Protected research time and financial resources can be a rarity for promising junior faculty members.
Yet, as tomorrow’s oncology leaders, they will need to be experts in innovative cancer research and exceptional patient care. That’s why M. D. Anderson, using donations made through the Annual Fund, established the Physician-Scientist Program in 1998.
Currently 20 scholars on the edge of innovative cancer research participate in the program, working toward discoveries that will translate into improved clinical care for patients.
Their studies include new, targeted drugs for leukemia, immunotherapy for bladder cancer, protein kinase and steroid signaling in ovarian and breast tumors, and four-dimensional analysis of lung cancer imaging, among many other research areas.
Two specific examples include research for pediatric patients with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system, and research for adult patients with melanoma and prostate cancer.
Robbing cancer of a sugar high
By shutting down their energy source, an experimental drug developed at M. D. Anderson was able to starve human neuroblastoma cells transplanted into mice. The drug, 3-BrOP, was found to reduce tumor growth by more than 75% as a single agent. Pre-clinically, this drug has proven effective against other cancers, including glioblastoma, colon cancer, lymphoma and acute leukemia.
Alejandro Levy, M.D., fellow, Children’s Cancer Hospital at M. D. Anderson
Patrick Zweidler-McKay, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, Children’s Cancer Hospital
Reported in April 2009 during the plenary session at the 22nd annual meeting of the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology.
Searching for clues to dramatic immune response
A small group of patients with metastatic melanoma and prostate cancer have experienced some regression of their disease through a novel immunotherapeutic agent known as anti-CTLA-4 antibody. Though the drug was developed elsewhere, scientists at M. D. Anderson have added to the research. Scientific studies to understand mechanisms leading to these dramatic responses have identified a group of T cells that express the inducible co-stimulator (ICOS ) molecule as playing an important role in anti-tumor responses. ICOS-expressing T cells are being investigated in clinical and pre-clinical studies to assess their roles as potential biomarkers and targets that can be used to develop successful immunotherapeutic strategies for treating cancer.
Padmanee Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor, departments of Genitourinary Medical Oncology and Immunology