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2014 Cancer Center News

2014 Cancer Center News

Dr. Youwei ZhangCancer Treatment Potential Discovered in Gene Repair Mechanism
December 30, 2014

Case Western Reserve researchers have identified a two-pronged therapeutic approach that shows great potential for weakening and then defeating cancer cells. The team’s complex mix of genetic and biochemical experiments unearthed a way to increase the presence of a tumor-suppressing protein which, in turn, gives it the strength to direct cancer cells toward a path that leads to their destruction.

If the laboratory findings are supported by tests in animal models, the breakthrough could hold the promise of increasing the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy in shrinking or even eliminating tumors. The key is to build up a “good” protein – p53-binding protein 1 (53BP1) — so that it weakens the cancer cells, leaving them more susceptible to existing cancer-fighting measures.

The breakthrough detailed appeared in the Nov. 24 online edition of the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). [more]


Dr. Alex Huang$50,000 Childhood Cancer Research Grant Awarded to Case Western Reserve University
November 20, 2014

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a volunteer-driven and donor-centered charity dedicated to raising money for childhood cancer research, is proud to award a one-year, $50,000 grant to the Case Western Reserve University. This grant is one of 40 infrastructure grants awarded as part of the Foundation’s fall grant cycle, totaling more than $2.5 million and surpassing last year’s total awarded during this same period.

“This grant will help us improve the next generation of immunotherapy for childhood and adolescent cancer patients,” said Alex Huang, MD, PhD, associate professor of Pediatrics and Pathology at Case Western Reserve University, and a member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. “With such limited funding for childhood and adolescent cancer research, we are very appreciative to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for their support.” [more]


Ruth Keri, PhDDelivering a One-Two Punch: New Drug Combination Shows Promise as Powerful Treatment for Breast Cancer
October 27, 2014

The uncontrolled growth of cancer cells arises from their ability to hijack the cell’s normal growth program and checkpoints. Usually after therapy, a second cancer-signaling pathway will open after the primary one shuts down — creating an ingenious escape route for the cancer cell to survive. The answer, say Case Western Reserve researchers, is to anticipate and block that back-up track by prescribing two drugs from the start. The results of the project, led by Ruth Keri, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair Department of Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and Associate Director for Basic Research in the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, appeared this fall in the journal Cancer Research. [more]


Dr. Rong XuCase Western Reserve Scientist Captures Prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award
October 7, 2014

For the second consecutive year, a Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researcher has landed one of the year’s much-coveted Director’s New Innovator Awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Principal investigator Rong Xu, PhD, assistant professor of medical informatics, will receive $2,377,000 for five years, starting immediately, to initiate computational analysis of thousands of drugs and their effects. Dr. Xu is also a fellow in the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center Training in Computational Genomic Epidemiology of Cancer (CoGEC) program.

The NIH review panel unanimously agreed that Xu’s proposal was “exceptionally innovative,” and she received a near-perfect score of 12 by the NIH grants rating system. (A perfect score is 10 on a scale that ranges from 10 as the best for “high impact” to 90 as the weakest for “low impact.”) The NIH review panel summary stated, “Overall, the proposed research was viewed as being very exciting, and the review panel was extremely enthusiastic about the success of this application.”‌ [more]

Dr. Nicole Steinmetz‌Scientists Wield Plant Viruses Against Deadly Human Disease
October 1, 2014

“In the long run, one could think about administering the vaccine either by eating the salad or making a pill from the plant tissue,” said Nicole Steinmetz, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve University and leader of the project.

The Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization is funding the research with a three-year, $450,000 grant. [more]

Dr. Afshin DowlatiCurcumin, Special Peptides Boost Cancer-Blocking PIAS3 to Neutralize Cancer-Activating STAT3 in Mesothelioma
September 18, 2014

A common Asian spice and cancer-hampering molecules show promise in slowing the progression of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung’s lining often linked to asbestos. Scientists from Case Western Reserve University and the Georg-Speyer-Haus in Frankfurt, Germany, demonstrate that application of curcumin, a derivative of the spice turmeric, and cancer-inhibiting peptides increase levels of a protein inhibitor known to combat the progression of this cancer. Their findings appeared in the Aug. 14 online edition Clinical Cancer Research; the print version of the article will appear Oct. 1.

Malignant mesothelioma has received widespread notoriety because it occurs frequently in the lung linings of people exposed to asbestos. However, asbestos does not always cause this particular cancer that kills 43,000 people worldwide each year. Many mesothelioma patients were never exposed to asbestos.

