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Milestones of Discovery

2013

Pap Test Fluid Used to Detect Ovarian and Endometrial Cancers

Researchers developed a test that uses cervical fluid obtained from Pap tests to detect ovarian and endometrial cancers.  In a pilot study, the “PapGene” test accurately detected 100 percent (24 of 24) of endometrial cancers and 41 percent (9 of 22) ovarian cancers.  The researchers used gene-sequencing technology to determine the most common gene alterations associated with the cancers and then used their test to find and extract from the fluid cancer the DNA specific to each cancer. The Pap test is widely used to screen for cervical cancer, but currently there is no routine screening method for ovarian and endometrial cancers.  The investigators are working to improve the test’s ability to detect ovarian cancer.

2012

New Drug for High-Risk Leukemia
A new oral drug, called quizartinib, for patients with a treatment-resistant subtype of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) associated with mutation to the FLT3 gene, helped more than a third of patients in a clinical study of the drug.  The research to isolate the FLT3 gene and associate it to AML, and drugs to target it, was pioneered by Kimmel Cancer Center investigators.

Gene Alterations Linked to Poor Outcomes in A Pediatric Cancer
A survey of the neuroblastoma cancer genome revealed alterations in two genes, ARID1A and ARID1B, associated with a poor prognosis.  The discovery could aid in earlier identification of patients with this aggressive subtype of the common childhood cancer that affects nerve tissue throughout the body.  Neuroblastomas vary widely, with some being highly curable and others quite lethal.  This gene finding may allow scientists to identify patients with this aggressive form of the cancer and target them with additional therapies.

Gene-Based Test Can Detect and Monitor Cancer
Researchers combined their tests that detect cancer with gene sequencing technology to create a new test that could screen for cancers, monitor cancer patients for recurrence, and find residual cancer left after surgery.  The study is considered proof-of-principle that gene sequencing to identify cancer-related alterations may be a helpful tool in detecting cancer DNA directly in the blood and potentially other body fluids.

Laser Light Test Reveals Spreading Cancer
Cancer imaging and breast cancer experts used advanced microscopes equipped with tissue-penetrating laser light to develop a promising new way to accurately analyze the distinctive patterns of ultra-thin collagen fibers in breast tumor tissue samples and to help tell if the cancer has spread.  It is believed to be the first study to measure minute changes in tumor connective tissue fibers.  Investigators say the diagnostic technique has the potential to help reassure thousands of breast cancer patients that their cancers have not spread to other organs, and could help them avoid the risks and pain currently involved in direct inspections of lymph nodes for the presence of cancerous cells.

Half-Matched Transplants May Cure More Than Cancer
Bone marrow transplant researchers showed that half-matched (haploidentical) bone marrow transplants can cure sickle cell anemia, a painful and debilitating blood-forming disease that primarily affects African-Americans.  The ability to safely use half-matching donors (parents, most siblings, and all children of the patient) makes bone marrow transplant an effective option for the majority of sickle cell patients.  Kimmel Cancer Center bone marrow transplant researchers pioneered the haploidentical version of the therapy to help patients who do not have matching donors.  The therapy reformats the blood system and gives patients new blood cells to replace the diseased ones, similar to replacing a computer’s circuitry with an entirely new hard drive.

Embryo Gene Linked to Lethal Lung Cancer
A multi-institutional and comprehensive study, led by Kimmel Cancer Center investigators, revealed genetic mutations linked to a lethal type of lung cancer, known as small cell lung cancer (SCLC).  Among the genetic alterations identified by the investigators was an increase in the number of copies (amplification) of a gene called SOX2. Normal cells should contain just two copies of the gene (one copy from each parent), which is involved in embryo development.  In cancer, researchers suspect that amplification causes an overproduction of SOX2 proteins that, in turn, reignites and sustains cell growth associated with tumor formation.  The gene is target for potential new treatments and for predicting prognosis.

Marker Predicts Aggressive Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer researchers identified a group of genes that regulates and controls normal prostate development. They postulated and subsequently showed that genes that control the movement and invasion of prostate cells during normal prostate development become reactivated in prostate cancers.  Of particular interest is a gene known as SPARCL1, which can accurately predict whether a seemingly localized tumor will return and spread within a few years after surgery.   The normal prostate has high levels of SPARCL1 expression, which holds cells in check, preventing them from migrating and moving around.  Low levels of SPARCL1 allow cells to move well, serving as a biological red flag that the cancer will return with a vengeance.  This promising finding may pinpoint those patients whose cancers are destined to return after surgery, but it also reveals a potential new target for treatment.

Novel Technique Reverts Cell to Embryonic State
The same team of scientists who in 2011 transformed human blood cells into beating heart cells has now developed a safe and super efficient method to turn the clock back on blood cells, reverting them to the primitive state from which they derived.  This form, known as the stem cell state, is the point at which blood cells may develop into any other type of cell in the body.  They believe that taking a cell from an adult and converting it all the way back to the way it was when that person was a 6-day-old embryo has the opportunity to greatly advance the understanding of how cells age and what happens when things go wrong, as in cancer development.

“Theranostics” Simultaneously Kill and Image Prostate Cancer Cells
Experimenting with human prostate cancer cells and mice, cancer-imaging experts developed a method for finding and killing malignant cells while sparing healthy ones. The method, called “theranostic” imaging, targets potent drug therapies directly and only to cancer cells while also tracking and monitoring the journey. The process binds an originally inactive form of drug chemotherapy, with an enzyme, to prostate cancer-specific proteins on tumor cell surfaces and detects the drug’s absorption into the tumor.  The binding of the highly specific drug-protein complex, or nanoplex, to the cell surface allows it to get inside the cancerous cell, where the enzyme slowly activates the tumor-killing drug.

