Swim Across America Grant Recipients
As Director of the Swim Across America Lab at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, William G. Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., convened a committee of senior cancer investigators to solicit, review and select promising cancer research projects at the Kimmel Cancer Center through a rigorously competitive peer-reviewed grant process.
Central to the selection of the projects through this process has been our focus on funding high impact science and novel research across all cancer types that, through proof of principle, can lead to clinical trials and innovative therapies for cancer patients. This is true, “bench to bedside medicine” or translational research for which the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center has traditionally excelled at conducting.
The investigators who received funding from proceeds of the 2017 Swim Across America/Baltimore event are:
Dr. Dung Le is an Associate Professor of Oncology and Immunology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Le graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s of science in biology from Yale University in 1997, and went on to complete medical school at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2001. Dr. Le completed both her internal medicine residency and medical oncology fellowship at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Le has a special interest in immunotherapeutic and combination therapy approaches to gastrointestinal cancers. In the laboratory, she is studying immune effects in the tumor microenvironment to obtain a better understanding of the barriers to effective vaccination strategies. She works closely with Drs. Elizabeth Jaffee and Dan Laheru to translate various cancer vaccine approaches that have been developed in laboratories at Hopkins as well as in collaboration with industry into clinical trials. Dr. Le also leads efforts to test the most efficient and effective vaccines in combinational strategies that have strong scientific foundation in the hope of providing more effective treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients.
Dr. Le’s SAA funded study: Multi-agent chemotherapy regimens such as FOLFIRINOX and gemcitabine/nab-paclitaxel have demonstrated a survival benefit over single-agent chemotherapy in metastatic pancreatic cancer, and it is likely that multiple agents are necessary to delay the emergence of resistant populations and disease progression. Dr. Le’s study will test the safety and activity of, and determine the maximum tolerated dose of the combination gemcitabine, nab-paclitaxel, capecitabine, cisplatin and irinotecan in treatment of previously untreated metastatic pancreatic cancer.
Dr. Katherine “Katie” Bever is a Fellow in the Department of Oncology at the Kimmel Cancer Center. She received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and attended the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She completed her internship, residency and Fellowship in Oncology, also at Johns Hopkins. Her research interests include novel approaches to patients with gastrointestinal malignancies, with particular focus on the study of anti-programmed death-1 (PD-1) in tumors with mismatch repair deficiency. She also works closely with Drs. Dung Le and Liz Jaffee to further the development of novel therapeutics such as GVAX and the listeria vaccine.
Dr. Bever’s SAA funded Study: In collaboration with Dr. Dung Le, Katie will investigate the tumor microenvironment of high grade neuroendocrine carcinomas (HGNECs) for the presence of immune checkpoints and immune cell infiltrates. If a sufficient mutational burden and/or presence of microsatellite instability are found, there may be an immunotherapeutic option available for patients of this disease, for which there are currently very few treatment options.
Dr. Jonathan Webster is Instructor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Dr. Webster is a summa cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College. He attended the Stanford University School of Medicine and completed his internship, residency and fellowship all at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. As a faculty member, his work focuses on the development of an adult Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) program at Johns Hopkins, including the development of an extensive adult ALL database, growing the clinical care program for ALL at Hopkins, and developing novel clinical trials in ALL with extensive correlative science to better inform the design of future trials.
Dr. Webster’s SAA funded study: Targeted therapies have become a major component of treatment in many different cancers and have led to significantly improved survival in a number of poor-risk leukemias. However, when treated with targeted agents, these leukemias disproportionately relapse in the central nervous system (CNS). Jon will investigate how targeted therapies for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) enter the central nervous system and how effective they are in hitting their target when they get there.
Dr. Valsamo “Elsa” Anagnostou is Assistant Professor of Oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Elsa received her M.D. and Ph.D. at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece. She completed her residency in internal medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Dr. Anagnostou is a translational lung cancer investigator with an extensive background in development of predictive biomarkers for non-small cell lung cancer patients. Her main focus is understanding the mechanisms of primary and acquired resistance to immune checkpoint blockade in lung cancer. Her long term goal is to incorporate immunogenomic biomarkers in immuno-oncology clinical trial design as well as standard of care.
Dr. Anagnostou’s SAA funded study: Elsa will use non-invasive dynamic genomic analyses of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) to develop a liquid biopsy assay predictive of response and resistance to combination epigenetic therapy and checkpoint blockade in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients. This study will provide an innovative combination of genomic and immune analyses and the basis for novel molecular approaches for identifying patients that would respond or develop resistance to immune checkpoint blockade. If successful, this study will lead to the development of a predictive immunogenomic assay capable of assessing dynamic responses to cancer immunotherapy and expedite clinical translation through tailored cancer immunotherapy strategies and novel approaches to clinical trial design that could be immediately implemented in health care decisions within the next 5 years.
Dr. Woonyoung Choi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Urology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and is Director of the Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute Laboratory.
Dr. Choi received her undergraduate, masters and doctorate degrees from Pusan National University in Busan, Republic of Korea. She completed her internship, residency and fellowship at the University of Texas M.D.Anderson Cancer Center. Between 2007 and 2017 she served as Instructor and Assistant Professor at MD Anderson.
Dr. Choi’s SAA funded Study: Dr. Choi will be studying biological mechanisms in prostate cancer in hopes of distinguishing lethal intermediate-risk tumors from the ones that will never pose a significant threat to the patient. This research will seek to determine whether intrinsic molecular subtypes exist in human prostate cancers. If so, their discovery will help to define candidate biological mechanisms driving molecular heterogeneity in prostate cancer, improve prognostication, and identify novel targets for therapeutic intervention.