News

Band rocks out to raise awareness about gynecologic cancers

The article "Oncologists by day, rock stars by night” written by Rachel Saslow and published in The Washington Post on July 25, 2011 features the band, N.E.D (which stands for “No Evidence of Disease”).

Band members – who include UNC’s own John Boggess, MD, and John Soper, MD, are all gynecologic oncologists, and they rock out to raise awareness about the cancers they treat.

The band just released its first album and among its upcoming shows is an October 1 concert at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

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Remembering a bright light, shining light on ovarian cancer awareness

When Emily Bright was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 23, she decided to get off the couch and started running. Never much of an athlete before, she eventually built up the strength to run not one, but two, half marathons!

That is one reason why when Beth Anne Wilkie, a longtime friend of Emily’s, asked, “Why don’t we do a 5k in memory of Emily for ovarian cancer research and awareness?” it seemed like a bright idea. And, that's exactly what they did.

The second annual Bright Night 5K was held in Greenville, NC on May 21, 2011 to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and to honor and remember Emily Bright. The only twilight run in Greenville, the race had over 500 participants this year!

One refrain from Emily during her fight against ovarian cancer was, “I wish there was more creative and innovative research going on for ovarian cancer.”  That's why race organizers Kerri Bright Flinchbaugh, Bethann Wilkie and Phil Adams donate funds raised to UNC Lineberger's gynecologic oncology program - they are lighting the way for bright ideas.

Jacobson receives award for his contributions to the field of fluorescence

Ken Jacobson, PhD, Kenan Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the UNC School of Medicine, received the Gregorio Weber Award for Excellence in Fluorescence Theory and Applications at the annual meeting of the Biophysical Society in Baltimore, Maryland.

The annual award honors and recognizes distinguished individuals who have made original and significant contributions to the field of fluorescence. Jacobson is a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Beginning in the early 1970s, Jacobson has contributed to the knowledge of how the cell membrane is organized by developing methods to measure lateral mobility in the plasma membrane, primarily using technologies based on fluorescence microscopy. Such measurements inform scientists about the domains that exist in the membrane and their function.

Shortly after joining the UNC faculty in 1980, Jacobson was one of the earliest developers of digitized fluorescence microscopy and its applications to cell biology. He and his laboratory then began studying the physical principles underlying cells migration, developing tools to measure the traction forces the cell must apply to the surface on which it crawls. In addition, Dr. Jacobson developed methods to perturb the molecular machinery of cell migration using laser beams to illuminate small regions of single, moving cells, thereby activating specific molecules.

Taking a look at telemedicine: program director talks about how it’s helping to fulfill UNC Lineberger’s mission

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The article "Telemedicine: Know why you're doing it " published online July 21, 2011 in Cardiovascular Business highlights the use of telemedicine at the N.C. Cancer Hospital.

Michael Young, director of telemedicine at the N.C. Cancer Hospital, talks about the technology involved and how it’s being used to serve physicians and patients across the state.

Cardiovascular Business is a publication of the TriMed Media Group. Targeted to health care executives, it provides business and economic perspectives on technology, pharmaceuticals and other products that are important to the success of a cardiovascular practice.

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Read more about the telemedicine program.

UNC researchers identify seventh and eighth bases of DNA

CHAPEL HILL – For decades, scientists have known that DNA consists of four basic units – adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine. Those four bases have been taught in science textbooks and have formed the basis of the growing knowledge regarding how genes code for life. Yet in recent history, scientists have expanded that list from four to six.

Now, with a finding published online in the July 21, 2011, issue of the journal Science, researchers from the UNC School of Medicine have discovered the seventh and eighth bases of DNA.

These last two bases – called 5-formylcytosine and 5 carboxylcytosine – are actually versions of cytosine that have been modified by Tet proteins, molecular entities thought to play a role in DNA demethylation and stem cell reprogramming.

Thus, the discovery could advance stem cell research by giving a glimpse into the DNA changes – such as the removal of chemical groups through demethylation – that could reprogram adult cells to make them act like stem cells.

