Where do Prouty donations go? 2023 Part 1

Participants in the Prouty fundraiser for Dartmouth Cancer Center
Laurel and Kelly Smith cycle over the finish line at The Prouty, northern New England’s largest family-friendly fundraiser for cancer research and patient support services at Dartmouth Cancer Center.

From new methods of learning what the bacteria, fungi and viruses in our gut and skin have to do with cancer to better tools for screening, 13 new cancer research projects are off the ground, thanks to a record-breaking $7.7 million raised at the 2023 Prouty. Here are the first seven projects:

The most common cancer in New Hampshire and Vermont

In the last six months, more than 9,000 people in Vermont and New Hampshire were diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer, while more than 4,000 were diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition called actinic keratosis. Despite these high numbers, the causes and best treatment approaches for these conditions are still unknown.

Scientists have learned that the bacteria, fungi and viruses that live in our gut and on our skin serve many important functions. Changes in these microbial populations can also be linked to the development and progression of cancer.

A Pilot Project led by Dorothea Barton, MD, Li Song, PhD, and Parth Shah, MD, will combine multiple areas of expertise to study the skin microbiome to better understand its function in skin cancers.

Putting the pressure on tumors

Applying pressure to a tumor reduces tissue oxygen—a process called hypoxia. Because blood vessels that feed tumors are typically weaker than normal blood vessels, hypoxia lasts longer in a tumor than in healthy tissue.

Principal Investigators Shane Chapman, MD, and Arthur F. Petusseau, PhD, have developed a non-invasive imaging method called "PRESS" to detect temporary hypoxia in tumors using a safe, FDA-approved contrast agent. Being able to induce and image the hypoxic state in the cancer by simply applying pressure will be very helpful in telling cancerous lesions apart from non-cancerous ones without the need for a biopsy. The tool will also help identify the margins of the cancer to improve surgical accuracy.

Laser-focused on spinal metastasis 

Many common cancers can spread to the bones—particularly the spine. Surgery to treat this is invasive and requires a long recovery, and radiation is limited in cases where the tumor is close to or touching the spinal cord.

Laser Interstitial Thermal Therapy (LITT) is a minimally invasive treatment that uses a laser fiber to deliver a targeted dose of heat. LITT’s success and widespread use in treating brain tumors make it an ideal candidate for treating spinal metastases, yet this has not been widely investigated. Linton T. Evans, MD, and P. Jack Hoopes, DVM, PhD, will look to see if LITT could be a viable option for patients by making a model of spinal metastasis and using LITT with adapted image guidance to treat it.

New tools for better cancer screening

Obesity affects 42% of adults in New Hampshire. Obesity increases the risk of many diseases, including cancer, especially in women. Societal bias and weight stigma can interfere with medical care for patients with obesity, including lower rates of cancer screening. In their new Pilot Project, Diane Gilbert-Diamond, ScD, Elizabeth Murnane, PhD, and Kimberley Sampson, MD, will create unbiased educational materials for patients and providers with the aim of increasing cervical and breast cancer screening among women with obesity.

Sensitizing tumors to radiation

Metastatic brain tumors spread quickly in a low-oxygen (hypoxic) environment, which makes them resistant to radiation therapy. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy uses pressurized oxygen to increase oxygen levels in tissues and make tumors more sensitive to radiation without significantly affecting the surrounding normal tissue. This effect suggests that hyperbaric oxygen therapy could be used to control tumors with a lower dose of radiation. 

P. Jack Hoopes, DVM, PhD, Jay Buckey, MD, Linton Evans, MD, and Kelli Pointer, MD, PhD, will study the effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy before irradiation in brain tumor models as well as the therapy’s immediate and long-term effects when combined with surgical tumor removal.

Overcoming aneuploidy

Aneuploidy, a condition where cells have abnormal numbers of chromosomes, is a feature of 90% of solid tumors and 75% of blood cancers. Notably, the top 50% of cancers with the highest degree of aneuploidy include breast, rectal, lung and melanoma, which is particularly relevant to New Hampshire and Vermont. Aneuploidy also drives treatment resistance. 

Researcher Kristina Godek, PhD, aims to discover how cancer cells are able to overcome aneuploidy and keep growing, whereas normal human cells that become aneuploid don’t survive. This knowledge could lead to new therapeutic strategies to target aneuploid cancer cells while sparing normal cells.

Picturing radiation outcomes

Radiation is a common and very effective cancer therapy, but can also cause side effects. Currently, there is no way to predict an individual patient's tolerance to radiation. The research team of Lesley Jarvis, MD, PhD, Petr Bruza, PhD, and David Gladstone, ScD, hope to develop a non-invasive imaging system that is capable of predicting both how a patient’s tumor is responding to treatment, and the reaction of the surrounding tissues. If radiation sensitivity of normal tissues and tumors can be predicted during a course of therapy, adjustments could be made to maximize treatment effects while minimizing side effects for patients.


Prouty fundraiser registration

The 2024 Prouty will take place on Saturday, July 13, 2024. To contribute to cancer research projects such as these as well as life-changing patient support services, get involved in The Prouty today.