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Research Highlights

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Renata Pasqualini, Ph.D., Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology – Research, and Wadih Arap, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Genitourinary Medical Oncology, with post-doctoral fellow Fernanda Staquicini. Arap’s team reports significant findings impacting brain cancer research.
Photo by Barry Smith


Showcasing MD Anderson's Breakthrough Research

The Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research is considered the premier scientific meeting in cancer research. This year’s April meeting drew about 18,000 people from around the world to learn more about novel laboratory approaches and technologies, innovative preclinical science and clinical trial results.
Waun Ki Hong, M.D., head, Division of Cancer Medicine, presented on personalized approaches to lung cancer prevention. 

Jian Gu, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Epidemiology, presented findings that a single point of variation along the genome on chromosome 14 is associated with a 19% decrease in bladder cancer risk and, separately, with longer telomeres. Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., 2010-11 AACR president, commented on the importance of Gu’s research during a news conference.

John Heymach, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, presented research that might better predict which lung cancer patients will benefit from erlotinib, known commercially as Tarceva®.


Targeted Particle Fools Brain’s Guardian to Reach Tumors

Study Published in Journal of Clinical Investigation

A research team led by scientists from MD Anderson has shown that a targeted delivery combination selectively crosses the tight barrier that protects the brain. They reported their findings in the January issue of Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The iron-transporting transferring protein and receptor complex is a potential path to treatment because its receptor gene is the most overexpressed in human glioblastomas (the most common form of primary brain tumor among adults and one of the most lethal cancers).

“We’ve identified an iron-mimic peptide that can hitch a ride on a protein complex that transports iron across the blood-brain barrier,” says co-senior author Wadih Arap, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the David H. Koch Center for Applied Research of Genitourinary Cancers at MD Anderson. “Employing the iron transport system selectively opens the blood-brain barrier for tumor imaging and treatment while keeping it otherwise intact to play its protective role.”

Funded by: the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, the U.S. Department of Defense and MD Anderson’s Center for Targeted Therapy; also the Gillson-Longenbaugh Foundation, AngelWorks, the Marcus Foundation, the National Foundation for Cancer Research, the Harry S. and Isabel C. Cameron Foundation and the Schissler Foundation.


Research Results in First Thyroid Cancer Drug Approval

MD Anderson’s endocrinologists participated in the first successfully completed international Phase III trial in thyroid cancer, demonstrating the potential role of anti-angiogenic therapy for this disease. The trial was led by Sam Wells, M.D., head of the thyroid Clinical Research Program at the National Cancer Institute. MD Anderson collaborators included the departments of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology and Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology.

Robert Gagel, M.D., head of the Division of Internal Medicine and a national co-investigator on the trial, delivered the Phase III clinical trial results of Vandetanib to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2010, a presentation that led to the drug’s approval in April.

“Vandetanib is the first therapy specifically approved for treatment of medullary thyroid carcinoma,” says Gagel. “It provides another example that shows how a therapy, targeted to a specific genetic abnormality in the tumor, is successful in reducing its size and growth.”

These efforts could further transform thyroid cancer treatment, providing options for late-stage patients.


Combination Overcomes Breast Cancer Resistance to Herceptin

Reported online at Nature Medicine

MD Anderson scientists at have discovered that adding the drug saracatinib to Herceptin treatment shrinks previously resistant tumors by cutting off at least five molecular pathways.

Saracatinib is an Src inhibitor, thwarting that protein and allowing Herceptin to work again in tumors that have a high amount of the HER2 protein. Only about 26% of women with HER2-positive breast cancer respond to Herceptin as single therapy. Between 40 and 60% respond to the drug when combined with other chemotherapy.

“This combination is a promising therapy for those with Herceptin-resistant breast cancer,” says senior author Dihua Yu, M.D., Ph.D., professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Oncology.

Funded by: the National Cancer Institute (NCI), MD Anderson’s NCI Breast Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE), Department of Defense Center of Excellence, Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Promise Grant, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, the MD Anderson Breast SPORE Career Development Award and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center