Collaboration and Innovation will defeat Cancer

logos for the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, the National Cancer Institute and the National Comprehensive Cancer NetworkIf you’ve visited the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s website, or happened to read a news article about the Center; you may have noticed we have an association with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network; (NCCN).  What you may not know is the importance of these associations – particularly as it relates to cancer treatment and research.

The NCI, part of the National Institutes of Health, supports and coordinates cancer research projects conducted by universities, hospitals, research foundations and businesses in the United States as well as world-wide.  In turn, the NCI collects and shares information about cancer treatment and research.  As an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center – one of only 41 in the country — the U-M Cancer Center has the opportunity to represent the needs of our community in the national dialogue. We also have access to national and world-wide research collaborations – as well as the opportunity for our own research to receive funding.   Our NCI funding has allowed our doctors and researchers to explore promising new ways to make cancer care less toxic, more compassionate and more effective.

The NCCN is a not-for-profit alliance of 21 of the world’s leading cancer centers dedicated to improving the quality and effectiveness of cancer care.   One of the NCCN’s most significant projects is the clinical practice guidelines.  The guidelines offer treatment, prevention, detection and supportive care standards that can be used by patients, doctors and other health care decision-makers.  Our doctors are at the table helping to determine the best practices in cancer care. By standardizing these methods for treating and preventing cancer, the NCCN ensures quality care for cancer patients nationwide.

Becoming a U-M Cancer Center patient means your treatment will follow the latest and best guidelines that have proven effective over rigorous study. But more than that – your U-M health care team belongs to a collection of the best cancer providers in the country, providing the best care to you and your family.

Improving Breast Cancer Treatment Through Better Decisions

One of the biggest challenges facing doctors and their cancer patients is deciding on a treatment plan for a disease that has a relatively favorable prognosis.

As more breast cancers are found at an earlier stage, patients and doctors must consider the best way to treat the cancer without over treating the patient and causing unnecessary side effects and quality of life problems. For women with breast cancer, improving the quality of these treatment decisions has a high potential for improving the quality of their care.

Thanks to a $13.6 million grant, U-M breast cancer researchers and a national team will study how patients and doctors make breast cancer treatment decisions, and how to improve the process for better outcomes. The group expects to develop an online decision tool for patients to help improve the quality of their decision-making. This tool will be tested first in a clinical trial to measure its effectiveness.

The best treatment decisions are made when a patient and doctor really talk with each other. Still, the prospect of understanding your medical condition, what the treatment options are, the risks and benefits of each choice, and then deciding what treatment plan is right for you can seem overwhelming. Such things as underlying values, spiritual needs and family concerns are often just as important during the journey from treatment to recovery, but patients sometimes are not comfortable discussing these concerns with a stranger.

But there are good resources available to help patients prepare for the decisions ahead.

Continue learning how to become an empowered patient


Stand Up, on Friday, Sept. 7 at 8 PM

Why I Stand Up.

“The patient is the ultimate lab.” 

These words, spoken by the late Laura Ziskin, continue to resonate with all of us who receive funding from Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C). With these words Laura encapsulated a major challenge facing cancer researchers today: too many discoveries stay in the lab and fail to be translated into innovations in patient care.

In 2008, Laura, along with six other remarkable women from the entertainment industry, recognized this challenge and decided to tackle it head on by creating SU2C.

The funding commitments from SU2C are already having impact on moving research along. Through their Dream Team initiative, SU2C funds collaborative research that unites senior scientists across multiple institutions to rapidly advance new therapies into the clinic. Two researchers from the University of Michigan are part of SU2C Dream Teams –Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan leads the Prostate Cancer Dream Team and Cancer Center Director Dr. Max Wicha is part of the Breast Cancer Dream Team.