Cancer Therapy Boosts Immune System
Kimmel Cancer Center cancer immunology researchers made breakthrough discoveries related to an immune inhibitory checkpoint called PD-1.  It is co-opted by tumors to shut down an immune response to cancer cells.  Two clinical trials that used antibodies to block PD-1 and PD-L1, a related molecule that binds to PD-1, resulted in significant and long lasting responses against melanoma skin cancer, renal cell (kidney) cancer, and lung cancer.  The findings in lung cancer were particularly significant it was not thought to be an immune responsive cancer.  Experts say it demonstrates that, with the correct approach, essentially all cancers could be made vulnerable to immune attacks.

Drug from Mediterranean Weed Kills Tumor Cells
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, working with Danish researchers, have developed a novel anticancer drug designed to travel--undetected by normal cells-- through the bloodstream until activated by specific cancer proteins. The drug, made from a weed like plant, has been shown to destroy cancers and their direct blood supplies, acting like a “molecular grenade,” and sparing healthy blood vessels and tissues.

Advanced Cancers Destined to Return After Single Drug Therapies
Targeted cancer cell therapies using man-made proteins dramatically shrink many tumors in the first few months of treatment, but new research from Johns Hopkins scientists finds why the cells all too often become resistant, the treatment stops working, and the disease returns. Resistance mutations develop by chance as cancer cells divide so that tumors always contain thousands of resistance cells.  Low levels of resistance mutations exist in nearly all tumors before the therapy begins, making the cancers predestined to recur. The research team says that combination therapies are the best chance for longer remissions, and hope their findings will help stimulate the testing of new drugs as combination therapies much earlier in the drug approval process.

Whole Genome Sequencing Not Informative for All
A study involving data of thousands of identical twins by Johns Hopkins investigators finds that whole genome sequencing fails to provide informative guidance to most people about their risk for most common diseases, and warns against complacency born of negative genome test results. The investigators find that that genomic tests will not be substitutes for current disease prevention strategies.  Their analysis showed that whole genome sequencing could alert most individuals to an increased risk of at least one disease, signaled by a positive test result, but most people would get negative test results for the majority of diseases studied, failing to forewarn them of the diseases they may ultimately develop.

Scientist Reprogram Cancer Cells With Epigenetic Drugs
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have breathed possible new life into two drugs once considered too toxic for human cancer treatment.  The drugs, azacitidine (AZA) and decitabine (DAC), are epigenetic-targeted drugs and work to correct cancer-causing alterations that modify DNA. Conventional chemotherapy agents work by indiscriminately poisoning and killing rapidly-dividing cells, including cancer cells, by damaging cellular machinery and DNA.  Low doses of AZA and DAC may re-activate genes that stop cancer growth without causing immediate cell-killing or DNA damage.

First Major Gene Mutation for Hereditary Prostate Cancer Found
After a 20-year quest to find a genetic driver for prostate cancer that strikes men at younger ages and runs in families, researchers have identified a rare, inherited mutation linked to a significantly higher risk of the disease.  This is the first major genetic variant associated with inherited prostate cancer. While accounting for only a small fraction of all prostate cancer cases, the discovery may provide important clues about how this common cancer develops and help to identify a subset of men who might benefit from additional or earlier screening.

2011

Genetic Blueprint for Head and Neck Cancer Revealed
Genetic sequencing offers powerful clues to understanding the function of various genes and their roles in cancer, and Kimmel Cancer Center researchers have produced some of the most seminal findings in cancer genetics. Their work revealed mutations in two genes never before associated with head and neck cancer and uncovered key evidence that genes are not preset to be either oncogene or suppressor gene, as previously thought, but instead their roles can vary among tumor types depending upon mutations. Their mutational analysis also confirmed previous findings by Kimmel Cancer Investigators who in 2000 linked the Human papillomavirus (HPV) and associated it with better outcomes.  This new research uncovered the reason, finding four times fewer mutations in HPV-related cancers than non-HPV-related cancers and no mutations to the common cancer-related p53 gene.  Another environmental risk factor, cigarette smoking, was associated with markedly increased numbers of mutations. 

Genetic Mystery Solved for Type of Brain Cancer 
Researchers identified the specific mutated genes that allow the brain cancer oligodendroglimoma to develop.   After sequencing this cancer, one that typically strikes younger people in their thirties and forties, uncovered mutations to two genes in the majority of tumors studied.  The research team also found mutations in the PIK3CA gene, which has been well studied in cancer and is already the focus of several clinical trials of targeted therapies. As result of these findings, scientists suspect that oligodendroglioma patients with PIK3CA mutations could potentially benefit from these experimental therapies and may be included in these clinical trials.

Blood Cells Turned into Beating Heart Cells
In a collaboration between the Kimmel Cancer Center, Institute for Cell Engineering, and Department of Biomedical Engineering, researchers successfully turned blood stem cells into functional, beating heart cells. The methodical two-year study resulted in a simple, straight-forward recipe for changing blood stem cells into heart cells. What the research team accomplished was previously considered impossible by international leaders in the field of regenerative medicine.  The researchers say the special “plasticity” of the blood stem cell that allows them to be transformed to a heart cell, holds important clues about how leukemia and other blood diseases develop and how they can be controlled.      

Mysteriously Lengthening Telomeres
Kimmel Cancer Center researchers have helped solve the mystery, known as “alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT), linking mutations in two genes to this cancer cell phenomenon. The enzyme telomerase maintains the length of telomeres, the protective ends on chromosomes, and most cancer cells use large amounts of the enzyme to ensure their immortality.  Mysteriously some cancer cells maintain their telomeres without it. The investigators reported a 100 percent correlation between abnormalities in the two genes and alternative lengthening of telomeres.  Their findings regarding ATM could be useful in determining a patient’s prognosis and as the basis of new-targeted therapies.

