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William Grady, MD, Clinical Researcher and Cancer Geneticist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, has been awarded a $180,000 grant from the DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric and Esophageal Cancer Research and the Price Family Foundation for a two-year project to develop a better way to identify people at highest risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma.


He and research partner Georg Luebeck, MD, Computational Biologist and Member of the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutch, plan to develop a test that can accurately determine the biological age of esophageal tissue, which results from biochemical wear and tear and differs from chronological age, as told by the calendar. Their focus is on detecting a process of chemical build-up on DNA, called DNA methylation, which Grady likens to rust. More "rust" means faster biological aging and presumably a higher risk of cancer.

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WILLIAM GRADY, MD. W... - Click to enlarge in new windowWILLIAM GRADY, MD. WILLIAM GRADY, MD

With the funding from this new grant, Grady and Luebeck will compare the "rust" profiles in tissue samples of Barrett's esophagus patients who developed esophageal cancer with those who did not. Their goal is to use any differences between the profiles as the basis of a screening test that can tell Barrett's esophagus patients in the future whether they should start getting endoscopies and how often they should get them.


"The biological age of the esophagus will allow us to determine the true cancer risk for someone with Barrett's esophagus," said Grady, who is a member of Fred Hutch's Clinical Research Division and a Practicing Physician at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. "We think a person with an older esophagus will have a higher cancer risk than a person with a young esophagus."


The DeGregorio Family Foundation raises funds to financially support critical research grants to facilitate early detection and effective treatment therapies for the deadly diseases of stomach and esophageal cancer.


Aron Parekh, PhD, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, has received a four-year, $790,000 Research Scholar Grant from the American Cancer Society to further his research into the mechanical and biological properties of cancer cells and the methods by which they leave the initial tumor and spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.


"I am honored to receive this important grant, which will help us explore the biomechanical complexities of cancer cell invasion," Parekh said.

ARON PAREKH, PHD. AR... - Click to enlarge in new windowARON PAREKH, PHD. ARON PAREKH, PHD

Patient survival is more problematic if cancer cells invade surrounding tissue or metastasize in another part of the body. Parekh said the response of cancer cells to tissue stiffness or rigidity in the tumor microenvironment plays a crucial role in driving these cells to leave the primary tumor site. He has been studying a molecule called Rho-associated kinase (ROCK), which regulates the force that cells exert to determine how stiff something is. ROCK exists in two forms (ROCK1 and ROCK2), and Parekh and colleagues recently discovered that the two forms work in different ways.To invade neighboring tissues, cancer cells must degrade the extracellular matrix (ECM) of these tissues.


"We want to understand how tumor rigidity regulates degradation through the forces that cancer cells use to sense how stiff the ECM is in both individual cancer cells and pairs of tumor cells. When we find cancer cells in pairs or triples and they're touching, which means they're interacting, there's often more degradation under them. What we're going to do then is measure forces between two tumor cells and see if the combined forces together make the cancer cells more invasive," Parekh said.


His collaborator on this grant is Julie Sterling, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine in Clinical Pharmacology, Cancer Biology and Biomedical Engineering, who studies how cancer spreads to the bones. The two will use novel assays and methods that combine biology and engineering to understand the biochemical and biophysical mechanisms that regulate cancer cell activity, both in cell lines and animal models.


"Understanding these mechanisms will have a profound impact on the cancer invasion field since no ROCK therapies currently exist due to the diverse range of ROCK functions in cancer, presumably because of the distinct activities of these different ROCK forms which were previously thought to perform the same functions," Parekh said.


Debra A. Patt, MD, MPH, MBA, was named editor-in-chief of the new JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics (JCO CCI), a publication of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).


Patt will oversee the development and production of each issue of JCO CCI, a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal publishing clinically relevant research covering policy, healthcare services delivery, and clinical insights based on biomedical informatics methods and processes applied to cancer-related data.

DEBRA A. PATT, MD, M... - Click to enlarge in new windowDEBRA A. PATT, MD, MPH, MBA. DEBRA A. PATT, MD, MPH, MBA

"We are pleased to have Dr. Patt overseeing this new ASCO journal which is focused on one of the most promising new fields in health care," said ASCO Chief Executive Officer Allen S. Lichter, MD, FASCO. "Her unique qualifications and expertise make her the ideal physician editor to take this journal from a concept to a world-class publication."


Patt, who specializes in medical oncology and hematology, is Vice President, Texas Oncology and Medical Director of Outcomes Research and the Pathways Task Force for The US Oncology Network. She was formerly Medical Director of Healthcare Informatics for McKesson Specialty Health. Her primary research interests are in health services research, health economics outcomes research, and health policy. Her subject-matter expertise in the field of clinical informatics was most recently showcased at the national level when she presented on "Using Electronic Health Records to Improve the Quality of Cancer Care" at the Value-Based Oncology Management workshop in October 2015.


"I am very excited to lead this new journal and develop it into a world class platform for research and ideas that can advance the field of clinical informatics," Patt said. "It's a thrilling time to be in this field, since its influence and potential are increasing exponentially as biomedical informatics becomes more integrated into all aspects of health care. Understanding this growing wealth of informatics capabilities and applying them to patient care in oncology is something that will help us all improve oncology care."


Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and Director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) in Nashville, Tennessee, was honored with the Medical Research Advancement Award during the 8th Annual T.J. Martell Foundation Nashville Honors Gala held recently at the Omni Nashville Hotel.


The Medical Research Advancement Award is in recognition of Pietenpol's career as a cancer researcher. She focuses on the p53 family of proteins and breast cancer, especially triple-negative breast cancer, which is one of the most difficult to treat forms of the disease.


"I am deeply honored to be recognized by the T.J. Martell Foundation, which has been a long-standing partner in our endeavors to help cancer patients by providing essential support for our research efforts," Pietenpol said. "The award is a testament to the innovative work of my laboratory team, my mentors and colleagues at Vanderbilt, as well as the donors and community supporters who helped us create and expand the Cancer Center and its services."


Pietenpol joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1994 and was named director of VICC in 2007. In addition to her leadership at VICC, she has been named to the Institute of Medicine's National Cancer Policy Forum and is a previous presidential appointee on the National Cancer Advisory Board.


Pietenpol has received numerous awards including the Burroughs Wellcome New Investigator Award, the Excellence in Teaching Award at Vanderbilt University and the Carleton College Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award. She was inducted into the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars, and is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for outstanding contributions to the field of cancer research, particularly for advances in the understanding of signaling networks in breast and other cancers. She has authored or co-authored over 125 articles published in peer-reviewed scientific literature.


The T.J. Martell Foundation was launched by Tony Martell in 1975 in honor of his young son T.J., who was a leukemia patient. The nonprofit organization is the music industry's largest foundation and has helped fund research and supportive therapies for patients with cancer, leukemia and AIDS


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