Cell hunters: the quest to rapidly deliver personalized medicine to pancreatic cancer patients

Abnormal pancreas cells that have not yet turned into cancer

Abnormal pancreas cells that have not yet turned into cancer


Editor’s note: This is part of a series of blogs that focus on members of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Center. Led by an inter-disciplinary team of scientists and clinicians, the Center holds the promise to significantly change the bleak statistics associated with this disease by revolutionizing pancreatic cancer care. One therapeutic tool they are advancing involves gathering pancreatic cancer cells from the bloodstream, assembling them into replicas of a patient’s tumor and testing various drug combinations on the copies to develop personalized medicine for each patient.

Pancreatic cancer patients are getting closer to the day when a small amount of their own blood will provide enough information so that doctors can recommend personalized treatments targeting the whole tumor. If you ask Diane Simeone, M.D., the Lazar J. Greenfield Professor of Surgery and director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center, this vision of the future may become reality in the next five years. Continue reading

Patients and advocacy groups boost adrenal cancer research

Latest advances subject of international symposium in Ann Arbor

Adrenal cancer

Visualizing new potential targets in ACC. This fluorescence microscopy image shows expression of ZNRF3 (green) in the normal mouse adrenal gland. Collaborative research efforts, including The Cancer Genome Atlas project, have recently mapped the genetic landscape of human ACC tumors and identified ZNRF3 as one of the most commonly altered genes in ACC. Image courtesy of Kaitlin Basham, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow (Hammer Laboratory) and Heather Rose Kornick Adrenocortical Cancer Research Scholar


mCancerPartner sat down with Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Endocrine Oncology Program in the Comprehensive Cancer Center, to discuss the program’s most recent developments in adrenal cancer research and patient care.

mCancerPartner: Why is collaboration so important in treating adrenal cancer?

Dr. Hammer: Adrenal cancer, or ACC, is very rare, with less than a thousand people diagnosed with it each year in the United States. In adults, it is most often diagnosed at an advanced stage, so for many, the prognosis is dismal. Collaboration is essential because no one hospital sees enough of these patients to advance research or clinical care. Continue reading

How genetic testing, precision medicine impact breast cancer treatment choices

Doctor holding X-ray film and woman in pink braAs cancer treatment focuses more and more on precision medicine and as genetic testing becomes more commonly available, what does it mean for patients as they consider their treatment options?

In a commentary published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers suggest that we must improve how genetic information is used to make breast cancer treatment decisions. The paper is authored by Steven Katz, M.D., M.P.H., Monica Morrow, M.D., and Allison Kurian, M.D., from the Cancer Surveillance and Outcomes Research Team, a multidisciplinary group of investigators at the forefront of understanding how women make decisions about breast cancer treatment. mCancerPartner talked with Dr. Katz about these issues. Continue reading

Cancer research: Where are we headed?

May is National Cancer Research Month

cancer research

In 1928, Sweden became the first country to issue a postage stamp commemorating the fight against cancer. On April 1, 1965, the United States issued its first anti-cancer commemorative stamp, pictured above. Source: Taub, Marvin. “Cancer Stamps: 50 Years in the Crusade Against Cancer Through Stamps,” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, v.28,no.3, May/June 1978, 164-169.

In 1971 President Nixon signed into law the National Cancer Act which officially launched the “war on cancer.” It earmarked a budget of $100 million towards cancer research and the promise to find new treatments for the second leading cause of death in America at that time.

“One of the most important things that came out of the National Cancer Act is that we started to do a lot of basic science to study the disease … today cancer is thought of as a molecular disease within a cell, whereas in the old days, cancer was thought of as a disease of tumors of tissue,” says Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

So where has this science taken us 44 years later? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer still remains the second leading cause of death after heart disease. However, all is not lost, we’ve come a long way in 44 years!

Unlike the 1970s, when hardly anyone who had cancer was considered a survivor, we now have more than 14 million cancer survivors in the United States, and that number is projected to increase as our baby-boomers age. While survivors are increasing in numbers, we have also made progress in cancer prevention though screening and early detection programs, specifically in colon and cervical cancer.

As Dr. Brawley’s comments above reflect, we have continued to advance our understanding of cancer at the molecular level. This knowledge in turn has led to new developments in targeted therapy, vaccine therapy and immunotherapy. Continue reading

Prostate cancer trial recruiting men who want to get off the bench and become true champions

prostate clinical trial May2015 postPat Riley, president and head coach of the Miami Heat, once said “There’s always the motivation of wanting to win. Everybody has that. But a champion needs, in his attitude, a motivation above and beyond winning.” Widely regarded as one of the greatest National Basketball League coaches of all time, Riley knows a thing or two about what it takes to be a champ.

Participating in clinical trials is a lot like being on a sports team. For most of the time, there’s no way to know if the trial is winning, losing or even making a score. Participants’ commitment and endurance may be tested through extra travel and Continue reading

Cell hunters: the quest to diagnose pancreatic cancer early

Sunitha Nagrath, Ph.D.

pancreatic cancerEditor’s note: Cell Hunters is a series focusing on members of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Center. One diagnostic tool they are advancing involves detecting pancreatic cancer cells in the bloodstream before any sign of cancer is obvious through current diagnostic techniques. The successful hunt for these cells would result in a tool for earlier detection, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

Most other cancers have multiple choices for both early detection tools and treatment options. In the case of pancreatic cancer, there is no early detection tool yet, but one Continue reading