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Where do Prouty Donations Go? Spring, 2017

Where do Prouty Donations Go? Spring, 2017

We are excited about these studies as we foresee clinical, therapeutic utility of our work. We're so grateful to the Prouty for providing funds for these studies, and hope that our results will translate into therapeutic benefit for cancer patients.

Patricia Pioli, PhD

In early 2017, the latest round of Prouty Pilot Grants were awarded to researchers at Norris Cotton Cancer Center, who presented research concepts that showed promise in identifying mechanisms of cancer or translating scientific discoveries to clinical practice. Specialized new equipment has also been purchased for several research laboratories. And as always, integral support services continue to be offered freely to all patients and their families, supported by money generously raised by the community annually at the Prouty.

Identifying Novel Cancer-Related Genes

Principal Investigator (PI) Ivan Gorlov, PHD, DSC and his team are underway in identifying genes that play an important role in cancer development. The team predicts that certain genes will acquire mutations more frequently than expected. The mutated genes may indicate higher association with cancer development. “The exciting thing about this research is that it’s based on a simple idea that we can predict the number of mutations in the gene based on characteristics of the gene. Mutations that cannot be explained by gene characteristics indicates that the gene is cancer-related,” explains Gorlov. Once these novel cancer-related genes can be identified, they can then be used as targets for cancer treatment and prevention.

Artificial Intelligence

Saeed Hassanpour, PhD, and his Dartmouth co-PIs, Drs. William Black, MD and Lorenzo Torresani, PhD are identifying ways to detect small pulmonary nodules that lead to the development of most lung cancers, the number one cause of cancer mortality worldwide. Using state-of-the-art computed visual object recognition applications, Hassanpour and his team hope to develop a more accurate detection method for chest CT scans in order to improve lung cancer screening. “In the field of artificial intelligence, deep learning models are successfully utilized in independently mobile robots and self-driving cars” says Hassapour. “In this project, we try to use deep technology to build an effective method to detect small pulmonary nodules in chest CTs. Our overall goal is to develop computational methods for extracting and organizing information from cancer-related medical images to help clinicians and researchers distill meaning from such complex and massive amounts of data.”

Saeed Hassanpour, PhD, uses state-of-the-art computed visual object recognition applications to develop a small pulmonary nodule detection method for chest CT scans in order to improve lung cancer screening.

Saeed Hassanpour, PhD, uses state-of-the-art computed visual object recognition applications to develop a small pulmonary nodule detection method for chest CT scans in order to improve lung cancer screening.
Image credit: Lara Stahler

Activating the Immune System

Our bodies form an immune response to fight against foreign pathogens such as Flu. However, it’s difficult for immune cells to recognize and protect against cancer cells, which are just altered forms of normal cells. Current cancer immunotherapies activate immune cells to attack tumors, but these therapies may also result in the body fighting against its own healthy cells and tissues. Two new Prouty Pilot Projects focus on ways to jump-start the immune system to combat cancer while minimizing damaging side effects.

The first, led by Yina Huang, PhD, uses a mouse melanoma model and a panel of different tumor types to see whether targeted delivery of engineered protein therapies will cause the local natural immune cells to directly kill solid tumors. “Our research would add local cytotoxic (cancer-killing) cells to the arsensal of immune cells that can be activated to fight cancer” says Huang. “These cells may cause decreased adverse side effects.”

The second, led by Patricia Pioli, PhD, predicts that a drug, CDDO-Me, will enhance immune activation as a means of combatting malignant melanoma and prevent development of drug resistance, which happens when a once-effective drug is no longer successful at halting cancer growth. “The notion that we can use a person’s own immune system to fight cancer is really exciting, but there have been limitations. If we can use CDDO-Me to activate the immune system and combine it with other drugs, there is great potential to increase the scope of people in which immunotherapy might be beneficial” says Pioli. “These studies will provide important information about which drug combinations may be most effective in treating melanoma.”

Novel Screening Methods

Dale Mierke, PhD and his research team are at the very beginning of discovering a drug that inhibits an oncoprotein associated with a number of cancers. “We have developed in our labs a novel screening method that can quickly identify inhibitors of key steps in cancer progression” says Mierke. Interruption of normal cell processes often leads to uncontrolled cellular growth and replication, also known as cancer. This abnormal cell replication involves a specific oncoprotein. The Mierke team has established a simple test to identify molecules that directly interact with and inhibit the oncoprotein’s function, and may provide leads for the development of new cancer therapies.

Partnership with Machines

Prouty bicyclists in the rain

Breaking cancer research, cutting-edge equipment and healing patient support services are all supported by valuable dollars raised at the annual Prouty.
Image credit: Herb Swanson

In addition to these exciting new pilot projects, A generous portion of Prouty funds is also devoted to purchasing instrumental new research equipment. In the last year, NCCC purchased six new instruments including an Eppendorf centrifuge for tissue culture spins, “Andrew,” a liquid-handling robot, and the BioXP 3200, a workstation that builds custom DNA sequences and is referred to by the manufacturer as “the world's first DNA printer.” This powerful instrument allows researchers to construct entire cancer genes containing the same faulty mutations as those found in the tumor, allowing the study of how that specific cancer gene works and responds to drugs. A second exciting instrument is the IncuCyte Zoom, a combination moving microscope and imager that works in a cell culture incubator. It allows the researcher to observe and record the growth and actions of cancer cells in real time. “These two technologies can be married, in which a constructed cancer gene made by the BioXP 3200 is inserted into a cell, which then can be imaged in real time by the IncuCyte Zoom to observe the gene’s effect on cell growth and response to cancer drugs” explains Craig Tomlinson, PhD, Associate Director of Shared Resources at NCCC. “It is difficult to overstate how valuable these technologies are to our cancer researchers and the Prouty makes it possible. Thanks to all.”

Supporting Our Patients’ Wellbeing

Importantly, last year’s Prouty dollars continue to support services provided by the Cancer Center’s Patient and Family Support Services team. Offerings such as creative art and writing programs, chair massage, reiki, harpists, Tai Chi, yoga and exercise classes, wig banks, mindfulness and nutrition classes, and an array of cancer support groups continue to be offered to patients and their families and friends. All support services remain free of charge to patients, thanks to generous philanthropy and the committed efforts of our community in raising valuable Prouty dollars.

The 36th annual Prouty fundraiser will take place on July 7-8, 2017. To learn how you can get involved, please visit http://theprouty.org