“Mesothelioma is a disease that continues to have a significant burden worldwide, and the treatment option is really suboptimal. We must find better ways to treat it,” said senior author Afshin Dowlati, MD, Professor of Medicine – Hematology/Oncology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We now understand the mechanisms that drive cell proliferation and growth in malignant mesothelioma.” [more]


Dr. Stan Gerson‌AACI Members Choose Stan Gerson for New Leadership
August 20, 2014
The Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI) announces the election of Stanton L. Gerson, MD, as vice-president/president-elect effective in October 2014.

Dr. Gerson is the Asa and Patricia Shiverick- Jane Shiverick (Tripp) Professor of Hematological Oncology, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Cleveland, OH, founding director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine, and Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve University. He is also director of University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland and a member of the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors. [more]

Char and Chuck Fowler‌CWRU, UH Announce Collaborative Fundraising Initiative for Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer
July 1, 2014
Leaders from Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Monday announced a new collaborative fundraising effort focused on Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) cancer. The news came as Char and Chuck Fowler announced their third major philanthropic commitment aimed at defeating the disease that claimed their 14-year-old daughter, Angie, in 1983.

Inspired by the new collaboration and the Fowlers' generosity, an anonymous donor also made a $5 million contribution to support the Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute at University Hospitals (UH) Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

The Fowlers' newest commitment represents the first-ever creation of a center focused on AYA cancer within a Comprehensive Cancer Center, a designation the National Cancer Institute has given to just 41 centers across the U.S. The Case Comprehensive Cancer Center–a collaboration among Case Western Reserve, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center–involves 350 scientists and physicians dedicated to understanding how to prevent, treat, and cure all forms of the disease. The Center today has nine areas of focus, among them Genetics and Personalized Medicine, Prostate and Kidney Cancers, and Breast Cancer. The Fowlers' investment will advance efforts to make AYA Cancer another priority, both because of the region’s existing strengths in the area and the overwhelming need for additional efforts. [more]

Synthetic Triterpenoids Show Promise in Preventing Colitis-Associated Colon Cancer
June 24, 2014
Researchers from Case Western Reserve and Dartmouth universities have shown that a class of small antioxidant molecules carries enormous promise for suppressing colon cancer associated with colitis. These findings, published in an early June edition of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, offer hope that physicians ultimately will be able to reduce dramatically the number of sufferers of this inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) who go on to develop colon cancer.

"Patients with inflammatory bowel disease have a 10-fold greater risk of colon cancer, placing it among the top three high-risk conditions for colorectal cancer," said senior author and hematologist/oncologist John Letterio, MD, professor of pediatrics, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and director of the Angie Fowler Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Institute, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital. "Common epithelial cancers develop over a period of years, even decades, in populations at high risk due to genetic predisposition, so chemoprevention strategies could delay, or even halt, onset of clinically evident colon cancer." [more]

Dr. Paul Fox‌Newly Discovered Protein Inhibits Cancer Growth
June 19, 2014
Cleveland Clinic researchers have discovered a protein that inhibits the growth of cancerous tumors and slows development of new blood vessels that help cancers to spread.

A research team led by Paul Fox, PhD, of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine in Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, discovered that a variant of VEGF-A decreases angiogenesis.

The researchers named the variant VEGF-Ax. The protein cuts off the blood supply to tumors and inhibits tumor development in animal models. [more]

Dr. Mukesh Jain‌Cancer Drug Boosts Levels of Vascular-Protective Gene, KLF2
June 13, 2014
Case Western Reserve University researchers have discovered that an existing drug used to help cancer patients has the potential to protect thousands of others from the often-deadly impact of vascular clots.

In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration approved bortezomib (Velcade) to treat multiple myeloma, which is a type of bone cancer and mantle cell lymphoma – a particularly aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In addition to attacking cancer cells, the drug has been shown to help prevent clot development common to many forms of the disease.

As hematologist Lalitha Nayak, MD, an assistant professor of medicine, reports in the June 12 edition of the journal "Blood," the anti-thrombotic effects of bortezomib are determined by KLF2, part of a family of Kruppel-like factors – master regulators of vascular health. [more]

Dr. Paul TesarDr. Peter Scacheri‌Stem Cells Hold Keys to Body's Plan
June 5, 2014
Case Western Reserve researchers have discovered landmarks within pluripotent stem cells that guide how they develop to serve different purposes within the body. This breakthrough offers promise that scientists eventually will be able to direct stem cells in ways that prevent disease or repair damage from injury or illness. The study and its results appear in the June 5 edition of the journal "Cell Stem Cell".

