Norris Cotton Cancer Center Researchers Win Awards in Promising Pursuit of “Most Wanted” Cancer Target

 Edmond J. Feris, PhD and Michael D. Cole, PhD
L-R, Edmond J. Feris, PhD and Michael D. Cole, PhD

MYC is the most wanted target for treating cancer because many cancer cells cannot survive without MYC. Our approach finally reveals the path to stopping MYC from creating tumors without interrupting its normal and life-sustaining functions.

Edmond J. Feris, PhD

Researchers from Dartmouth and Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) have won two awards for their promising approach to targeting a gene responsible for many types of cancer.

The research marks a breakthrough in decades of frustrated attempts by cancer biologists worldwide to rein in the cancer-driving gene known as MYC. MYC plays a central role in tumor growth in breast, colon, and lung cancers as well as in leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma. Yet because MYC is also essential to normal cell growth and to human life, it has long been considered off limits for drug therapy.

The breakthrough comes from Michael D. Cole, PhD, and his research associate Edmond J. Feris, PhD. Their novel strategy targets MYC’s dependence on other genes, such as TRRAP (Transformation/Transcription Domain-Associated Protein).

“Cancer cells evolve through a multi-stage process,” explained Dr. Cole, a member of the NCCC’s Cancer Biology and Therapeutics Research Program and professor of Molecular and Systems Biology at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine. “By targeting MYC’s vulnerability, its dependence on TRRAP and other proteins in that process, we aim to block MYC’s cancer-causing activity without disrupting its life-preserving functions.”

The potential of this strategy to lead to new cancer therapies has won for the Cole lab a cancer research accelerator award. Launched by the NCCC and Dartmouth’s Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, the research accelerator program funds critical next steps in projects with great potential for cancer treatments. In addition, the Lymphoma Research Foundation awarded a fellowship to Dr. Feris to investigate implications of this strategy for MYC-driven lymphomas. 

The National Cancer Institute forecasts that new cancer cases worldwide will reach 29.5 million annually by 2040. Nearly 40% of people are expected to be diagnosed with some form of cancer at least once in their lifetime.

“MYC is the most wanted target for treating cancer because many cancer cells cannot survive without MYC,” said Dr. Feris. “Our approach finally reveals the path to stopping MYC from creating tumors without interrupting its normal and life-sustaining functions.”

About Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH), New Hampshire’s only academic health system and the state’s largest private employer, serves a population of 1.9 million across northern New England. D-HH provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. DHMC was named again in 2020 as the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 9 clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state’s only children’s hospital; member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene, and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. The D-HH system trains nearly 400 residents and fellows annually, and performs world-class research, in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT.

About the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, founded in 1797, strives to improve the lives of the communities we serve through excellence in learning, discovery, and healing. The nation's fourth-oldest medical school, the Geisel School of Medicine has been home to many firsts in medical education, research and practice, including the discovery of the mechanism for how light resets biological clocks, creating the first multispecialty intensive care unit, the first comprehensive examination of U.S. health care cost variations (The Dartmouth Atlas), and the first Center for Health Care Delivery Science, which launched in 2010. As one of America's top medical schools, Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine is committed to training new generations of physician leaders who will help solve our most vexing challenges in health care.

About Norris Cotton Cancer Center

Norris Cotton Cancer Center, located on the campus of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, combines advanced cancer research at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, NH with the highest level of high-quality, innovative, personalized, and compassionate patient-centered cancer care at DHMC, as well as at regional, multi-disciplinary locations and partner hospitals throughout NH and VT. NCCC is one of only 52 centers nationwide to earn the National Cancer Institute’s prestigious “Comprehensive Cancer Center” designation, the result of an outstanding collaboration between DHMC, New Hampshire’s only academic medical center, and Dartmouth College. Now entering its fifth decade, NCCC remains committed to excellence, outreach and education, and strives to prevent and cure cancer, enhance survivorship and to promote cancer health equity through its pioneering interdisciplinary research. Each year the NCCC schedules 61,000 appointments seeing nearly 4,000 newly diagnosed patients, and currently offers its patients more than 100 active clinical trials.