“Before we can grasp the magnitude of this discovery, we have to figure out the function of these new bases,” said senior study author Yi Zhang, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UNC and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. “Because these bases represent an intermediate state in the demethylation process, they could be important for cell fate reprogramming and cancer, both of which involve DNA demethylation.” Zhang is also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Holden Thorp, UNC chancellor and Kenan Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, said Zhang’s discovery was a significant development that holds promise for a variety of areas.

“Research such as this, at the intersection of chemistry, biology, physics and medicine, show the value of scientists like Yi Zhang who tackle both practical problems and fundamental scientific mysteries,” said Thorp. "Having devoted a large part of my research career to understanding the fundamental processes in nucleobase and nucleotide oxidation, I'm particularly excited to see this signature result at Carolina. The concept of sequential nucleobase oxidation as an epigenetic signal is tantalizing."

Much is known about the “fifth base,” 5-methylcytosine, which arises when a chemical tag or methyl group is tacked onto a cytosine. This methylation is associated with gene silencing, as it causes the DNA’s double helix to fold even tighter upon itself. Last year, Zhang’s group reported that Tet proteins can convert 5 methylC (the fifth base) to 5 hydroxymethylC (the sixth base) in the first of a four step reaction leading back to bare-boned cytosine. But try as they might, the researchers could not continue the reaction on to the seventh and eighth bases, called 5 formylC and 5 carboxyC.

The problem, they eventually found, was not that Tet wasn’t taking that second and third step, it was that their experimental assay wasn’t sensitive enough to detect it. Once they realized the limitations of the assay, they redesigned it and were in fact able to detect the two newest bases of DNA. The researchers then examined embryonic stem cells as well as mouse organs and found that both bases can be detected in genomic DNA.

The finding could have important implications for stem cell research, as it could provide researchers with new tools to erase previous methylation patterns to reprogram adult cells. It could also inform cancer research, as it could give scientists the opportunity to reactivate tumor suppressor genes that had been silenced by DNA methylation.

The research was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Institutes of Health. Study co-authors from UNC include Shinsuke Ito, PhD; Li Shen, PhD; Susan C. Wu, PhD; Leonard B. Collins and James A. Swenberg, PhD.

UNC Scientists Create "Excellent" Probe to Study Gene-Controlling Proteins

Collaboration between University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Canadian scientists has resulted in a molecular probe capable of specifically targeting two proteins that affect a wide range of biological functions in humans by controlling the expression of certain genes.

The probe, called UNC0638, is a small molecule created by the researchers that targets the proteins G9a and GLP, which play a role in a variety of conditions of from cancer to cocaine addiction. The probe was created in collaboration with the Structural Genomics Consortium based at the University of Toronto and is detailed in a paper published in Nature Chemical BiologyIcon indicating that a link will open an external site..

“This is an excellent chemical probe,” says Jian Jin, PhD, a corresponding author on the study. “We have a great deal of biochemical and cellular data on UNC0638 that shows that it interacts only with the proteins it was meant to and has low toxicity to cells. The combination of high selectivity, robust on-target activity in cells, and low cell toxicity makes UNC0638 a valuable tool for the biomedical community to decipher the role of G9a and GLP in human diseases. Many chemical probes in use today are not as selective.”

Jin is an associate director of medicinal chemistry for the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery (CICBDD) at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

G9a and GLP are relatively new candidates as drug targets and belong to a class of proteins called epigenetic regulators. The proteins control the expression of genes by specifically modifying the histones around which DNA is packaged.

“Epigenetic regulators are what make liver cells liver cells and brain cells brain cells even though all cells contain the same genetic code,” says Stephen Frye, PhD, one of the paper’s coauthors. “The proteins control what genes are active on a cell-by-cell basis.”

Because G9a and GLP are being eyed as potential drug targets, it is important that a chemical probe be specific, says Frye, who is director of the CICBDD and a research professor at the School. The probe has drug-like properties but is much more specific than some drugs.

“As long as a drug is safe and effective, you don’t necessarily care what the secondary effects might be as long as they are not harmful,” he says. “A probe like UNC0638 has to act cleanly and only interact with proteins it is designed to target. That’s the only way you can be certain that any changes you observe were caused by the probe interacting with its target and not by a peripheral interaction you don’t know about.”