In Brain Cancers, Two or More Targets is Better Than One
Brain cancers represent one of the most difficult types of cancer to manage.  Tumors that respond initially to treatment eventually become resistant, but new research reveals how cancer gene pathways conspire to circumvent therapy. Similar to a computer network which increases its computing capabilities by linking several computers together, groups of genes work together through pathways to enhance cell function. Cancer cells manipulate these pathways to drive tumor growth and spread. Inhibiting a single cancer cell development pathway with drug therapy can disrupt and may actually increase activity in other pathways and raise the risk of tumors becoming resistant to therapy. The team found that genes involved in one pathway interacted directly with genes in another pathway.  As a result, they believe it may be necessary to simultaneously target multiple development signaling pathways to prevent cancer from becoming resistant to therapy.

Genetic Causes of a Type of Pancreas Cancer Uncovered
Researchers deciphered the genetic causes of a type of pancreas cancer known as neuroendocrine or islet cell tumors and uncovered a unique genetic code specific to each patient that predicts how aggressive the disease is and how well it will respond to specific treatments. Their work revealed several common gene mutations, including two genes that had not been previously linked to cancer and mutations to a family of genes called mTOR. Patients whose tumors contain alterations to mTOR would be candidates for treatment with agents that inhibit these genes.

Pancreas Cancer Timeline Reveals Ample Time for Early Intervention
A mathematical model allows clinicians, for the first time, to quantify the development of pancreas cancer and how best to treat it. Their work disproved common scientific thought that this type of cancer progresses to a deadly stage very early in its development. Instead, the team calculated that it takes an average of 11 years before a cancer cell arises from a precancerous pancreas lesion. Their goal is to create a screening method, similar to those used to screen for breast and colon cancers, to detect very early pancreas cancers, long before they cause symptoms.

New Test to Identify Harmful Pancreatic Cysts
Kimmel Cancer Center scientists have developed a gene-based test to distinguish precancerous pancreatic cysts from harmless cysts.  These fluid-filled cysts are identified in more than a million patients each year.  Most cysts are benign, but distinguishing between the harmless and dangerous ones is challenging for doctors. A genetic analysis linked two gene mutations to cysts with a tendency to become cancers.  The mutations were not found in benign cysts. The gene test is being studied as an accurate, quantitative way to identify cysts that are more worrisome and to help patients avoid unnecessary surgeries for harmless cysts.

Getting Breast Cancer Drugs Right to the Source
Breast cancers most often arise in the cells that line the breast ducts, so breast cancer researchers developed an intraductal therapy in which anticancer drugs are administered via a tiny catheter inserted through the nipple into the breast ducts. The intraductal delivery resulted in a higher concentration of anticancer drugs in the breast than typical intravenous chemotherapy. Their results showed that by treating the breast tissue directly results in a much more potent drug concentration where it is needed and with far fewer adverse effects on tissue outside the breast.

Gaming Systems Used to Fight Cancer
A cancer surgeon collaborated with engineers and radiologists to apply the image-guided technology used in interactive gaming systems like the Nintendo Wii® and  Microsoft Kinect® systems to cancer medicine. The team showed that Kinect, the optical hardware from Microsoft, Inc., and image-recognition algorithms used to identify and track the location and orientation of objects in its visual field could be adapted to locate and track the motions of a biopsy needle.  In another adaptation of gaming technology, the researchers used the Wii remote to transform standard ultrasound imaging into a more readable and less expensive 3D imaging.

Watch and Wait Approach for Prostate Cancer
A Johns Hopkins study of 769 men from across the United States recently diagnosed with low-grade prostate cancer supports delaying treatment as long as the cancer’s progression and tumor growth are closely monitored through “active surveillance” and there is no dramatic worsening of the disease over time. This study offers the most conclusive evidence to date that active surveillance may be the preferred option for the vast majority of older men diagnosed with a very low-grade or small-volume form of prostate cancer.

Antifungal Drug Works Against Prostate Cancer
A drug used to treat nail fungus appears to keep prostate cancer in check.  In a study of the oral antifungal, called itraconazole, researchers found that it helped some men with advanced prostate cancer, keeping their cancer stable, delaying progression and the need for chemotherapy. Researcher came upon the drug and its anticancer potential when reviewing a database of more than 3,000 FDA-approved drugs.

Safer Radiation Therapy
Radiation oncology and molecular radiation sciences experts led the first-ever safety analysis of radiation oncology. Working with researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Ford and team gathered data on about 4,000 “near miss” events that occurred during 2008 to 2010 at both Johns Hopkins and Washington University. They focused their attention on 290 events that, had they not been caught in time, could have resulted in serious harm to patients.  They determined that a combination of approximately six common quality assurance (QA) measures would have prevented more than 90 percent of the potential incidents.

A New Approach for Rectal Cancer
A radiation oncology and surgery experts conducted the first U.S. study to look at the effectiveness of endorectal brachytherapy in low rectal cancers, those less than 12 centimeters from the rectum. The technique uses a cylinder-shaped applicator probe inserted into the patient’s rectum to deliver highly-focused radiation to the tumor.  The researchers believe endorectal brachytherapy may be more effective and less toxic that X-ray or external beam radiation.

Effectiveness of Half-Identical Bone Marrow Transplants Confirmed
Two clinical trials show transplant results with half-matched bone marrow, developed at Johns Hopkins, or umbilical cord blood are comparable to fully matched tissue.  The finding means that nearly all patients in need of a transplant can find donors. The favorable results are due in large part to the advances in managing severe graft versus host disease (GVHD), an attack on the patient’s normal tissues by immune cells of the donor.  These advances make it possible for half-identical bone marrow transplants to be used in nonmalignant diseases, such as aplastic anemia, lupus, and sickle cell anemia. 

