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Conquest - 2002 Research Awards

Making the Connection 2001-2008

2002 Research Awards

Date: April 20, 2010

WHILE LEGISLATORS from other states that benefitted from the national tobacco settlement used the money to patch holes in their state budgets or engaged in lengthy legal battles over how the restitution funds should be allocated, our own state of Maryland quickly put the money to good use, investing its funds in the fight against cancer.

In just its second year, the CRF provided seed funding to researchers who have since parlayed this initial state investment into multi-million dollar grants and reported findings that have garnered international attention.

Early CRF-supported research on DNA methylation by Stephen Baylin and James Herman later earned a National Cancer Institute SPORE grant (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence), and in 2004 was named the most outstanding research in the SPORE program. Work by Maura Gillison linking HPV to oral cancers became one of the top cancer advances of 2007, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Breast cancers often respond well to drug therapy but, over time, become resistant.
BEN HO PARK, M.D. , P H . D. , and team introduced specific known gene mutations
into breast cancer cell lines to see how the mutations help cancer cells resist chemotherapy.

The team envisions a library of cell lines to allow development of multiple drugs that
target different pathways and prevent the emergence of resistant cancer cells.
In 2004, Park continued his CRF research identifying novel compounds that target
tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer. ?

Women with proliferative benign breast disease have an increased risk of breast cancer.
In order to implement effective preventive strategies, it is necessary to identify which
women will go on to develop breast cancer and to distinguish between those cancers
that will be noninvasive and manageable and those that will become invasive and
difficult to treat. The goal of a study by KALA VISVANATHAN, M.H.S., M.D.
is to find specific biomarkers that would make it possible to select out women with
proliferative or noninvasive cancer who are at risk of developing invasive breast cancer.
These markers would be used in the clinic as targets for chemopreventive agents. This
research also received CRF funding in 2003. ?

A study by LEISHA EMENS, M.D. , PH.D. focused on an immune-system boosting
vaccine used in combination with timed sequential doses of chemotherapy. Advanced
breast cancer is often attributed to the failure of post-surgical therapies to destroy all
remaining cancer cells. These resistant cells ultimately result in metastatic disease with
very poor cure rates. Activating the immune system with anti-tumor vaccines represents a
promising approach to overcoming drug resistance and driving the immune system to
eradicate resistant tumor cells. The researchers believe integrating the vaccine approach with traditional chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy can work in synergy to destroy
tumor cells. ?

Investigating the relationship between subtle DNA changes, known as polymorphisms, and cancer could help identify new biomarkers for early detection as well as potential targets for drug therapy. INGO RUCZINSKI, PH.D. and team developed a sophisticated computerized technology for analyzing data to uncover such relationships. It will also reveal genetic cancerrelated differences that may exist between races, helping to uncover the cause of high cancer rates among certain minority groups. ?

Head and neck cancers, and particularly oral cancers, are among the most devastating
cancers affecting Marylanders. Significant basic and clinical research has been conducted
independently at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland and could be accelerated
with joint research endeavors. Collaborations already under way include studies
of molecular genetic detection of head and neck cancer in saliva and tissue, the association between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and head and neck cancer and
genetic culprits in oral cancers. MAURA GILLISON M.D. , P H . D. proposes additional projects including studies in rarer populations affected by head and neck cancers, such as non-smokers and non-drinkers, that would essentially be impossible to
complete without collaboration between institutions. The ability to double the number
of patients studied and share resources, such as tissue samples, data, and biostatistical
information, is expected to lead to more rapid discoveries and advances in the
treatment of head and neck cancers. ?

Cellular biology advances have revealed an expanding number of genetic abnormalities
unique to cancer cells and believed to be involved in the development, growth, and
spread of tumors. Researchers are now studying several drugs, known as target compounds, that specifically focus on these abnormalities. Rather than destroying
tumors, these new compounds appear to halt cancer growth and prevent them from
spreading and invading healthy tissue and organs. Investigators, led by MICHAEL
, began studies of these targeted compounds in animal and tumor
models using sophisticated imaging technology to monitor drug delivery to tumors and
changes in tumor size. Clinical trials for prostate cancer were proposed in collaboration
with Howard University and the community centers participating in the CRF Baltimore City Cancer Plan. This research also received CRF funding in 2004. ?