The Structural Genomics Consortium is a public-private partnership promoting the development of new medicines by carrying out basic science of relevance to drug discovery. The core mandate of the SGC is to determine 3D structures of proteins of biomedical importance and proteins that represent potential drug targets. The consortium and its scientists are committed open access and to making their discoveries available without restriction on use. They will not agree to file for patent protection and require the same commitment from any collaborator.

The research team was led by Jin and Cheryl Arrowsmith, PhD, chief scientist of the SGC and a professor at University of Toronto, along with co-first authors Feng Liu, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow in Jin’s lab at the School; and Masoud Vedadi, PhD, a principal investigator at the SGC, and Dalia Barsyte-Lovejoy, an SGC senior scientist.

In addition to Jin, Frye and Liu, the coauthors from UNC-Chapel Hill are Xin Chen; William P. Janzen; Dmitri B Kireev; Jacqueline L Norris; Samantha G. Pattenden; Catherine D. Simpson; and Tim J Wigle of the CICBDD; Thomas J Mangano, Xi-ping Huang, and Bryan L Roth, PhD, of the National Institute of Mental Health Psychoactive Drug Screening Program; and Ashutosh Tripathy of the UNC Macromolecular Interactions Facility.

Coauthors from the SGC are Abdellah Allali-Hassani, Cheryl H Arrowsmith (also with the Ontario Cancer Institute), Peter J Brown, Irene Chau, Aiping Dong, Aled Edwards, Alena Siarheyeva, Wolfram Tempel, and Gregory A. Wasney.

Additional coauthors are Sylvie Rival-Gervier, PhD, of SickKids Hospital in Toronto and INRA of Jouy en Josas, France; Arturas Petronis, MD, PhD, Viviane Labrie, PhD; and Sun-Chong Wang of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto; Peter A. DiMaggio, PhD, and Benjamin A. Garcia, PhD, of Princeton University; James Ellis of SickKids and the University of Toronto.

The project described was funded in part by award number RC1GM090732 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the Carolina Partnership and University Cancer Research Fund from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Ontario Research Fund, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Structural Genomics Consortium.

UNC study looks at dose levels of the breast cancer drug, tamoxifen

Using a patient’s genetic information can be successfully used to manage the drug concentrations of tamoxifen, a drug used to treat and prevent breast cancer.

A UNC–led team examined the feasibility of using the function of a gene important in metabolizing tamoxifen, called CYP2D6, to detect a change in tamoxifen drug levels corresponding to a change in tamoxifen dose. They demonstrated that establishing an individual’s dose of tamoxifen based on the function of the gene results in higher drug concentrations in patients with reduced gene function.

William Irvin Jr, MD, first author of the study says, “We showed that doubling the tamoxifen dose in patients whose CYP2D6 function was low increased the concentrations of drug in their system.  We do not know if or how this will impact the efficacy of tamoxifen, and I caution strongly against changing clinical practice, but this study shows us that in the future a patient’s individual genetic information may be an important factor in drug dosing.”

Irvin is an assistant professor of medicine who specializes in the treatment of breast cancer at UNC and a member of UNC Lineberger.

Read more about the study, published online ahead of print on July 18, 2011 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Icon indicating that a link will open an external site.

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UNC radiation therapy faculty and student win national writing award

Chapel Hill, NC - Robert Adams, EdD, RT, CMD; Bahjat Qaqish, MD, PhD; and Jessica A. Church, BS, RT, all from UNC, and Kimberly L. MetCalf, EdD, RT, MR, from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions are the winners of the 2010-2011 Jean I. Widger Distinguished Author Award from the American Society of Radiologic Technologists.

The award honors the best peer-reviewed article published in the ASRT journals. The Widger Award is named after longtime Radiologic TechnologyIcon indicating that a link will open an external site. editor Jean I. Widger.

