug AZD0156 to irinotecan, colorectal cancer cells and models of human colorectal cancer tumors grown in mice both showed significantly more cancer cell inhibition than with irinotecan used alone. An ongoing phase 1 clinical trial is currently testing the combination against advanced solid tumors (NCT02588105).
Tobacco use causes a field of precancerous cells, increasing the risk of developing head & neck cancer. But exactly how this precancerous field influences cancer has been often overlooked. Now a University of Colorado Cancer Center study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2019 offers an exciting idea: Maybe these precancerous cells “fertilize” nearby cells with cancerous changes to grow and resist therapy.
A cancer cell is like a racecar, speeding through the process of cellular replication. But it has to stop at the G2M cell cycle checkpoint, where a race inspector called Wee1 checks it over for damage – cells with intact DNA can continue, while cells with damaged DNA have to stick around for repairs. The wait is worth it – there are curves ahead, and beyond the G2M checkpoint, cells with damaged DNA explode against the wall of “mitotic catastrophe.” But the thing is, wewantcancer cells to explode; we wouldratherthey speed through the G2M checkpoint without a Wee1 inspection and hit the wall of mitotic catastrophe.
Many cancers are relatively harmless at their site of origin, and it is only when they metastasize to sites like the brain, bones, lungs, and liver that they become especially dangerous. And so, in addition to stopping the growth of cancer at its primary site, an ongoing goal of cancer research is to keep cancer contained – to stop its ability to travel through the body. A University of Colorado Cancer Center study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2019 offers another step in an ongoing line of research aimed at exactly that.
In recognition of its impact, the Colorado Cancer Screening Program (CCSP) received a special proclamation from the Colorado General Assembly at the State Capitol in Denver. CCSP focuses on cancer prevention and helps reduce barriers to care. State Rep. Perry Will presented CCSP the acknowledgement and speaker of the State House: Speaker K.C. Becker, along with several others, shared perspective about the program.
Inspiring the next generation of cancer scientists is the idea behind the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s annual “Learn About Cancer Day.” One hundred twenty students from five high schools in the Denver metro area participated.
Student loans aren’t the only reason young adults end up in debt. One of the largest-ever studies of work-related risks in young adult cancer survivors finds that of 872 survivors, 14.4 percent borrowed more than $10,000 and 1.5 percent said they or their family had filed for bankruptcy as a direct result of illness or treatment. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said that cancer or treatment interfered with physical demands of their job, and 54 percent said that cancer or treatment interfered with their ability to perform mental tasks related to their job.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Colorado has thefifth lowestoverall rate of cancer in the United States, behind only District of Columbia, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada. And the American Cancer Societyrecently reportedthat the U.S. cancer death rate has dropped 27 percent over 25 years. In Colorado, the decline in the cancer death rate is even steeper: 31 percent reduction over the same period. Does this mean that cancer in Colorado is a concern of the past? Not so fast, says Myles Cockburn, PhD, co-leader of the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Cancer Prevention and Control Program.
Richard Schulick was born in Rangoon, Burma, the capital city of the country now known as Myanmar, where his father was stationed as a diplomat with the U.S. State Department. A coup d’état had recently installed a military government, and it was a relief, about a year after Richard was born, when Schulick’s father was transferred to a post in Thailand.
The National Cancer Institute’s steering committees review and prioritize concepts for large phase 2 or phase 3 clinical trials conducted in the National Clinical Trials Network, thus in large part driving the direction of new treatments. University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Associate Director for Clinical Research, Karyn Goodman, MD, MS, the David and Margaret Turley Grohne Chair in Clinical Cancer, was recently appointed co-chair of the NCI Gastrointestinal Cancer Steering Committee (GISC).
Cancer needs energy to drive its out-of-control growth. It gets energy in the form of glucose, in fact consuming so much glucose that one method for imaging cancer simply looks for areas of extreme glucose consumption – where there is consumption, there is cancer. But how does cancer get this glucose? A University of Colorado Cancer Center study published today in the journal Cancer Cell shows that leukemia undercuts the ability of normal cells to consume glucose, thus leaving more glucose available to feed its own growth.
The University of Colorado Cancer Center is always looking for unique approaches to advance cancer science and advanced ways to strengthen our programs. A powerhouse in the field of immunology is now part of the CU Cancer Center leadership team. Eduardo Davila, PhD, co-leader of the Tissue-Host Interaction program, will lead our efforts to understand the role of the immune system in the development and progression of cancer.
Richard D. Schulick, MD, MBA, a renowned cancer surgeon and accomplished administrative leader, has been named director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center to lead a $100 million investment in the program over the next five years.
Last year when surgeon Gretchen Ahrendt, MD, was considering a move from the University of Pittsburgh to accept the position of Director of the Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center on the Anschutz Campus, she and her husband, Steven – also a surgical oncologist – agreed their three daughters would have to support the move.
After her brain cancer became resistant to chemotherapy and then to targeted treatments, 26-year-old Lisa Rosendahl’s doctors gave her only a few months to live. Now a paper published January 17 in the journal eLife describes a new drug combination that has stabilized Rosendahl’s disease and increased both the quantity and quality of her life: Adding the anti-malaria drug chloroquine to her treatment stopped an essential process that Rosendahl’s cancer cells had been using to resist therapy, re-sensitizing her cancer to the targeted treatment that had previously stopped working. Along with Rosendahl, two other brain cancer patients were treated with the combination and both showed similar, dramatic improvement.
A University of Colorado Cancer Centerstudypublished ahead of print in the journalBrachytherapyshows that intermediate risk prostate cancer patients experience modest benefit from the addition of external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) to brachytherapy. The study is based on the results of 10,571 patients, of which 3,148 received brachytherapy plus EBRT and 7,423 received brachytherapy alone. Overall survival rates were 91.4 percent versus 90.2 percent at five-year follow up, and 85.7 percent versus 82.9 percent at seven-year follow up.
Within two miles of the University of Colorado Cancer Center are at least seven recreational marijuana dispensaries with names like Pink House, Terrapin Care Station, Sweet Leaf, Lightshade and Starbuds. And the influence of what happens off campus doesn’t stay off campus. Our patients are using marijuana – some recreationally, some to alleviate the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, and some with the belief that cannabis and cannabis-based products could improve or cure their disease.
While dietary supplements may be advertised to promote health, a forum at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2015 by University of Colorado Cancer Center investigator Tim Byers, MD, MPH, describes research showing that over-the-counter supplements may actually increase cancer risk if taken in excess of the recommended daily amount.