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Research Highlights

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Multiple Myeloma

Dr. Nathan Dolloff
Dr. Nathan Dolloff

Researchers who are developing a promising new treatment shown to be effective against treatment-resistant multiple myeloma in preclinical trials received a $2 million grant to develop the compound into an investigational new drug. “Nearly all myeloma patients eventually reach that stage when their physician tells them they have explored all the options, and there’s nothing else,” says Nathan Dolloff, Ph.D. “Our goal has always been to develop that next treatment option and get it to patients as quickly as possible.” Dolloff, founder of startup company Leukogene Therapeutics Inc., says he hopes this could go well beyond myeloma and be applied “to a lot of different cancers.”

Origins of Cancer

Takayuki Okano- Uchida
Dr. Takayuki Okano- Uchida

Hollings Cancer Center researchers have found that some cells can divide without a molecule that was previously thought necessary. Their results, published online in Genes and Development, explain how liver cells can regenerate after injury. This is important, as it can shed light on how cancer arises and how cancer cells evolve to have additional mutations, which accelerates growth and spread. Authors on the paper included Gustavo Leone, Ph.D., and Takayuki Okano-Uchida, Ph.D. One of the areas of focus in Leone’s lab is studying how normal cells divide to better understand the process in cancer cells, which can divide rapidly and spread. “We are multicellular organisms,” says Uchida. “To make multicellular organisms, it is important to copy cells, so DNA replication is very important to us.”

Breast Cancer

Dr. Michael Ostrowski
Dr. Michael Ostrowski

A study published in the journal Nature Communications found a tumor suppressor gene PTEN often is mutated in human cancer cells. Tumor suppressors act like brakes that stop cells from undergoing uncontrolled growth. “The results suggest that PTEN loss in normal cells may be a biomarker for identifying breast cancer patients who would benefit from adding specific inhibitors in combination with the standard radiation therapy,” says Michael Ostrowski, Ph.D., a senior author on the study. “We may have found an Achilles heel for cancer cells because the stromal cells and PTEN pathways can be targeted.”

Melanoma

Dr. Shikhar Mehrotra
Dr. Shikhar Mehrotra

In adoptive cell transfer immunotherapy, T cells that are able to recognize a tumor are harvested, expanded in the laboratory and then reintroduced to attack the tumor.  However, they often do not last long enough to finish the job.

Triple combination cancer immunotherapy improves outcomes in a preclinical melanoma model, according to a study published in Clinical Cancer Research. Combining adoptive cell transfer (ACT) with a pan-PIM kinase inhibitor and a PD1 inhibitor improves outcomes in a preclinical model, report Hollings Cancer Center researchers.

“With this triple combination therapy, many more T cells persisted. That’s important for ACT, because the longer the transfused T cells stay inside the host to fight tumor cells, the better,” says Shikhar Mehrotra, Ph.D., senior author of the article.

Head and Neck Cancer

Dr. Evan Graboyes
Dr. Evan Graboyes

MUSC researchers look at the care processes for head and neck cancer patients to understand why only some have timely care.  Delayed care is a critically important factor in the survival of patients with head and neck cancer, and the patients who most often experience delays are African American, according to two new Hollings Cancer Center studies.

These findings were reported in an article published online October 18 and in a systematic review published online October 11 – both in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery. MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researcher and lead author Evan Graboyes, M.D., says this is a critical area of research.

“We can’t always control the inner workings of a disease, but we can change our treatment protocols and make sure they are carried out in the way that has proven to show results. And that’s exciting to me.”

Neuroblastoma

Dr. Jacqueline Kraveka
Dr. Jacqueline Kraveka

A recent study finds that DFMO (eflornithine) increases the survival for children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Jacqueline Kraveka, D.O., a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at the MUSC Children’s Hospital and a Hollings Cancer Center researcher, says she’s thrilled by a paper published in Scientific Reports that shows the positive results of a phase 2 clinical trial using the oral medication DFMO to prevent relapse in children with high-risk neuroblastoma (HRNB).

HRNB accounts for 15 percent of all childhood cancer deaths, in part because nearly half of all patients who reach remission will relapse.

Kraveka, the principal investigator at MUSC and senior author of this study, says survival for children with HRNB remains a challenge. “These results are groundbreaking and very exciting for oncologists and their patient families. I am thrilled to have our confirmatory study open at so many sites across the U.S. and Canada, enabling children to receive this treatment close to home.”

Lung Cancer

Dr. Besim Ogretmen
Dr. Besim Ogretmen

Scientists at Hollings have found that human lung cancer cells resist dying by controlling parts of the aging process, according to results published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. The discovery could help researchers better understand aging and eventually could lead to new cancer treatments.

Cancer becomes more common as people get older, but scientists are still searching for answers about why this happens. At Hollings Cancer Center, research into the connections between aging and cancer is led by Besim Ogretmen, Ph.D., SmartState Endowed Chair in Lipidomics and Drug Discovery. “We hope that maybe we can do both: delay aging and prevent the growth of cancer,” says Ogretmen. “That’s the ultimate outcome of this.”