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Leading the Way in Cancer Research

As the nation's first cancer center, Roswell Park Cancer Institute has been home to some of the most important developments in cancer research and discovery. This status allows our world-renowned researchers to collaborate directly with physicians and share findings, leading to a faster and more complete understanding of cancer and how to fight it.

The Impact of Your Support

One of the most important ways your pledge dollars are making a difference for Roswell Park is by acting as "seed funding" for research that shows the greatest promise for beating cancer. Why is seed funding so important? Most cancer studies take several years of laboratory and clinical research to determine if a new idea will benefit patients. Scientists rely on large, multi-year government grants to complete this work. But applying for these grants is highly competitive, and strong, preliminary lab data is needed to prove that an idea is worth investing in.

Explore the links below for just a few examples of how your support of The Ride For Roswell has recently funded the latest cancer research and innovation.

New MRI Applications Could Reduce Unneeded Prostate Cancer Therapy
Scientists Search Ovarian Cancer Registry for Disease-Related Gene Link
Opening New Windows Into the Diagnosis and Treatment of Breast Cancer
Helping the Immune System Fight Back: New Approaches to Curing Multiple Myeloma
Exploring New Targeted Approaches to Improve Lung Cancer Survival
Donor-Funded Research May Help High-Risk Patients Avoid Lung Cancer
Beyond the PSA Test:New Research in Prostate Cancer
Do Antioxidants Help or Hinder Chemotherapy?
Giving the Immune System a Boost: Vaccine attacks tumor cells while researchers track the "silent killer"
One Mineral, Multiple Benefits: Exploring Selenium in Cancer Treatment
Heredity's Impact on Breast Cancer


New MRI Applications Could Reduce Unneeded Prostate Cancer Therapy
The standard blood test for PSA (prostate specific antigen), a digital rectal exam and follow-up screenings and biopsies is the way most prostate cancer patients are initially diagnosed. But the natural follow-up question—How serious is it?— is much harder to answer. That’s why as many as 100,000 American men with low-level prostate cancer opt to be "better-safe-than-sorry" each year and proceed with surgery, radiation or chemical therapy, instead of watchful waiting.

Unfortunately, the side effects of various treatments can be both inconvenient and severe (e.g. incontinence, impotence, discomfort, treatment-related toxicity, etc.), based on the individual. That’s why researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, funded partly by donations to The Ride For Roswell, are seeking new ways to give patients and physicians better decision-making information with MRI technology.

According to Anurag K. Singh, MD, Director of Clinical Radiation Research and a Roswell Park clinician, "This research may tell us which patients really will benefit from treatment and which can be watched safely without a high risk of having their disease progress and become less curable. As a result, many men may avoid the side effects of treatment."

Over the past 20 years, MRI scans have become routine tools for harmlessly visualizing conditions inside the body. Dr. Singh, working closely with co-investigators from the departments of Urology and Radiology, hopes to determine if the non-invasive technology can yield enough information to identify patients who require immediate treatment.

The project, he says, will also enable researchers to advance practical techniques. MRI records will make it possible to compare a series of "snapshots," taken months or years apart, with real-time images, simplifying the task of tracking a cancer’s progress. And MRI-guided tools will dramatically increase the reliability, consistency, and accuracy of biopsies performed to confirm diagnoses.

Scientists Search Ovarian Cancer Registry for Disease-Related Gene Link

Roswell Park genetic scientists are currently investigating two genes implicated in ovarian cancer to better understand their involvement in other types of cancer.

According to Lara Sucheston, PhD, Assistant Professor, Biostatistics and Oncology at Roswell Park, the “effect-modifier” genes are bits of DNA that, rather than directly causing health problems, influence the behavior of recognized, disease-related genes.  

Many cases of inherited breast and ovarian cancer involve alterations in two genes, designated BRCA1 and BRCA2 (for breast cancer 1 and breast cancer 2).

“But why do BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations show up in less than half of all families with two or more ovarian cancer cases among first-degree relatives?” Sucheston asks. “Conversely, why do only some who inherit these genes develop cancer—and why do some develop breast cancer, but not ovarian cancer? What protects them from ovarian cancer?”

One likely explanation is the presence of effect modifier genes, which may be either contributing to, or blocking the effects of genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Sucheston—with funding from a grant that includes donations to The Ride For Roswell —is working closely with investigators and clinicians, including Drs. Kunle Odunsi and Shashikant Lele of RPCI’s Department of Gynecologic Oncology, to analyze 13,000 DNA sequences and supporting cancer-history documentation from the Gilda Radner Familial Ovarian Cancer Registry. The Registry, led by Dr. Lele and housed at Roswell Park, is the world’s largest collection of family histories, medical records, and blood samples from ovarian cancer patients and their family members.

“Developing safe, effective cancer treatments is profoundly difficult,” says Dr. Sucheston. “Modifier genes represent a potentially powerful alternative. Once their mechanisms are understood, perhaps they can be harnessed to prevent or treat disease.”