African American men who develop prostate cancer are generally younger than
their white counterparts, have more extensive disease, and a higher incidence of related bone pain. In addition, mortality rates among African Americans are three times
greater than those of white men. These observations, coupled with the incurable nature of the disease, underscore the need for novel therapies to reduce the incidence and death rates from prostate cancer, particularly among African American men. This study, led by CHARLES DRAKE, M.D., PH.D. , used new therapies that manipulate the immune system to generate a response against evolving prostate tumors as well as a combined vaccine/chemotherapy approach in hopes of identifying new, curable therapies for an often unresponsive tumor. This research also received CRF funding in 2003. ?

While much progress has been made among Americans overall in smoking cessation, Korean Americans, particularly men, continue to have high rates of smoking and smoking-related diseases, including lung cancer. Language and cultural barriers often impede the usefulness of established anti-smoking programs among this group. Working with the Korean Resource Center, MIYONG T. KIM, R.N., PH.D. , and team utilized Korean health care providers, churches, social clubs, and news media to develop and implement
a culturally sensitive smoking cessation program to decrease smoking rates and smoking-related cancer occurrence and death in this population. ?

Research by SAEED KAHN, PH.D. , and team focused on the development of new agents to target metastatic prostate, colon, and breast cancers. Among those already in development is a prostate specific antigen (PSA)-based pro-drug therapy that involves the administration of inactive drugs that become turned on and activated against cells with increased PSA activity. Similar agents also are in development for colon and breast cancers. ?

JANICE V. BOWIE, PH.D. , M . P. H . , builds upon 25 years of experience with
community-focused intervention activities targeting breast cancer, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer among African Americans. She fostered partnerships with faith-based institutions to design culturally-relevant cancer prevention and control educational materials and programs.  The unique approach not only defined the basis of health disparities in cancer but promoted mechanisms for implementing and sustaining changes. ?

The causative role of the sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has
been well established in cervical cancer. Researchers, including RICHARD B.
worked to develop a single vaccine aimed at elimination of the
15 or more types of cancer-causing HPV, and, as a result, cervical cancer.

Data from epidemiological studies and clinical trials suggest that chronic inflammation
may play an important role in the development of colon cancer, but the precise nature of this risk is still unknown. Hopkins researchers, including THOMAS P. ERLINGER, PH.D. , believe that simple, commonly measured markers of inflammation
may be the key to identifying healthy persons at risk for developing colon cancer. They evaluated the relationship between modest elevations of C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 in a cohort study of a group of people living in Washington County, Maryland. This
research also received CRF funding in 2003. ?

In recent years, important discoveries about the genes that cause colon cancer have led to the development of genetic tests for cancer-related biomarkers specific
 to the disease. Identifying and counseling individuals at high risk for colon cancer
because of their family history is increasingly common but quite complex. As a
result, Hopkins investigators, led by JEANNE KOWALSKI, PH.D. , G . STEVEN BOVA, M.D. , and GIOVANNI PARMIGIANI, PH.D. , are incorporating these advances into risk prediction algorithms that use laboratory-based biological knowledge about susceptibility genes to improve screening, prevention, and genetic testing and to design health behavior interventions, cancer prevention studies, and genetic epidemiology studies. This research also received CRF funding in 2001, 2003, and 2006. ?

Cigarette smoking has been associated with a number of cancers, but when it comes to the relationship between smoking and colon cancer, there is no clear scientific consensus. ELIZABETH PLATZ, SC.D. , M . P. H . , believes that carcinogens in cigarette smoke act early in the carcinogenic pathway from normal colon cells to colon cancer. Platz and colleagues examined whether smoking influences the development of precursors for colorectal cancer called adenomatous polyps. The investigators also studied common
alterations in genes, known as polymorphisms, that affect cell cycle control to learn if they play a role in the development of colorectal adenomas.