Their article, “Survey of R.T.s with Doctorates: Barriers to Conducting Research,” appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Radiologic Technology. They received their award at the 2011 ASRT Annual Governance and House of Delegates MeetingIcon indicating that a link will open an external site. in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Adams is program director for the radiation therapy and medical dosimetry programs at the UNC School of Medicine and an assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology. Qaqish is an associate professor of biostatistics in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Church is a graduate student in radiation oncology.

Walk this way: local group reaches last stretch of journey across Spain

It's official! The group has less than 100 miles to walk before arriving at Santiago.

El Camino Walk

They have had blisters and sleepless nights and uncontrollable cravings for Mountain Dew, but what a walk!

Yesterday's blog update from the group read "Did 30k and are camping on the summit of o cebreiro. 150k to Santiago." What a great feeling that must be (well, maybe not for their feet). The group is walking across Spain to benefit UNC Lineberger. Many of those involved in this trip took part in last year's "epic adventure" of cycling across the US to raise funds for the same cause.

Read the group's latest blog update.

We wish them well in their last week of walking!

Welcome to this year’s hematology/oncology fellows

Six new fellows have joined the Division of Hematology/Oncology.

Jawaunna Blackmon received an undergraduate degree in Biology from Troy State University in Troy, Alabama and a medical degree from the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

David Chism received an undergraduate degree in psychology from Georgetown University in Washington, DC; a graduate degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana; and a medical degree from the University of Tennessee in Memphis.

Jeremy Harrison received an undergraduate degree in chemistry, mathematics, and biology from East Central University in Ada, Oklahoma; a graduate degree in epidemiology from Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia; and a medical degree from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Trevor Jolly received an associate degree in biology, chemistry, and mathematics from Dominica State College and a medical degree from the  University of the West Indies, Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago.

Brandi Reeves received an undergraduate degree in biology from Berea College in Berea, Kentucky and a medical degree from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio.

Jill Tichy received an undergraduate degree in Biology from Indiana University in Bloomington and a medical degree from the University of Tennessee in Memphis.

New Fellowship Program in Psychosomatic Medicine Opens at UNC School of Medicine

Chapel Hill - A new fellowship training program in psychosomatic medicine is beginning at UNC, a partnership of the UNC School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and the UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, part of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Psychosomatic medicine is focused on the psychiatric care of patients who have medical and surgical conditions. One key area of the UNC program will be cancer.

Don Rosenstein, MD, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Support Program and professor of psychiatry, explains,  “Optimum care of patients with cancer often requires the expertise of a psychiatrist with advanced training in psychosomatic medicine and a specific concentration in psycho-oncology. With this new program, we can deepen the skills of these highly trained practitioners and provide them with the skills to become academic leaders in the field of psycho-oncology.”

Two psychiatrists join Rosenstein for the program’s first year: Jonathan Gerkin, MD, and April Welborn, MD.

Jonathan Gerkin, MDGerkin earned his medical degree from Wright State University School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, completed the residency training program at UNC, is now an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UNC, and has served as clinical director of the psychiatry consult-liaison service.

 

April Welborn, MDWelborn earned her medical and doctoral degree in cellular biology and anatomy from the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia. She completed the residency training program at UNC, where she served as chief resident.

Channing Der and Yue Xiong receive 2011 Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award

Chapel Hill - Channing Der, PhD, Kenan Professor of Pharmacology, and Yue Xiong, PhD, Kenan Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, have been awarded the fourth annual Hyman L. Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award in recognition of their accomplishments in cancer research. Both are members of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award, established in 2007 by the Battle Foundation of Rocky Mount, recognizes exceptional cancer research at the UNC School of Medicine and comes with a $25,000 prize for each awardee.  The Battle award fund is a permanent endowment held by The Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc.

William Roper, MD, MPH, Dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO, UNC Health Care, said,  “Yue Xiong and Channing Der are internationally recognized for their scientific achievements.  They have been career long contributors to UNC Lineberger’s basic approach to understanding and treating cancer.  They have devoted their laboratories and talents to training and mentoring students, post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty.”