Opening New Windows Into the Diagnosis and Treatment of Breast Cancer

When people talk about estrogen receptor-positive (ER-positive) tumors, they’re talking about ER alpha, which was discovered about 30 years ago. Scientists have known about its mysterious sister molecule, ER beta, for more than a decade. But its role in cancer is still unclear. “These questions are burning, and the jury’s still out,” says Gokul Das, PhD, Assistant Member, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, at Roswell Park.
Das may have found a way to answer them. He is using a molecular genetic technique called RNAi-silencing to look at what happens in breast cancer cells when the ER beta gene is shut down; when the ER alpha gene is silenced; or when both genes are inactive. The behavior of the cells’ genomes in each scenario will help Das and his colleagues understand more fully how ER beta might play a role in the development of breast cancer. Donations to The Ride For Roswell are providing needed funds for the research.

Through a collaboration with Steven Gill, PhD and Michael Buck, PhD of the Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, University at Buffalo, Das and his team are analyzing massive amounts of data on thousands of genes. He also is working with Cornell University to research how ER beta controls the production of ribonucleic acid, or RNA (the messenger molecule DNA uses to instruct a cell to make proteins), from specific genes in the breast cancer cell genome. 

Understanding the role of ER beta could allow oncologists to classify breast cancers more precisely, and to tailor treatment more effectively. ER beta’s function may also provide clues to treating other cancers, because it is expressed in tissues beyond the breast, such as the lung and prostate gland.

Helping the Immune System Fight Back: New Approaches to Curing Multiple Myeloma

In just the past five years, the discovery of more effective new drugs like lenalidomide to treat multiple myeloma has dramatically improved patient outcomes. However, one treatment that holds particular promise for even greater advances is immunotherapy—boosting the power of the immune system to fight cancer.

In multiple myeloma, immune system components in the bone marrow microenvironment support, rather than destroy, the cancer cells.  “Since the multiple myeloma cell is part of the immune system, it knows how it works,” says Asher Chanan-Khan, MD, Associate Professor in the Roswell Park Department of Medicine and an internationally recognized expert on hematological cancers. “When the immune system fails, the cancer grows more aggressively.”
Donor support of The Ride For Roswell is now allowing Chanan-Khan to lead a multifaceted study focusing on the immune system’s potential. His research team includes investigators from the departments of Immunology, Cancer Genetics, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics. The collaborative studies aim to identify the immune components that support multiple myeloma cell survival; understand how immune system response to the disease are inhibited; and determine whether these immune system functions can be treated with drug therapy.

“Roswell was the first to recognize that the immune microenvironment in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) and multiple myeloma can be effectively targeted with treatment,” Chanan-Khan says. “By developing new treatments that focus on the immune system, rather than the cancer cell, we hope to both increase survival, and spare patients the side effects of chemotherapy.”

Exploring New Targeted Approaches to Improve Lung Cancer Survival

For patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), surgery to remove tumors along with surrounding healthy tissue offers the best chance for a cure. But operations aren't an option for many. Most lung cancer patients smoke, and if their lung function is already poor, surgery could threaten their ability to breathe by removing too much of their remaining healthy lung tissue.

Until recently, standard radiation therapy would have been the best alternative for these patients. But this approach is more likely to damage non-cancerous tissue—and less likely than surgery to eradicate tumors. Just 10% of NSCLC patients will survive for five years after undergoing standard radiation.
A new radiation therapy technique— stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT)—is now being used at Roswell Park to give these patients a better chance at survival. This new procedure uses Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) techniques to precisely target tumors with a powerful blast of radiation and to spare the surrounding functional lung. Patients require just one to three treatments (or "fractions").

Dr. Jorge Gomez, the Director of Thoracic Radiation Oncology at Roswell Park, was awarded a grant from donor funding, including through The Ride For Roswell, to take the technique to the next level. Working closely with team members from the Thoracic Center, he is enrolling patients in a clinical research study to see if one dose of SBRT may be just as effective, and even less toxic, than three.
"A single fraction, if proven equivalent to three fractions, is more convenient for the patients, and more cost-effective," he explained.

Using tissue samples from patients in the study, Gomez also is collaborating with Roswell Park colleagues to identify markers in tumors—and even blood and urine—that could help spot patients at risk of cancer spread, tumor recurrence, or treatment toxicity.

Donor-Funded Research May Help High-Risk Patients Avoid Lung Cancer

Daniel Schuder is familiar with risk-taking: he's a skydiver and a smoker. Thanks to Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), he also avoided a bout with America’s number-one cancer killer.

Based on his pack-a-day habit, Dan's physician recommended he enroll in a study at Roswell Park designed to detect lung cancer early. His Roswell Park doctors, including Todd Demmy, MD, found and removed a precancerous lesion on his lung using a minimally-invasive procedure called Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS).