Dual Approach Better for Liver Cancer
A combined treatment for liver cancer that uses one oral drug and another delivered directly to tumors in a method known as chemoembolization appears to work better against liver cancer.  Interventional radiologists, surgeons, and medical oncologists used a tiny catheter, the size of a single hair, inserted into the tumor to deliver approximately 200,000 cancer-drug filled microbeads.  Individually, each therapy has increased survival rates in advanced liver cancer, so combining them may push those survival rates further.

To Detect Colon Cancer, Look in the Mouth
Researchers in the Johns Hopkins Hereditary Colorectal Cancer Program, found that people who have a hereditary colon cancer syndrome known as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) also have abnormally dense blood vessel growth in the lining of their mouths, so they developed a simple and quick screening test that uses an automated camera-like device to measure the vascular density in the lining of the mouth.

 

2010:

A Universal Test for Cancer
A universal, precise, and specific gene-based test is able to pluck one abnormal cell from within a sea of 400,000 normal ones finding cancers invisible to CT scans, X-rays, and other existing methods of cancer detection. The personalized test can tell if a person is cured with surgery or if there are cancer cells left behind that will require additional treatment, monitor the progression of each person’s cancer and its response to treatment, and alert clinicians to a recurrence of disease.

Epigenetic Therapy
A novel two-drug treatment targets epigenetic alterations that help give cancer cells their edge. Rather than attacking and destroying replicating cells as standard chemotherapy drugs do, this therapy reprograms cells to behave more like normal cells. Clinical responses in lung cancer patients have been impressive, with responses in patients with advance disease whose cancers did not respond to other treatment approaches. As a result, additional studies have begun in breast and colon cancers.

Major Discovery in Ovarian Cancer
Investigators linked mutations in two genes to ovarian clear cell carcinoma, one of the most aggressive and treatment-resistant forms of ovarian cancer. The genes had not previously been linked to ovarian cancer.  The ARID1A gene, normally suppresses tumors, and the PPP2R1A gene, is an oncogene that, when altered, helps turn normal cells into tumor cells. In addition, the mutations in ARID1A provide an important new link between genetic and epigenetic (alterations to the environment of genes) mechanisms in human cancer.

Technique Helps Researchers Better Understand Prostate Cancer
Kimmel Cancer Center researchers and an international team of collaborators developed a technique to keep normal and cancerous tissue surgically removed from the prostate alive and functioning for up to a week. Their discovery will help investigators better understand the biology of prostate cancer and speed the development of personalized therapies for prostate cancer, by allowing them to test anticancer drugs on live tissue. They believe it also will reveal new clues about why certain therapies work and others fail.

A New Twist in Breast Cancer
Working with mice, scientists have shown that a protein made by a gene called TWIST may be the proverbial red flag that can accurately distinguish cells that drive aggressive, metastatic breast cancer from other breast cancer cells. This finding has fundamental implications for early detection, treatment and prevention.

How Things Grow, Including Cancer
A protein discovered in fruit fly eyes has brought a Johns Hopkins team closer to understanding how the human heart and other organs automatically determine when they are the correct size, a piece of information that may hold clues to controlling cancer. As cancer is a disease of uncontrolled growth, researchers believe it may also be involved in this process as well.

A Trojan Horse for Cancer Drugs
Researchers created biodegradable, ultra tiny, nanosized particles that can easily slip through the body’s sticky and viscous mucus secretions to deliver a sustained-release medication cargo. The nanoparticles, which degrade over time into harmless components, could one day carry life-saving drugs to patients suffering from dozens of health conditions, including cancer.

Oncospace
A radiation oncology physicist developed a complex computerized system, called “Oncospace,” that uses anatomy, radiation dose distributions, toxicity, and outcome data of prior patients to create an optimal treatment plan for those about to be treated.   “Oncospace” is considered one of the first demonstrations of how large data warehouses of information collected from previously treated patients can be used to make individualized treatment decisions for new patients.

Vaccine Clears Leukemia Cells
A newly developed leukemia vaccine appears to get rid of cancer cells left behind after treatment with the drug Gleevec. While the findings are preliminary, the investigators are cautiously optimistic that the vaccine could improve treatment outcomes and reduce toxic side effects for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). The vaccine could get patients off lifelong Gleevec therapy.

Half Identical Bone Marrow Transplants for Pediatric Patients
Pediatric oncology and bone marrow transplant researchers made haploidentical or half-identical transplants available to pediatric patients who need a bone marrow transplant but do not have a perfectly matching donor. Results in clinical trials were so favorable, with safety and toxicity comparable to matched transplants, it is now used earlier in the treatment of leukemias and lymphomas, and researchers are exploring its use in pediatric solid tumors, such as sarcomas and neuroblastoma.

Predicting Pancreatic Cancer
Johns Hopkins researchers designed a computer program that can predict which changes in the DNA code may cause pancreatic cells to become cancerous and deadly. The investigators say the findings could lead to more focused studies on better ways to treat the disease. The results can help cancer biologists set up experiments to see how important these DNA changes really are in pancreatic cancer and whether or not they are good drug targets for potential treatments.

2009

Mini Transplant May Reverse Severe Sickle Cell Disease
Results of a preliminary study by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins show that "mini" stem cell transplantation may safely reverse severe sickle cell disease in adults.  Using this procedure, nine of 10 patients treated have normal red blood cells and reversal of organ damage caused by the disease.

Low Cholesterol May Shrink Risk for High-Grade Prostate Cancer
Men with lower cholesterol are less likely than those with higher levels to develop high-grade prostate cancer, an aggressive form of the disease with a poorer prognosis, according to results of a Johns Hopkins collaborative study.  The epidemiologists provided evidence that having lower levels of heart-clogging fat may cut a man's risk of this form of cancer by nearly 60 percent.

Guide on Lung Cancer in "Never-Smokers": Different Disease, Different Treatments
A committee of scientists led by Johns Hopkins investigators published a new guide to the biology, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer in never-smokers, the sixth largest cancer killer, fortifying measures for what physicians have long known is a very different disease than in smokers.