Der is internationally regarded for his pioneering work with the RAS oncogene and other members of this large gene family.  Der has elucidated the role of RAS mutations in cancers particularly colorectal and pancreatic cancers in which RAS is mutated in over 50% of the cases. His research has helped define the role of RAS, and related pathways, in the cause and progression of these diseases.  In recent years, he has established that other members of the RAS gene family can accelerate growth of cancer invasion and metastasis.  He is now studying the potential of drugs that might change these cancer-causing pathways with the aim of developing new therapies.

He is revered as a mentor to young scientists and as a generous collaborator with other scientists. Der leads the Lineberger Center’s graduate program in cancer biology; he joined the UNC faculty in 1992.

Xiong has made groundbreaking discoveries in the control of normal cell growth and the derangements that occur in cancer, including describing a crucial class of regulatory genes lost in the vast majority of human cancers.  While a postdoctoral fellow, he helped to identify cyclin D, a central, growth-control gene.  After coming to UNC, Xiong and colleagues discovered a family of genes that act as brakes or suppressors of normal cell growth.  His work showed how cancer cells escape normal growth control by either overexpressing growth stimulators like cyclin D or by losing growth suppressor genes.  He also helped identify the cullin family of ubiquitin ligases that play additional, critical roles in modulating cell cycle regulator genes.

His current research involves cancer-related alterations in cell metabolism including mutations of metabolism genes that promotes brain cancer growth.  He is working with Lineberger colleagues to develop drugs that could reverse the action of these mutant metabolism genes.  Xiong, the leader of UNC Lineberger’s Cancer Cell Biology Program, has guided multiple postdoctoral fellows and graduate students to successful research careers.  He came to UNC in 1993 and received the UNC Hettleman Award for Scholarly Achievement in 1999.

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Obesity epidemic may reduce life expectancy

American life expectancies, which have climbed steadily for almost a century, may drop in years to come as the obesity epidemic progresses.

Therefore, according to three faculty members from different universities, the National Center for Health Statistics should supplement its lifespan forecasting methods with an additional variable: the health of today’s younger generations.

Their study, “New Forecasting Methodology Indicates More Disease and Earlier Mortality Ahead for Today’s American Children,” is published online and in the August 2011 issue of the journal Health AffairsIcon indicating that a link will open an external site.. Accurate forecasting is essential to wise policy decisions, said the researchers.

“Our analysis shows that health declines and reduced life expectancies will occur without aggressive public health action,” said co-author Yang Yang, an associate professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Yang and the other researchers – S. Jay Olshansky, an epidemiology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Eric Reither, a sociologist at Utah State University – said forecasting now looks at death rates for each age at a given year or years to predict future death rates.

“Traditional forecasting assumes that when today’s children reach the age of 70, they will have the same mortality rate as people who are 70 today,” said Yang, also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The researchers used the traditional forecasting method to predict cardiovascular disease death rates among men after the year 2000. Then they sought the same information using their new model, which also accounted for the health status of younger populations.

They found their method to be more accurate, correctly predicting an increase in cardiovascular death rates for men between the ages of 25 and 29. This may be because younger men have been more affected by the obesity epidemic than their predecessors.

“We need to think of the health of today’s kids and adapt modeling so that it is sensitized to their health if we’re going to make accurate predictions,” said Reither.

Besides birth cohorts, residence and race may need to be considered. The obesity epidemic has hit hard among women in some areas of the Southeast, African American women, American Indians and Alaskan natives. The authors note that as the population becomes heavier faster, people are living more of their lives with risks associated with obesity, such as Type II diabetes.

“These are not trivial issues without major health and economic consequences for the nation,” Olshansky said. “They are profound. An entire generation of children is in trouble. It’s a problem that can be fixed, but first we have to know the problem exists.  Our methodology enables us to see the problem under the light of science in a rather startling way.”

The study was funded by the University Cancer Research Fund, the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station at Utah State and the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society.