In order to create more success stories like Dan's, Roswell Park donations were recently awarded to The Stacey Scott Lung Cancer Registry at RPCI. The Registry is screening high-risk individuals with precancerous lesions to help others avoid lung cancer. It is combining patient data from 11 medical centers (located in three countries) into one master research database housed at RPCI. The data is being analyzed through additional studies to find out exactly why precancerous lung lesions progress to the deadly form of the disease, and how that progression can be stopped.

This donor funding, including support of The Ride For Roswell, has been added to thousands of dollars in additional gifts made by generous Registry supporters to help ensure the project's success.

Beyond the PSA Test
Improving screening accuracy and developing new therapies for prostate cancer

The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, developed at Roswell Park over 25 years ago, continues to be the best available test for prostate cancer, and an aid to early diagnosis and treatment monitoring. But thanks to your gifts, Roswell Park scientists are looking at the PSA and other biomarkers in entirely new ways to help the more than 219,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year across our country.
Recent research by Kailash Chadha, PhD, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, is identifying serum biomarkers in the blood that are more sensitive and specific than PSA and that, either independently or in conjunction with PSA, will allow for more accurate diagnosis and management of clinically relevant prostate cancer.

Dr. Chadha’s research, supported by donations to The Ride For Roswell, also studied how the prostate specific antigen might become a molecular target for therapies to inhibit angiogenesis (the repair and growth of blood vessels) in tumors. This approach offers the potential for saving lives through less toxic and invasive cancer treatments.

Do Antioxidants Help or Hinder Chemotherapy?
Donations are helping RPCI to find answers

Cancer patients report widespread use of antioxidant supplements during chemotherapy, despite recommendations from national cancer organizations that supplements not be used during treatment. However, some laboratory-based studies seem to show that antioxidants may actually enhance the effects of chemotherapy drugs.

Christine Ambrosone, PhD, Chair of Epidemiology and Cancer Prevention at Roswell Park, wanted to answer the question once and for all. Thanks to donor funding of The Ride For Roswell, Dr. Ambrosone was able to continue key elements of this important research on antioxidant supplements.

“Currently there are no sound clinical data to guide physicians in providing recommendations to their patients regarding the use of antioxidant supplements during treatment,” said Dr. Ambrosone. “This study will have the capabilities to answer extremely important questions in the care of cancer patients today and provide data that may lead to reduced treatment toxicities and increased disease-free survival.”

Giving the Immune System a Boost
Vaccine attacks tumor cells while researchers track the "silent killer"

It may now be possible to boost the power of an ovarian cancer patient's immune system to prevent the disease from returning, says Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, Attending Surgeon and Research Program Director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. His investigation on the topic was supported by a grant using donor support of The Ride For Roswell and additional grant funding from the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, the Mae Stone Good Trust, and the Cancer Research Institute.

Patients in Odunsi's clinical research study received a vaccine that triggered the body to produce lymphocytes—cells that attack and destroy tumor cells. The results of the trial will lay the groundwork for the future development of adoptive transfer therapy, in which the resulting lymphocytes will be removed from the patient, expanded in the laboratory, and then returned to the patient—thus multiplying the "bullets" of the body's own anti-cancer arsenal.

His research also seeks to understand how genetic traits may suppress the growth of ovarian cancer cells. That information could help identify patients who would benefit most from therapies that harness the immune system.

One Mineral, Multiple Benefits
Can selenium increase cure rates?
Could a mineral commonly found in such foods as Brazil nuts help improve treatments for colorectal cancer, lung cancer and other malignancies?

Your support of The Ride For Roswell has recently helped to fund pivotal studies looking at the unique anticancer properties of selenium, including how it may increase tumor sensitivity to radiation and a range of anticancer drugs.

Among the studies is research by Youcef Rustum, PhD, Senior Vice President for Science Administration, showing that non-toxic doses of selenium protect normal tissues fromthe toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation while enhancing antitumor responses in cancerous tissue.

Rustum hopes to determine how much selenium to deliver, how often, and in what sequence in relation to chemotherapy and radiation to achieve the goal of greater drug delivery to the tumor but not to normal tissues.

"For cancer patients who receive chemotherapy or radiation," says Rustum, "the end results hold the promise of longer survival and fewer side effects from treatment."

Heredity's Impact on Breast Cancer Treatment Options and Outcomes
Finding Genetic Targets to Decrease Treatment-Induced Infertility

Two weeks after her wedding, Melissa Cianfrini found out she had breast cancer. Now, she's six years cancer-free and the mother of two. Motherhood is often a uncertain role for young women who develop breast cancer, because some cancer medicines may interrupt the menstrual cycle, making pregnancy unlikely.

Thanks to your donations to The Ride For Roswell, Tracey O'Connor, MD, in the Roswell Park Department of Medicine, was awarded a scientific grant to study inherited traits that might help predict how a patient's fertility could be affected by a specific cancer treatment.

The risk of treatment-induced infertility can be affected by the patient's age, the kinds of drugs used and the dosage given, but genetic characteristics may also be at work. Results gathered from her investigation would provide breast cancer patients under the age of 40 with crucial information regarding their treatment options.




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