The second major funding commitment made by SU2C is their Innovative Research Grants Program.  With this initiative, SU2C targets investigators in earlier stages of their scientific careers and asks them to propose high-risk, high-reward research that has the potential to radically alter current thinking. Since 2009, SU2C has funded 26 Innovative Research Grants, including to two U-M scientists – me and Dr. Yali Dou, an associate professor of pathology. Continue reading

Stand Up to Cancer: Support Cancer Research During National Telethon

On Sept. 7, your favorite actors, athletes and musicians will help support the research of Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan and others at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The grassroots celebrity-fueled Stand Up to Cancer will host a one-hour commercial-free primetime telethon on the four major broadcasts networks plus several cable channels. The telethon will air live at 8 p.m. Sept. 7.

Stand Up to Cancer has funded 7 “dream teams” of scientists from across the country dedicated to specific areas of research. Dr. Chinnaiyan is the lead investigator of a prostate cancer dream team, which is based on discoveries made in his lab.

In addition, Dr. Max Wicha, the Cancer Center’s director, is part of a breast cancer dream team whose focus includes looking at breast cancer stem cells, and researchers Beth Lawlor and Yali Dou have also received funding from SU2C.

SU2C was founded on the belief that this is a pivotal juncture with the potential for transformative progress in cancer research because of two trends:

  • breakthroughs made in our understanding of the basic science of cancer
  • technological advances that enable us to translate them into new treatments

Today’s cancer researchers need additional funding to fulfill the promise of life-saving discoveries, and Stand Up To Cancer engages the public to support their work.

“This broadcast has become a global call-to-action for all those touched by cancer,” says Gwenyth Paltrow, who will produce the telethon. “Like so many people, I know what it’s like to lose a family member to this disease, and I’m honored to stand up in my father’s memory.”

The telethon will include a celebrity phone/multi-media bank that will allow viewers to interact with participating talent. Viewers will also be able to donate via text-to-give and at One hundred percent of all public donations will go directly to cancer research.

Speeding Promising Discoveries to Clinical Trials

Diane Simeone, M.D., in the new Translational Oncology Program laboratory space at the North Campus Research Complex.

Laboratory research is key to understanding how cancer works. But when scientists discover a new gene or pathway that’s involved in cancer, much more work needs to happen before that translates into new treatments for people with cancer.

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center is launching a new Translational Oncology Program to bridge that gap in a more meaningful way and speed promising new treatments through laboratory testing and into clinical trials.

“The University of Michigan is well known for its strength in basic science. Now, we have the opportunity with the Translational Oncology Program to really make a difference in patients’ lives — which is the real reason we are all here,” says Diane Simeone, M.D., who has been named director of the new program.

The program will be housed at the University’s North Campus Research Complex, a 2.1 million square foot facility purchased by the University from Pfizer Corp. The space here will allow Dr. Simeone to bring together cancer researchers from across the campus who are focused on cancer. Up to 40 investigators will eventually be part of this new program, including teams looking at experimental therapeutics, cancer stem cells, molecular imaging and genomics.

Learn more about the Translational Oncology Program. To find about clinical trials that are currently available, call the nurses at Cancer AnswerLine at 800-865-1125.

A Mother, A Fighter, The Rose Run

By Jessica Cribbs

This is Jessica’s story of why she has been organizing the Rose Run for the past four years. The run this year benefits the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Breast Oncology Program and Patient and Family Support Services.


On March 5, 2008, two little children were dancing around my feet when the phone rang. It was my mother’s voice on the other end.

The Rose Run is named in honor of Rose Marie Hunt.

I had been living in California for the past 5 years, and she was back home in Michigan. We talked often, but it was different this time. She was short, and to the point.

“Jess. The cancer came back.”

It took me a minute to register what she  just said, but it did not entirely take me by surprise. She had defeated cancer once already, in her early 40’s. She had been having regular back pain for months, which she had attributed to a fall on the ice earlier in the winter. However, she also seemed to be frequently ill. More frequent than a 50-some-year-old woman should be.

“What do you mean the cancer came back?” I asked, knowing that was impossible for her to answer.

“It’s not good, Jessie. The cancer is everywhere this time. It’s metastasized.” She went on to explain how she saw her scans and she looked like a lit-up Christmas tree spotted with tumors.

Our conversation was long that morning with many moments of silence – moments where all I could do was stare at the dining room table. I even asked her if she thought this was going to take her.

“I think so,” she calmly replied. Continue reading