Diarrheal Bacteria Causes Some Colon Cancers
Johns Hopkins scientists figured out how bacteria that cause diarrhea may also be the culprit in some colon cancers. The investigators say that strains of the common Bacteroides fragilis (ETBF), which they liken to the "H. pylori of colon cancer," dupe immune system cells into permitting runaway colon tissue inflammation, a precursor for malignant growth.

Genetic Changes Outside Nuclear DNA Suspected to Trigger More Than Half of All Cancers
A buildup of chemical bonds on certain cancer-promoting genes, a process known as hypermethylation, is widely known to render cells cancerous by disrupting biological brakes on runaway growth.  Johns Hopkins scientists provided evidence that the reverse process — demethylation — which wipes off those chemical bonds may also trigger more than half of all cancers.  One potential consequence of the new research is that demethylating drugs now used to treat some cancers may actually cause new cancers as a side effect.

Personalized Genome Sequencing Reveals Coding Error
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists used "personalized genome" sequencing on an individual with a hereditary form of pancreatic cancer to locate a mutation in a gene called PALB2 that is responsible for initiating the disease. The discovery marks their first use of a genome scanning system to uncover suspect mutations in normal inherited genes.  The findings, they say, underscore the value of so-called "personalized genome" sequencing, which decodes a person's genes and compares the changes to those found in healthy people.

Two Gene Mutations Linked to Most Common Brain Cancers
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and Duke University Medical Center linked mutations in two genes, IDH1 and IDH2, to nearly three-quarters of several of the most common types of brain cancers known as gliomas. Among the findings: people with certain tumors that carry these genetic alterations appear to survive at least twice as long as those without them.

2008

Personalized Blood Test Monitors Success Of Cancer Therapies
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers developed a novel test to measure tumor-derived DNA in the bloodstream. The blood test, based on the unique genetic fingerprint contained within the genome of every cancer, can not only detect the presence of tumor, but track its progress.

Genetic Blueprints Revealed for Brain, Pancreatic Cancers
The complete genetic blueprint for lethal pancreatic cancer and brain cancer was deciphered by a team at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. The studies were led by the same group who completed maps of the breast cancer and colorectal cancer genomes. The map evaluated mutations in virtually all known human protein-encoding genes, comprised of more than 20,000 genes, in 24 pancreatic cancers and 22 brain cancers. A core set of regulatory gene processes and pathways, about a dozen for each tumor type, were found to be altered in the majority of tumors studied by the researchers.

Genome Atlas Group Reports on Brain Cancer Genes
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center investigators were part of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) which reported results from its first comprehensive study focused on the deadly brain cancer glioblastoma.  They reported findings on the MGMT gene, first linked to GBM in 1998 by Johns Hopkins investigators who found it was altered by a cellular process known as methylation.  In 2002, they discovered that the gene alteration makes brain cancer cells more responsive to anticancer drugs known as alkylating agents.

Radiation Therapy Prolongs Life in Men with Recurrent Prostate Cancer
Men whose tumors recur after prostate cancer surgery are three times more likely to survive their disease long term if they undergo radiotherapy within two years of the recurrence. Surprisingly, survival benefits were best in men whose new tumors were growing fastest, according to results of a "look-back" study of 635 men by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions researchers reported June 18 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

DNA Detectives Find Genetic Markers for Lung Cancers Most Likely to Recur
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center uncovered clearly recognizable genetic alterations in tumors and tissue removed from patients with early-stage lung cancers that look like good predictors of which of these cancers are more likely to recur.  The discovery could change the approach to treating even the smallest lung cancers – the size of a pea – which are known to recur within five years in 30 to 40 percent of patients.

Gene Markers Located for Hereditary Prostate Cancer
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Brady Urological Institute, Wake Forest University and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden identified an array of gene markers for hereditary prostate cancer that, along with family history for the disease, appear to raise risk to more than nine times that of men without such markers.  The panel, gleaned from a study of more than 4,000 Swedes, found that these markers are common and could account for nearly half of the prostate cancer cases in the study. 

Stem Cells Make Bone Marrow Cancer Resistant to Treatment
 
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center provided evidence that cancer stem cells for multiple myeloma share many properties with normal stem cells and have multiple ways of resisting chemotherapy and other treatments. The evidence may explain why the disease is so persistent, the Johns Hopkins scientists say, and pave the way for treatments that overcome the cells’ drug resistance.  Multiple myeloma affects bone marrow and bone tissue.

'Swish-and-Spit' Test Accurate for Cancer
A morning gargle could someday be more than a breath freshener - it could spot head and neck cancer, say scientists at Johns Hopkins. Their new study of a mouth rinse that captures genetic signatures common to the disease holds promise for screening those at high risk, including heavy smokers and alcohol drinkers.

2007

Cause of Hereditary Lung Disease Found
Scientists at Johns Hopkins identified the genetic culprits that trigger a hereditary form of a fatal lung disease.  The findings may provide new directions in diagnosis and treatment for families that inherit genes for the disease, as well as for those that develop non-inherited forms of the illness. A progressive scarring of the lungs with no effective treatment, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) affects approximately 50,000 Americans annually, and like some cancers often is fatal within three years.

Cancer Prevention Breakthrough
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists have provided definitive evidence that oral HPV infection, acquired through oral sex, is a stronger risk factor for oropharyngeal head and neck cancer than is combined heavy use of alcohol and tobacco. This discovery has tremendous implications for cancer prevention.

Johns Hopkins Develops Pancreas Cancer Screening Model
People with a family history of pancreas cancer now have a way to predict accurately their chance of carrying a gene for hereditary pancreas cancer and their lifetime risk of developing the disease. Developed by Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers, the novel computer software tool is designed to help genetic counselors and physicians decide who would most benefit from early screening.