Pluripotent stem cells are so named because they can evolve into any of the cell types that exist within the body. Their immense potential captured the attention of two accomplished faculty with complementary areas of expertise.[more]

Dr. Neal MeropolDr. Neal Meropol Honored as American Society of Clinical Oncology Fellow for Extraordinary Service
May 16, 2014
The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) will honor Neal J. Meropol, MD, as a Fellow during the May 31 Opening Session of the 2014 ASCO Annual Meeting in Chicago. He will be one of 12 exceptional members to earn the designation of Fellow as a result of their extraordinary volunteer service, dedication and commitment to ASCO, the world's leading professional organization representing physicians who care for people with cancer. This recognition permits all 12 new ASCO Fellows to add the designation of "FASCO" to their credentials. [more]

Dr. Erika Trapl‌FDA Issues Proposal to Extend Authority Over Additional Tobacco Product
May 12, 2014
The following piece was written by Dr. Erika Trapl, Associate Director of the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods, and Assistant Professor of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at CWRU. Dr. Trapl was invited to write this guest commentary based on her extensive research in with e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Tobacco Products recently proposed a new rule to extend their regulatory authority to cover alternative tobacco products –including e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe (hookah) tobacco, and dissolvables. For those involved in tobacco control, this announcement from the FDA is long overdue and is just the first step in beginning to exercise the regulatory actions needed to continue to reduce tobacco use in the U.S. [more]

Amitabh Chak‌Researchers Present Findings on Promising Biomarker for Esophageal Cancer
May 7, 2014
A new biomarker for esophageal cancer shows promise in improving screening for this deadly disease and its precursor, Barrett's esophagus.

Amitabh Chak, MD, of University Hospitals Case Medical Center's Seidman Cancer Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, presented findings today at Digestive Disease Week in Chicago in a research forum titled "Aberrant Vimentin Methylation in Esophageal Brushings: A Biomarker for Detecting Barrett's Esophagus and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma" (embargoed May 5, 9:15 am CT).

Dr. Chak and a research team found that a change in the DNA, methylation of the vimentin gene, can be an effective new less-invasive test for detecting Barrett’s esophagus (BE). In 117 patients, they examined if a new, non-endoscopic "brushing" of the esophagus is as effective as the more invasive, traditional biopsy. [more]

Sanford Markowitz‌Study Shows Aspirin Can Reduce Colorectal Cancer Risks for those with Specific Gene
April 24, 2014
The humble aspirin may have just added another beneficial effect beyond its ability to ameliorate headaches and reduce the risk of heart attacks: lowering colon cancer risk among people with high levels of a specific type of gene.

The extraordinary finding comes from a multi-institutional team that analyzed data and other material from two long-term studies involving nearly 128,000 participants. The researchers found that individuals whose colons have high levels of a specific gene product–that is, the biologic materials expressed by the gene 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase (15-PGDH)–dramatically reduce their chances of developing colorectal cancer by taking aspirin. In contrast, the analgesic provides no benefit to individuals whose colons show low levels of the gene product 15-PGDH. About half of the population possesses high levels of 15-PGDH. [more]

Keith McCraeAlvin Schmaier‌Drs. McCrae and Schmaier Receive ASH Bridge Funding Awards
March 24, 2014
Two Cancer Center members, Drs. Keith McCrae and Alvin Schmaier, are among 15 researchers awarded one-year $100,000 grants from the American Society of Hematology (ASH) that will help sustain their research amidst severe funding reductions for the National Institutes of Health.

Twenty-nine scientists have received Bridge Grants since the program was created in July 2012, including Case CCC member Dr. Yu-Chung Yang, who was part of the first group of recipients. [more]

Anant Madabhushi‌Researchers Use "Big Data" to Identify Cancers
March 18, 2014
Researchers at CWRU and colleagues used "big data" analytics to predict if a patient is suffering from aggressive triple-negative breast cancer, slower-moving cancers or non-cancerous lesions with 95 percent accuracy. If the tiny patterns they found in magnetic resonance images prove consistent in further studies, the technique may enable doctors to use an MRI scan to diagnose more aggressive cancers earlier and fast track these patients for therapy. Their work is published online in the journal Radiology.