Study link: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/early/2011/06/21/hlthaff.2011.0092.abstract?sid=51c4ae4b-f71e-4b0f-8283-e744eb0d2ddd

Second round of Health-e-NC pilot projects funded statewide

Technology used to promote better health and cancer prevention statewide

 

Chapel Hill, NC – North Carolina’s length, breadth and socioeconomic diversity creates challenges for promoting the healthy behaviors necessary to minimize cancer risk and ensure the best possible quality of life.  That’s why five new projects are looking at ways to harness interactive communications technologies to prevent cancer or reduce cancer risk; increase access to cancer screening, prevention and treatment services; and to improve quality of life for those living with cancer.  The potential of these relatively new technologies has not been thoroughly explored, and researchers want to know if they can be effective in reaching people who would otherwise lack access to information, services or expertise.

This is the focus of five projects funded under the second round of Health-e- NC (Health for Everyone in North Carolina) grants program.  The program provides pilot funding in support of the University Cancer Research Fund’s strategic goal of optimizing cancer outcomes in North Carolina.

Projects were selected through a competitive review process that included review by national experts from outside UNC.  Projects emphasize the use of interactive technologies to deliver breakthrough innovation and excellence in behavioral research; collaborative, cross-disciplinary approaches; potential for generating additional external funding from peer-reviewed sources; and real and tangible impact on the health of North Carolinians.  The projects focus on areas of the state where cancers, and in particular breast, lung and colorectal cancers, are common and place a burden on the health of North Carolinians.

“UNC Lineberger researchers from across campus were challenged to design ways to increase programs’ reach and impact with interactive technologies focused on Health-e- NC’s strategic goals.  We are dealing with a state 500 miles across, with 10 million citizens, making it crucial to design more cost-effective ways of preventing disease and allowing access to quality care. We will be evaluating outcomes to see if technology can help deliver better education, care and interventions with improved reach, and potentially at a lower cost of delivery.  The result will be healthier North Carolina communities,” said Shelley Earp, MD, UNC Lineberger’s director.

Funded projects include:

  • A Home Based Motivational Exercise Program for African American Breast Cancer Survivors:  A Pilot Study
  • Reducing HPV-Attributable Cancers Through HPV Vaccination – an Interactive Technology Based Approach for Adolescents in School Based Health Centers
  • Telemedicine Delivery of a Cancer Support Training Intervention:  Partnership with Community-Based Survivorship Centers
  • Improving Care Quality with Virtual Tumor Boards Using Videoconferencing Technology
  • Lose-Now-NC:  Feasibility of a large group format community weight loss program coupled with Internet support

For more information about these projects, see the full abstracts at http://ucrf.unc.edu/awards/.

About Health-e-NC

Health-e-NC is a statewide effort to improve cancer outcomes for the diseases that hit North Carolina’s citizens the hardest. Sponsored by UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the University Cancer Research fund, Health-e-NC is aimed at finding out what really works in the areas of cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship and helping to spread the latest and best evidence-based cancer information to health care providers and advocacy groups as well as cancer patients, their families and survivors. For more information, visit: www.health-e-nc.org/home.do

About the University Cancer Research Fund

The University Cancer Research Fund was created by the N.C. General Assembly with the mission to ensure that future generations of North Carolinians will develop cancer less often and live longer and better when they do.  Research creates new knowledge, turns that knowledge into innovative treatment, screening, and prevention, and then assures delivery of innovations across the state – that research is the key unlocking the doors to a new and better future.  The UCRF is helping make that research possible.  For more information, visit http://ucrf.unc.edu/awards/.

UNC physician/scientist authors an essay for the Journal of the American Medical Association

Katie Reeder-Hayes, MD, MBA, authored a commentary in the June 8, 2011 Journal of the American Medical Association for the “A Piece of My Mind” column. In her commentary, titled “Way Back When,” she discusses how she has changed since becoming a physician and the challenges and rewards her career offers.

She says, “Through my patients, I am reminded that everyday life, the mundaneness of hard work and piled-up laundry and wiggling children climbing into my bed too early on Saturday morning, is precious.”

Reeder-Hayes is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Sheps Center for Health Services Research, supported by a National Research Service Award (NIH) grant. She is studying health services research in oncology including secondary database work in the SEER/Medicare population as well as clinical research focusing on patient and physician decision making.

Reeder-Hayes, a fellow in the division of hematology/oncology since 2008, sees breast cancer patients in the clinic once a week, working with Claire Dees, MD.