2006

Kimmel Cancer Center Called Research Powerhouse
Science Watch newsletter names five Kimmel Cancer Center doctors as the best in their field and the most often cited in all of cancer research worldwide.

Kimmel Cancer Center Investigators Crack Cancer Code
Kimmel Cancer Center investigators uncover the cancer genome, or blueprint, for colon and breast cancers.

U. S. News and World Report Ranks Kimmel Cancer Center Third Best in Nation
For the 15th consecutive year, U. S. News and World Report ranks the Kimmel Cancer Center as one of the top three cancer hospitals in the national. The Kimmel Cancer Center continues to be the top-ranked center in the mid-Atlantic region.

New Standard of Care
 
A 50-year-old method for delivering chemotherapy directly into the abdomen was reevaluated for patients with ovarian cancer after a seven-year study of more than 400 patients revealed increased survival rates in patients with advanced ovarian cancer.

Detecting Cancer Cells
 
Kimmel Cancer Center researchers determine that a method of screening body fluids, for certain kinds of cells and some of their genetic blueprint, is twice as accurate at spotting breast cancer cells as is a pathologist's view with a microscope.

Preventing Cancer
 
Sulforaphane-filled broccoli sprouts, in oral and topical form, are shown by Kimmel Cancer Center investigators to reactivate a cancer-preventing gene pathway in breast, lung, stomach, and skin cancers.

Kimmel Faculty Leaders in Cancer Care and Research
 
Nancy E. Davidson is elected President of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) for a one-year term beginning in June 2007.

2005

Vaccines, A New Treatment Weapon for Cancer
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers are encouraged by early results of a treatment vaccine for pancreatic cancer, a disease with few options and low odds for long-term survival. At about two years into a study of 60 patients, the researchers report that 88 percent survived one year and 76 percent are alive after two years.

A therapeutic cervical cancer vaccine was developed and tested in women with advanced disease.

Getting Therapy Right to the Cancer
 
The breast ducts, or channels that produce milk and carry other secretions throughout the breast tissue, are most often where breast cancer originates. Now, Kimmel Cancer Center investigators are exploring the benefits of delivering chemotherapy directly to these ducts. Promising animal studies of this method of delivering anticancer drugs, known as intraductal chemotherapy, has led to Phase I clinical trials in women with very early breast cancer.

New Use for Statins
 
In a 10-year study of more than 30,000 health professionals, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Harvard found that the longer men take cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins, the far less likely they are to develop advanced prostate cancer.

2004

Epigenetics: The Less Understood DNA Alteration
Epigenetics is the study of gene alterations that occur without mutating the DNA. Instead of mutating, genes are altered by a cellular mechanism known as methylation. Methylation of tumor suppressor genes has been shown by Kimmel Cancer Center investigators to silence them, allowing cancers to start. Demonstrating the significance of this work, the FDA recently approved the first demethylating agent, a drug that reduces methylation in genes and restores their function. In addition, our investigators have used epigenetic biomarkers to: develop screening tests for cancer; help guide surgeons in removing cancerous tumors; predict drug resistance; and, pinpoint more aggressive cancers.

Steven Baylin's epigenetics research is recognized by the National Cancer Institute as the most outstanding in its SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence).

Super Oncogene Identified
 
Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute have found mutations in a gene, called PIK3CA, linked to the progression of colon and other cancers. The gene is the most commonly mutated oncogene.

Blood Test Detects the Silent Cancer
 
Using three proteins found in common in the blood of women with ovarian disease, Kimmel Cancer Center researchers have designed a blood test to detect the disease.

Prestigious Faculty Honors
 
Bert Vogelstein received Spain's Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research. The award is considered that country's Nobel Prize.

2003

Elusive Cancer Stem Cell Identified
Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center scientists have identified the cell likely to be responsible for the development of multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow that destroys bone tissue.

Genetic Mistake Causes Most Thyroid Cancer
 
Kimmel Cancer Center researchers have found that a single genetic mistake in the BRAF gene causes about two-thirds of papillary thyroid cancers.

Cutting Off the Blood Supply to Tumors
Kimmel Cancer Center investigators have found antiangiogenesis agents that cut the blood supply to tumors, halting their growth and stopping the deadly invasion into other tissue and organs, thus keeping tumors in a chronic, stable phase.

Gamma Knife Center
 
The state-of-the art Gamma Knife Center opens, with scientists using the latest computer and robotic technology and precisely-targeted X-ray beams to perform surgery without knives on brain tumors and other brain diseases.

2002

Stool Test Detects Earliest, Curable Stage of Colon Cancer
Kimmel Cancer Center scientists have developed a safe and reliable stool test that can detect colon cancer in its earliest, curable stages. Kimmel researchers also detect a mutated APC gene in DNA found in stool.

Voice-Box Saved with New Larynx Cancer Therapy
 
Standard therapy changes for larynx cancer, and, the voice box is spared, after Kimmel Cancer Center investigators prove that, for most patients, combined treatment with chemotherapy and radiation has the same success rate as surgically removing the cancerous voice box.

Old Drug Leads to New Cure
 
Kimmel Cancer Center scientists discover that high dose cyclophosphamide, without bone marrow transplant, cures aplastic anemia and several autoimmune diseases.

Cause of Resistant Leukemia Identified
 
Kimmel Cancer Center investigators identify an FLT3 mutation and link it to a treatment-resistant form of acute myeloid leukemia. Drugs that target the mutation are developed and tested.

Kimmel Cancer Center cancer pain experts develop the Hopkins Opioid Program (HOP), a computer program, accessible by handheld PDAs, used to choose and prescribe correct dosages of pain killers for cancer patients.

The Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and Howard University team up to study and develop interventions for cancer disparities among minority populations.

