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Stand Up To Cancer Chooses Five Dream Teams

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Top scientists at M. D. Anderson, Harvard Medical School and Memorial Sloan-Kettering are joining together to find a way to block a twisted molecular pathway that propels endometrial, breast and ovarian cancers.

The three institutions share a three-year, $15 million Dream Team grant from Stand Up To Cancer, an entertainment industry initiative to fund cancer research that moves new treatments to patients more quickly.  

"The pathway involved here is the most common abnormally activated pathway in all of cancer," says Gordon Mills, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of M. D. Anderson's Department of Systems Biology and a co-leader on the project with two other scientists. "What we learn in women's cancers will apply to many other types."



"Stand Up To Cancer's novel approach, bringing top investigators together in Dream Teams across institutions, has never been tried on this scale before," says Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., M. D. Anderson provost and executive vice president and a member of the Stand Up To Cancer Scientific Advisory Committee.
 
"Most funding sources award research grants to groups housed within the walls of a single institution. These five powerful collaborations generated proposals that could have a major impact on the care of cancer patients, and do so more quickly than would have occurred if the institutions had acted separately."

DuBois, who helped organize the project during his term as president of the American Association for Cancer Research, was interviewed on the CBS Early Show by the network's news anchor, Katie Couric.

M. D. Anderson researchers have significant roles on two other Dream Teams.

A Dream Team designed to advance epigenetic cancer therapy will draw on the expertise of Jean-Pierre Issa, M.D., professor in the Department of Leukemia. Epigenetics involves the biochemical regulation of genes rather than actual damage to or mutation of DNA. Issa and colleagues were instrumental in the development of decitabine, one of the first epigenetic drugs, which turns on genes that have been chemically shut down.

"Our plans are to find markers that can guide individualized epigenetic therapy by identifying patients most likely to respond and we will start in leukemia, primarily at M. D. Anderson," Issa says. 

Research to translate results in leukemia to solid tumors such as breast, colon and lung will be done at other Dream Team institutions. Scientists at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Southern California lead the team. 

Clinical trials of new epigenetic drugs will be conducted jointly at USC and M. D. Anderson.

Roy Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology, brings the department's innovative BATTLE clinical trial to a Dream Team applying a technology that detects circulating tumor cells in the bloodstream to detect specific mutations in a variety of cancers and predict patients' responses to treatment.  

The BATTLE program uses biomarkers to guide treatment for late-stage lung cancer patients, relying on tumor biopsies to detect relevant mutations. "We hope circulating tumor cells will allow us to do the same thing without having to do a biopsy," Herbst says. "We would be able to conduct continuous sampling with this technology. We're excited to be collaborating on this project."

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School lead the team.

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