She earned her medical degree from the University of Alabama School of Medicine and her MBA from Auburn University School of Business.

Reeder Hayes was awarded the Robert L. Ney Award for Humanism in Medicine in 2007 from the UNC School of Medicine when she was completing her internship and residency in internal medicine.

UNC Lineberger associate director chairs national bone marrow group advisory committee

Chapel Hill - Thomas Shea, MD, will serve a two-year term as chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research (CIBMTR). He was previously elected as chair-elect. The Advisory Committee establishes policy for, and provides scientific direction to the CIBMTR.

Shea is director of the UNC Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation Program and associate director of clinical outreach for UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The CIBMTR collects and stores data from over 400 transplant centers and 280,000 patients worldwide and makes these data openly available to interested research investigators and to the public.  It has become one of the world’s largest clinical databases of blood and marrow transplantation outcomes. Its research partner, the National Marrow Donor Program, makes available thousands of matched tissue samples from transplant recipients and their donors through its Repository.

The CIBMTR, by using its large database, is also involved in the design and conduct of clinical studies that involve large numbers of patients from multiple transplant centers - the types of studies needed to answer critical questions in the field of blood and marrow transplantation.

In July 2004, the organization was formed by an affiliation of the research division of the National Marrow Donor Program® and the International Bone Marrow Transplant Registry /Autologous Blood and Marrow Transplant Registry (IBMTR/ABMTR).

The Cancer Genome Atlas completes detailed ovarian cancer analysis

UNC completes miRNA and array analysis

Chapel Hill, NC – As part of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) projectIcon indicating that a link will open an external site., UNC Lineberger researchers have contributed to the most comprehensive and integrated view of cancer genes for any cancer type produced to date.

The UNC team, which includes Charles Perou, PhD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine and genetics, Neil Hayes, MD, associate professor of hematology/oncology, and Katie Hoadley, PhD, Research Associate, completed the microRNA and mRNA microarray analysis that contributed to the findings.

Ovarian serous adenocarcinoma tumors from 500 patients were examined and the analyses are reported in the June 30, 2011 issue of the journal Nature.  Serous adenocarcinoma accounts for about 85 percent of all ovarian cancer deaths.

The researchers confirmed that mutations in the tumor suppressor gene TP53, are present in more than 96 percent of these cancers.  Tumor suppressor genes produce proteins that normally prevent cancer formation.  When the genes mutate and those protein functions are disrupted, tumors can form.

The team also found sets of genes associated with different patient survival patterns, indentifying a set of 108 genes associated with poor survival and 85 genes associated with better survival.  Overall, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 31 percent, meaning that there is an urgent need for a better understanding of and therapeutic targets for the disease.

“These are exactly the types of cancers for which The Cancer Genome Atlas project can make a difference, providing the resources and collaborative scientific power to establish new investigative avenues aimed at treatments targeted to the specific biology of ovarian cancer,” said Hayes.

Investigators on the project also searched for existing drugs that might inhibit genes that seem to play a role in ovarian cancer.  They identified 68 genes that could be targeted by existing FDA-approved or experimental therapeutic compounds.  For example, PARP inhibitors, which have been tested in clinical trials at UNC and elsewhere, may be able to counteract a DNA repair gene observed in half of the ovarian tumors studied.

TCGA is jointly funded and managed by the National Cancer InstituteIcon indicating that a link will open an external site.(NCI) and the http://www.genome.gov/Icon indicating that a link will open an external site. National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), both part of the National Institutes of Health.  As participants in TCGA, UNC Lineberger scientists have also been involved in findings related to subtypes of the brain tumor glioblastoma and of lung cancers.

Breland honored with Honda Inspiration Award

Recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and former UNC Women’s Basketball player Jessica Breland – who now plays in the WNBA for the New York Liberty – was honored with the the 23rd annual Honda Inspiration Award.

This annual award is presented to a female college athlete who has overcome adversity to excel in her sport. Read more about the award.

UNC Women’s Basketball Coach Sylvia Hatchell and academic advisor Jan Boxill made the trip to New York for the presentation – they, along with Jessica, were spotted with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America.