The work comes just two months after senior author Anant Madabhushi, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at CWRU School of Engineering and director of the Center for Computational Imaging and Personalized Diagnostics, and another group of researchers showed they can detect differences between persistent and treatable forms of head and neck cancers caused by exposure to human papillomavirus, with 87.5 percent accuracy. In that study, digital images were made from slides of patients' tumors. [more]

Neal Meropol‌Dr. Neal Meropol Recognized as ASCO Fellow
March 12, 2014
Neal Meropol, MD, Case CCC Associate Director for Clinical Research, was named as a Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ACSO). This distinction recognizes ASCO members for their extraordinary volunteer service, dedication, and commitment to ASCO. The award will be presented at the 2014 ASCO Annual Meeting during the Opening Session on Saturday, May 31. [more]

Nima SharifiDr. Nima Sharifi Recognized With 2014 AACR Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research Award
March 6, 2014
Nima Sharifi, MD, Kendrick family endowed chair for prostate cancer research, Department of Cancer Biology, Lerner Research Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, will be recognized with the 34th Annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research Award at the AACR Annual Meeting 2014, to be held in San Diego, Calif., April 5-9.

Since 1979, the AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research has honored an investigator younger than 40 years of age to recognize his or her meritorious achievements within the field of cancer research.

Sharifi is being recognized for his seminal contributions as a young investigator to the field of prostate cancer biology. He will present his lecture, "Androgen Metabolism Drivers in Prostate Cancer: From Mechanism to Therapy," Monday, April 7, 4:30 p.m. PT, in room 20D in the San Diego Convention Center.

Charis EngDr. Charis Eng Honored With the 17th Annual AACR-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship
March 5, 2014
The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will award the 17th annual AACR-Women in Cancer Research Charlotte Friend Memorial Lectureship to Charis Eng, MD, PhD, at the AACR Annual Meeting 2014, to be held in San Diego, Calif., April 5-9.

Eng is the Sondra J. and Stephen R. Hardis endowed chair in cancer genomic medicine and founding director of the Genomic Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. She is being recognized for her unstinting support and active promotion of women working in cancer research, medicine, and genetics. She will present her lecture, "PTEN Hamartoma Tumor Syndrome Previvorship: What now?," Saturday, April 5, 5:15 p.m. PT, in Ballroom 20D in the San Diego Convention Center.

University Hospitals unveils new website, app to help patients find cancer clinical trials
March 4, 2014
A website and mobile-device app designed by University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center is providing cancer patients with information on clinical trials that they might be able to access as part of their treatment.

The website, at, and app – available on the iPhone, iPad and Android devices – have information on more than 150 available cancer clinical trials offered in collaboration with the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. [more]

Paul Tesar‌Dr. Paul Tesar Recognized with Professorship of Innovative Cancer Therapeutics
March 3, 2014
Dr. Paul Tesar was appointed the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professorship of Innovative Cancer Therapeutics at a ceremony held on Thursday, February 27, 2014.

Originally from Cleveland, Dr. Tesar is a CWRU alumnus, receiving his undergraduate degree in biology under the mentorship of Dr. Stephen Haynesworth. Dr. Tesar's potential was evident early on, attracting the notice of the National Institutes of Health, which bestowed on him a scholarship to complete his PhD at the University of Oxford.

Building on the work of the 2012 Nobel Prize winners in Medicine who discovered how to turn skin cells into stem cells, Dr. Tesar's lab took this landmark discovery even further and discovered how to transform skin cells directly into brain cells, or specifically, oligodendrocytes. [more]

Dr. Susan Flocke‌HPV Vaccination: A Significant Opportunity for Cancer Prevention
February 24, 2014
The following piece was written by Dr. Susan A. Flocke, Director of the Behavioral Measurement Core Facility and co-Leader of the Cancer Prevention, Control and Population Research Program of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is also Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Epidemiology & Biostatistics at CWRU.

The President's Cancer Panel monitors progress of the National Cancer Program, identifies topics of high importance to the nation, and recommends action to address identified issues. Earlier this month, the Panel highlighted human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines as an effective but under-used intervention to prevent cancers1.

Letters from the Panel were sent to multiple stakeholder organizations and to the President of the United States urging action to increase the uptake of HPV vaccination, especially in adolescents. The primary message of the calls to action is that HPV vaccination is cancer prevention and that the HPV vaccination is safe, effective, and especially important given the high prevalence of HPV. [more]

Case Comprehensive Cancer Center Researchers Discover Pathway of Protein that Helps Cancer Cells Survive
February 13, 2014
A team of researchers from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine has discovered how the cancer-related protein Bcl-2 signals cancer cells to live longer. The breakthrough emerged when the scientists discovered that Bcl-2 alters the level of calcium ions in lymphoma and leukemia cells that are resistant to cancer treatments. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research findings could help lead to the development of drugs that attack Bcl-2 in malignancies and produce better outcomes for cancer treatment.