Kimmel Cancer Center scientists develop Digital SNP, (snip), a diagnostic blood test for ovarian cancer that identifies DNA shed from ovarian cancer cells.

Kimmel Cancer Center investigators discover relationship between well known oncogene c-myc and a newly discovered enzyme called PRDX3. PRDX3 acts like a switch, turning on c-myc and tumor cell development.

AMACR gene identified by Kimmel Cancer Center researchers as a prevention and early diagnostic marker for prostate cancer.

2001

Sidney Kimmel makes an historic $150 million donation, the single largest gift to the Johns Hopkins University, for cancer research and patient care. In his homor, the Cancer Center is renamed the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins.

The Kimmel Cancer Center receives more than $2 million for cancer research through the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund, established from awards from the multistate lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers. High minority cancer rates are a major focus of Kimmel investigators.

Kimmel Cancer Center researchers prove that high-dose cyclophosphamide therapy, administered alone (without bone marrow transplantation), is an effective therapy for many aplastic anemia patients.

ID1 gene identified by Kimmel Cancer Center scientists as an early diagnostic marker for melanoma.

Gene-based therapy targets the FLT-3 gene, the culprit in a lethal form of acute myelogenous leukemia.

New Drug Development Capitalizes on Basic Science Discoveries

Kimmel Cancer Center scientists develope drugs and compounds that block: genes altered by abnormal methylation; mutated genes; and, blood supplies to tumor cells.

A combined chemotherapy/radiation regimen created by Kimmel Cancer Center researchers saves the voice box for many laryngeal cancer patients.

Basic scientists show stem cells help repair damaged tissue and organs. Johns Hopkins researchers then study stem cell infusion as therapy for cancer treatment toxicity, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and other diseases.

2000

Johns Hopkins Cancer Center researchers develop a pancreatic cancer vaccine and prove it activates immune cells against pancreatic tumor cells.

Cancer Center investigators uncover a genetic alteration that inhibits how brain cancer cells respond to chemotherapy. The development of drugs to block the gene's function begin.

A Cancer Center investigator becomes the first to link definitively the sexually-transmitted Human Papilloma Virus, (HPV) to the initiation of certain oral cancers.

A Cancer Center surgeon develops a breast endoscope that allows doctors to look inside breast ducts, detecting lesions 1/100 the size of those seen with MRI and mammography.

The prototype for a noninvasive screening test for cancer is developed by Cancer Center researchers. DNA from tumor cells in body fluids, such as urine, saliva, sputum, and breast lavage fluids, is detected.

Cancer Center scientists develop a conversion test that is nearly 100 percent effective in unmasking hidden gene mutations in patients with a family history of colon cancer.

1999

The opening of the Bunting Blaustein Cancer Research Building brings together more than 400 cancer researchers and staff.

1998

A saliva test that detects squamous cell head and neck cancer is developed by Kimmel Cancer Center scientists.

The Breast and Ovarian Surveillance Service (BOSS), Colon Cancer Risk Assessment Service and Familial Cancer Service are established at the Cancer Center to provide genetic counseling, testing, screening recommendations, and test prevention strategies for individuals and families at high risk of developing cancer.

The Johns Hopkins Cancer Center opens the first prostate cancer specimen bank to collect tissue, blood, and urine from prostate cancer patients in order to gain new information about the disease.

The Palliative Care Program is established.

The Pediatric Oncology Outpatient/Inpatient Unit (POP IN) opens, allowing many children, including bone marrow transplant patients, to receive their therapies as outpatients.

1997

Johns Hopkins and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) create a joint fellowship training program for Pediatric Oncology.

Construction of the $59 million, 217-square foot, Cancer Research Facility begins.

1996

Johns Hopkins Cancer Center investigators find that people who smoke have twice as many P53 mutations as those who do not. This discovery is the first definitive biologic link between smoking and cancer.

A button-sized, polymer implant is developed by Cancer Center scientists to deliver steady doses of pain medication for up the three months.

Cancer Center investigators identify the enzyme, telomerase, as a tumor marker for breast cancer.

Cancer Center researchers develop a screening test that detects bladder cancer cells in the urine.

Construction of the new $125 million, 134-bed, Comprehensive Cancer Center begins.

Polymorphisms, previously thought to be harmless, are found by Cancer Center scientists to lead to cancer. One such abnormality in the APC gene is linked to familial colon cancer.

1995

The Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant Center opens.

The Bone Marrow Transplant IPOP Center opens. This intensive therapy is now a largely outpatient procedure.

1994

DNA replication errors, called clonal markers, are used by Johns Hopkins Cancer Center investigators to detect cancer cells in body fluids, tissues, and secretions, at the very earliest stages, before the cancer is detected by pathology.

The Cancer Center is awarded a grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to launch a Comprehensive Breast Cancer program focused on clinical and basic research, prevention strategies, and the development of new therapies.

SAGE, a computerized system that allows researchers to study thousands of genes simultaneously, is developed and helps Cancer Center scientists pinpoint differences between normal and tumor cells.

Endothelin-l, a potent blood vessel constrictor linked to heart disease, is found by Kimmel Cancer Center investigators to play a role in advanced prostate cancer.

The GSTPl gene is found by Cancer Center researchers to be inactivated in prostate cells. This inactivation causes benign tumors to turn malignant.

1993

The Johns Hopkins Cancer Center is awarded a record three SPORE grants for lung, gastrointestinal, and prostate cancer research.

A class of anticancer compounds, called topoisomerase inhibitors, is shown by Cancer Center scientists to initiate antitumor responses in treatment-resistant cancers.

Cancer Center invesigators find that abnormal methylation disables tumor suppressor genes, leading to the loss of normal cell function.

Elutriation augmentation, which removes T-cells but preserves stem cells, reduces bone marrow transplant (BMT)complications and hospital stays.