Breland was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in May 2009 and treated at the N.C. Cancer Hospital, clinical home of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. While undergoing treatment, she red-shirted the season, but was present on the sidelines, supporting her teammates.

She returned to the court for her senior year, leading the women’s team to the Sweet Sixteen. She was also involved in the creation of the Jessica Breland Comeback Kids Fund which honors her spirit of courage, strength and hope and provides support for cancer research and treatment at UNC’s pediatric oncology program.

Watch video about JessicaAn icon indicating that content may be viewed on YouTube (TM).

Make a Gift to the Comeback Kids Fund (In the designation box, mark Pediatric Oncology and in the comments box note that your gift should be designated to the Comeback Kids Fund.)

UNC scientists describe new protein’s role in immune response to pathogens

Chapel Hill - The human immune system is a double-edged sword. While it is finely adapted to fighting potentially deadly viruses, such as the H1N1 influenza, the mechanisms it uses to fight pathogens can have negative effects such as inflammatory disorders or autoimmune diseases.

A new finding by UNC scientists provides a window into how the immune system initially reacts to a virus invader, as well as how a subgroup of proteins plays a role in returning the immune system to a normal surveillance function. Their pre-clinical findings were published in the June 24, 2011 online edition of ImmunityIcon indicating that a link will open an external site..

Coy Allen, PhD, first author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, explains, “We knew that proteins called NLRsIcon indicating that a link will open an external site. control the immune system’s initial response to an invading pathogen, such as influenza. However, we did not realize that a sub-group of these proteins actually functions to bring an overactive immune response back under control after the pathogen threat has been resolved. Our study showed that a newly identified NLR protein called NLRX1 is capable of shutting down an overreaction by the immune system during an influenza infection.”

Allen says, “We worked with influenza because the flu virus is an ongoing global health concern that results in a significant number of deaths each year.  In 2009-2010, a new influenza virus emerged and rapidly spread throughout the world, ultimately resulting in the first global influenza pandemic in over 40 years.  As part of our studies, we partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that NLRX1 also functions in controlling the immune response following 2009 H1N1 influenza virus infection.

In most cases, individuals who die from influenza virus infection suffer from a hyperactive immune response to influenza.  Thus, NLRX1 is one of the mechanisms that dampen this hyperactive immune response.

Allen is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Jenny Ting, PhD. Ting, UNC Alumni Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and director of the Inflammation center at UNC, is a pioneer in the understanding of the NLR family of proteins. She is co-leader of UNC Lineberger’s immunology program and senior author of the Immunity paper.

Allen explains, “These findings are also relevant to cancer.  Several viruses are implicated in cancer, including adenovirus, Hepatitis C Virus, Epstein-Barr virusIcon indicating that a link will open an external site. andKaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus.  It is likely that NLRX1 may also mediate elements of the host immune response following onco-virus exposure.

Allen says that the next steps are to examine other NLR proteins to determine if they too can act as an anti-inflammatory and to further describe how the NLRX1 protein shuts down the immune response at the appropriate time.

Other UNC authors are: Monika Schneider, UNC graduate student;Yu Lei, PhD; Beckley Davis, PhD; Margaret Scull, PhD; Denis Gris, PhD; Kelly Roney, PhD; Albert Zimmerman,PhD;  and Raymond Pickles, PhD. Additional authors are Chris Moore, PhD,   from Glaxosmithkline, Research Triangle Park, NC; John Bowzard, PhD; Priya Rahjan, PhD; and Suryaprakas Sambhara, PhD,  from the influenza division, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA; and Kathryn Monroe, University of California at Berkley graduate student.

Research funding was provided by grants from the National Institutes of Health and a National Research Service Award.

Meet a Tar Heel: Wizdom Powell Hammond

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Wizdom Powell Hammond, PhD, is profiled in UNC Chapel Hill's "Meet a Tar Heel" portfolio. All of the profiles in this collection feature people who are a part of Carolina.

Dr. Hammond is an assistant professor of health behavior and health education at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and a member of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Read Dr. Hammond's profile. Icon indicating that a link will open an external site.