"One of the deadliest and most remarkable characteristics of cancer cells is that regardless of where they are growing, and no matter what types of treatments are employed, including many different forms of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the cancer cells have the ability to survive," said Clark W. Distelhorst, MD, Professor, Medicine-Hematology/Oncology, Pharmacology, Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and co-leader of the Basic Sciences Program at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Since 1993 our team has been conducting research on key mechanisms by which the protein Bcl-2 keeps cancer cells alive." [more]

Study Finds Mammography Beneficial for Younger Women
January 24, 2014
Researchers from University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have published new findings in the February issue of American Journal of Roentgenology that mammography remains beneficial for women in their 40s. According to the study, women between ages 40 and 49 who underwent routine screening mammography were diagnosed at earlier stages with smaller tumors and were less likely to require chemotherapy. [more]

Op-Ed: Reproducibility of Preclinical Academic Studies
January 21, 2014
This op-Ed piece by Dr. Bing-Cheng Wang, co-Leader of the GU Malignancies Program of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine at CWRU and MetroHealth Medical Center, comments on a global issue in scientific publications- concern over reproducibility in lab findings and the complexity of validation studies. This has implications in how we conduct research.

Recently the biomedical research community was shaken by the widely publicized findings that an alarming proportion of peer-reviewed preclinical studies are not reproducible. The problem surfaced after publication of two commentaries detailing the inability of scientists at pharmaceutical companies to reproduce results from the published literature in 67% to 90% of cases (Nat. Rev. Drug Discov.10, 712, 2011Nature 483, 531-533, 2012). Many of the studies are in the field of oncology. Surprisingly, the reproducibility of published data did not significantly correlate with journal impact factors, the number of publications on the respective target, or the number of independent groups that authored the publications. [more]

Cleveland Clinic, Case Western Reserve School of Medicine Team Discovers Key Mechanisms to Inhibit Triple Negative Breast Cancers
January 16, 2014
A team of researchers from the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve School of Medicine have identified critical complex mechanisms involved in the metastasis of deadly "triple negative" breast cancers (TNBC). These tumors are extremely difficult to treat, frequently return after remission, and are the most aggressive form of breast cancer in women. The discovery of this critical interaction of mechanisms could be used to develop new life saving treatments to kill metastatic tumors in TNBC.

"In previous findings published over the past 10 years, our teams have described key mechanisms in these critical proteins,” said Khalid Sossey-Alaoui, PhD, Department of Molecular Cardiology, Lerner Research Institute, Cleveland Clinic. "A key component in the deadly metastatic potential of TNBC tumors is that they spread through tissues outside the breast very quickly. The two proteins that we studied, WAVE3 and TGF-β, when together, promote tumor aggressiveness."

"We found important biological implications," said William Schiemann, PhD, an associate professor, Division of General Medical Sciences-Oncology, Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Program at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. "For the first time, we uncovered an interplay between the two proteins that can inhibit or suppress TNBC – a discovery that has the potential to inhibit proliferations of the tumor." [more]

Researchers at Case Comprehensive Cancer Center Discover Ovarian Cancer Biomarker 
January 8, 2014
Researchers at Case Western Reserve University have identified a microRNA biomarker that shows promise in predicting treatment response in the most common form of ovarian cancer – a breakthrough that has the potential to improve outcomes for patients with the disease.

A CWRU research team led by Analisa DiFeo, PhD, an assistant professor of General Medical Science-Oncology at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, found that the biomarker miR-181a is a molecular driver of epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC). The research team also found that elevated levels of miR-181a in ovarian tumors are associated with chemotherapy resistance and disease progression. [more]

Cleveland Clinic Researchers Create Online Colorectal Cancer Risk Calculator
January 3, 2014
Researchers at Cleveland Clinic have developed a new tool called CRC-PRO that allows physicians to quickly and accurately predict an individual’s risk of colorectal cancer, as published in the current edition of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

CRC-PRO, or Colorectal Cancer Predicted Risk Online, is designed to help both patients and physicians determine when screening for colorectal cancer is appropriate. Current guidelines recommend patients are screened at the age of 50. However, with this new tool, physicians will be better able to identify who is truly at risk and when screenings for patients are necessary.