The Kimmel Cancer Center becomes one of the first in the nation to use a 3-D radiation simulation for more precisely planned radiation therapy.

Cancer Center investigators discover that chemotherapy and radiation therapy administered prior to surgery improve success rates in esophageal cancer patients.

The Pediatric Oncology Long Term Survivors Program becomes one of only a handful in the country to treat, and make recommendations to prevent, long-term medical problems associated with childhood cancer therapy.

1992

A group of breast cancer survivors and concerned Maryland women raise $2.l million to fund one of the nation's first breast cancer research chairs and fellowships at Johns Hopkins.

1991

A Johns Hopkins Cancer Center Hopkins pediatric oncologist performs the first cord blood transplant for leukemia.

Programmed cell death, in which a specific, biochemical message is sent to the cancer cell, is used by Cancer Center researchers to trigger hormone-dependent breast cancer cells to die.

The National Familial Brain Tumor Registry, one of the largest collection of data on brain tumors in the world, is located in the Cancer Center and provides the first evidence that brain cancers can occur as a family disorder.

1990

Johns Hopkins Cancer Center investigators develop a blood test that identifies genetic mutations associated with an inherited form of colon cancer. This blood test, the first genetic screening test for cancer, is made available to high risk families.

Molecular markers that point to the earliest steps in the development of lung cancer are identified by Cancer Center scientists.

1989

Medical scientists at the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center perform one of the first umbilical cord blood transplants, the first in a leukemia patient.

A new drug regimen proposed by Cancer Center scientists for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) in children increases survival from 50 percent to 90 percent.

A new treatment, developed by Kimmel Cancer Center researchers, delivers radioactive "seeds" into the airways, extending life for inoperable lung cancer patients. The same type of therapy is now used to treat prostate cancer.

Cancer Center investigators demonstrate that topoisomerase inhibitors induce programmed cell death in leukemia cells.

Genetically-engineered tumor cells are used to supercharge the immune system to seek out and destroy cancer cells. This vaccine prototype is today being studied by Cancer Center researchers in clinical trials for kidney, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.

The P53 gene is linked by Cancer Center investigators to the progression of colon cancer, who later find this gene to be the most commonly mutated gene in all cancers. This discovery marks the beginning of a decade-long series of genetic discoveries associated with the initiation and progression of colon cancer.

1988

Johns Hopkins Cancer Center investigators find hot spots of increased DNA methylation in human cancers. These hot spots play a key role in the genetic instability of tumors.

The Hemapheresis Center now includes the unrelated bone marrow donor pool and human stem cell bank.

The Cancer Center's unrelated bone marrow donor pool produces its first match.

The Hackerman-Patz House, a home-away-from-home for patients traveling to the Cancer Center for cancer treatment, opens.

1987

Patents are awarded to Johns Hopkins for CD34 human stem cell antibodies.

Biodegradable BCNU polymer implants are approved for clinical trials, conducted by Cancer Center investigators, in brain tumor patients.

Thalidomide is used successfully by Cancer Center researchers to treat graft versus host disease.

1986

The Joanne Rockwell Memorial House, a home-away-from-home for patients traveling to the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center for cancer treatment, opens.

The Cancer Center is the only one in the region to perform stereotactic brain surgery, a computer-generated surgery, performed without knives, in order to destroy deep-seated tumors and blood vessel malformations in the brain.

Timed Sequential Therapy for leukemia results in long-term remissions for 70 perent of patients treated at the Cancer Center.

1985

The Johns Hopkins Cancer Center's nursing research program begins.

The Department of Patient and Family Services begins.

1984

Johns Hopkins Cancer Center researchers' discovery of the CD34 antibody makes it possible to isolate and collect bone marrow stem cells.

The anticancer compound paclitaxel is refined at the Cancer Center and hailed as the most promising new anticancer drug in decades. It becomes standard therapy for the treatment of ovarian cancer and shows promise in lung and breast cancer therapy.

Dual chromosome losses are linked by Cancer Center investigators to Wilm's Tumor, a childhood kidney cancer.

1982

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) selects the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center as a site for Phase l clinical trials of new anticancer drugs.

The Pediatric Neuro-oncology program begins.

1981

A Neuro-oncology study group is formed that brings together diverse specialists for patient care and basic and clinical research.

1980

The cancer cell-purging drug 4-HC is developed at the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center, making autologous (self-donor) bone marrow transplants possible.

1979

The Johns Hopkins Cancer Center is awarded a National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant for new drug development.

1978

The first Community Outreach proposal is developed to fulfill the mission of the Johns Hopkins Cancer Center to transfer laboratory discoveries to the community.

The breast lesion and evaluation program offers the first screening clinic run by nurses.

1977

The Hemapheresis Center opens at Johns Hopkins to supply platelet support for patients.

The Johns Hopkins Oncology Center opens as one of the first Comprehensive Cancer Centers under the National Cancer Act.

1976


The Cancer Information Service (CIS) opens at the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center.

The Division of Pediatric Oncology is established.

1975

The Johns Hopkins Cancer Center establishes one of the nation's first cancer pharmacology programs and begins developing and testing novel drugs and compounds for the treatment of cancer. The Cancer Center quickly earns National Cancer Institute (NCI) recognition and a grant for Phase I trials of these drugs.

1974

Construction of the existing Oncology Center begins.

The nuclear matrix is identified by Johns Hopkins Cancer Center researchers as the site for DNA replication. This discovery sheds light on the cellular changes that cause normal cells to turn malignant.

The first Diagnosis and Treatment of Neoplastic Disorders course is held.

1973

The Department of Oncology is established with just 13 faculty members. By 2003, the Cancer Center has more than 342 faculty and is a world leader in the research and treatment of cancer.

Oncology is granted departmental status at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The University and hospital trustees authorize construction of the Johns Hopkins Oncology Center.

Johns Hopkins is designated a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.

 

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