Research by XUGUANG (GRANT) TAO, M.D., PH.D. , uses the emerging discipline of Spatial Epidemiology to describe, quantify, and explain geographical variations in colon cancer incidence. Maryland ranks third in the nation in deaths due to colon cancer. Aided by Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, which provides widespread
availability of environment pollution related electronic databases, cancer registry systems,
and powerful computer systems, the investigators hope to identify Maryland communities or populations that may have high environmental risks for colon cancer. This research also received CRF funding in 2003. ?

Lung cancer develops over time through the progression of precancerous lesions in
lung airways. Cells in these abnormal regions harbor many of the DNA changes that lead to lung cancer, and early detection of these abnormalities provide one of the best hopes for instituting preventative measures. Researchers STEPHEN B. BAYLIN, M.D. , and
, played a key role in identifying one of these DNA changes known as altered DNA methylation. They are now developing novel measures to monitor risk, institute prevention strategies, and identify early detection methods for lung cancer. DNA assays will be used to identify biomarkers, such as altered methylation, that predict lung cancer occurrence in high-risk individuals and to monitor the effectiveness
of chemoprevention strategies. New prevention strategies that target specific DNA abnormalities in lung cancer also will be tried. ?

Simian Virus 40 (SV40) naturally infects macaque species of monkeys in Asia, and
though there is no known reservoir of SV40 in the U.S., tens of millions of U.S. residents were potentially exposed to the virus when many polio vaccines were inadvertently contaminated with the virus between 1955 and 1963. The strongest cancer association for SV40 is in mesothelioma, a malignancy of the lining or epithelium of the lungs. Some studies indicate that asbestos exposure and SV40 are cofactors working together in causing the development of mesothelioma. Still others have found no evidence of SV40 in
mesothelioma tissue. Johns Hopkins researchers KEERTI V. SHAH, M.D. , and STEPHEN C. YANG, M.D. , resolved the controversy through a detailed examination of the tumor cellvirus relationship in studies of patients with active mesothelioma for evidence of SV40 infection and other risk factors. ?

Prostate cancer is a major cause of cancer death in Maryland, with rates  disproportionately higher than the rest of the nation, particularly among the African
American population. Researchers led by ELIZABETH PLATZ, SC.D. , M . P. H . ,
conducted a series of interrelated research and service projects focused on improving
the outcomes of prostate cancer in Maryland, and particularly Baltimore City. The program includes projects examining issues in prostate cancer screening, a correlational study of the relation of environmental factors related to prostate cancer, and population-based etiologic, behavioral, and intervention studies. ?

Investigators led by DINA BORZEKOWSKI,ED. D. , examined how the Internet can
play an effective role in reducing adolescent smoking, and, in the long run, reduce the prevalence of smoking-related cancers in Maryland. Researchers will study how Maryland adolescents evaluate Web sites that convey smoking prevention and cessation messages and use the findings to enhance anti-smoking and prevention messages via the Internet. A seminar offering practical recommendations to the Maryland Department of
Health and Mental Hygiene Office of Health Promotion, Education and Tobacco Use Prevention was offered so that health staff and organizations throughout the state would be better advised in the creation of effective smoking prevention Web sites. This research
also received CRF funding in 2003. ?

Tumor angiogenesis, or the recruitment of new blood vessels by tumors, is a process
which tumors require for continued growth. Therapies targeting new blood vessel formation represent a promising strategy in blocking tumor growth and spread. Kimmel Cancer Center scientists led by ROBERTO PILI, M.D. , combined laboratory and clinical research to develop new drugs combining angiogenesis inhibitors, cell differentiation-inducing agents, immune system modulators, and cytotoxic, or cell destroying, compounds for prostate cancer treatment. Using expertise in new drug development and a pre-clinical understanding of tumor angiogenesis, the investigators developed molecular targeted therapies to control solid tumor growth. This research also
received CRF funding in 2001.