2019 Highlights

Celebrating Innovative Advances at the 12th Annual “Standard of Cure” BIDMC Cancer Symposium

November 5, 2019

Cancer SymposiumForty-five years ago, 8 year-old Marty Walsh of Dorchester had a stomach ache. When exploratory surgery revealed a tumor, doctors gave his parents two options: take him to Ireland to say good bye to his grandparents, or try an experimental cure at one of Boston’s academic medical centers. Despite his low odds of survival, Marty was cancer free four years later. 

“It’s people like you who make sure parents like Mary and John Walsh don’t have to lose their child,” Martin J. Walsh, Mayor of the City of Boston, told participants at the 12th annual “Standard of Cure” BIDMC Cancer Symposium. “I don’t know where many of you started your careers, but now you are part of the story of Boston, where advances and discoveries happen every single day. You represent the next generation of cancer researchers and innovators. As Mayor, I want to thank you for the future lives you are going to save.”

“This year was the year that curative combinations came to the fore,” said Frank Slack, PhD, in his welcoming remarks. Noting the recent approvals of new targeted therapies for breast and lung cancers and new combinatorial immunotherapies, “the combinatorial approach is now the standard of cure,” he said, kicking off a day of presentations from experts on the leading edge of cancer research and treatment from institutions around the world.  

Speakers included Alan Ashworth, PhD, of University of California, San Francisco, a key member of the team that discovered the BRCA2 cancer gene in 1995; Andreas Trumpp, PhD, of the German Cancer Research Center, an expert on the role of stem cells in cancer; and Suzanne Cory, PhD, of the Hall Institute of Medical Research, who focuses on harnessing the mechanisms underlying pre-programmed cell death to stop the progression of cancer. 

Director of the HMS Initiative for RNA Medicine, Slack described how non-coding RNAs – fragments of genetic material that regulate cellular activity, often linked to human diseases – can be used in multiple ways in cancer treatment. RNAs can be used as a drug to suppress cancer-causing cellular activity; other drugs can target RNAs to inhibit or enhance specific RNAs; or RNAs can be used as biomarkers for early-detection and for monitoring of disease. 

BIDMC’s Daniel B. Costa, MD, PhD, the medical thoracic oncologist group leader of the Cancer Center, provided an overview of the state of precision oncology in lung cancer. Costa focused on the development of oral kinase inhibitors over the last two decades, noting that while a majority of patients with oncogene-driven lung cancer initially responds to initial generations of these inhibitors, they are less effective over time as the tumor develops acquired resistance. “Penetration into sanctuary sites such as the central nervous system and biological resistance are common fallacies of first generation kinase inhibitors for lung cancer,” he said. “But newer generation of inhibitors have overcome these limitations whilst improving patient tolerability. The next step to further improve patient outcomes and extend survival times is to study rational combinations to prevent and/or delay resistance.”

 “If one drug is good, than a combination could be better, so we’ve been combining two approaches that might work together to produce better outcomes,” said BIDMC’s David F. McDermott, MD, Chief of the Division of Medical Oncology in the Cancer Center. Noting that immunotherapies developed to target solid tumors can produce dramatic results in a minority of patients, McDermott shared new data showing that combinations of known therapies saw dramatic improvements in both patient response, progression-free survival, and overall survival.  “These data are not just statistically significant, but clinically significant,” he said. “Our goal is to produce remissions in patients that might last after we stop treatment – and that’s what patients are looking for.” 

An Ounce of Prevention: Preoperative Management of Inflammation May Stave Off Cancer Recurrences

June 18, 2019

Dipak Panigrahy, MDIn a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a team of scientists led by Dipak Panigrahy, MD, and Allison Gartung, PhD, of the Cancer Center at BIDMC, demonstrated that administration of anti-inflammatory treatments that prevent inflammation as well as proresolution treatments that tamp down the body’s inflammatory response to surgery or chemotherapy can promote long-term survival in experimental animal cancer models. 

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Natural Compound Found in Broccoli Reawakens the Function of Potent Tumor Suppressor

May 16, 2019

Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhDIn a paper published in Science, Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center at BIDMC, and colleagues demonstrate how a natural compound found in broccoli may offer a new approach for cancer treatment and prevention.

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Two Birds, One Stone – Drug Combination May Prove Effective against a Second Type of Leukemia

April 25, 2019

Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhDA team of scientists led by Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute at BIDMC, demonstrated that an arsenic-based therapy already in use for treatment of another type of leukemia worked equally as well against acute myeloid leukemia. The findings, published in Cell Research, could serve as the foothold researchers need to overcome resistance to therapy.

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Diet High in Leucine May Fuel Breast Cancer’s Drug Resistance

April 17, 2019

Senthil K. Muthuswamy, PhDLed by Senthil K. Muthuswamy, PhD, researchers at the Cancer Center at BIDMC discovered an unexpected relationship between levels of the amino acid leucine and the development of tamoxifen resistance in estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer. The findings, published in Nature, reveal a potential new strategy for overcoming resistance to endocrine drugs in ER+ breast cancer patients.

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Quashing the Resistance: MicroRNA Regulates Drug Tolerance in Subset of Lung Cancers

April 8, 2019

Frank J. Slack, PhDResearchers led by Frank J. Slack, PhD, Director of the HMS Initiative for RNA Medicine at the Cancer Center at BIDMC, identified a new pathway that offers promising targets for preventing lung tumor relapse. Their findings are published in Nature Metabolism.

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Researchers Show Aspirin Boosts Production of an Anti-Inflammatory That Inhibits Tumor Growth

March 12, 2019

Dipak Panigrahy, MDIn a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists led by Dipak Panigrahy, MD, of the Cancer Center at BIDMC and Charles N. Serhan, PhD, DSc, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, demonstrate a unique new mechanism by which aspirin inhibits cancer.

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Cancer Center at BIDMC Names New Chief of Hematology & Hematologic Malignancies and New Chief of Medical Oncology

March 8, 2019

David F. McDermott, MD and David Avigan, MDDavid Avigan, MD, has been named Chief of the newly created Division of Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies and David F. McDermott, MD, has been named Chief of the newly created Division of Medical Oncology, both part of the Leon V. & Marilyn L. Rosenberg Clinical Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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Haigis Named Collaborator on Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge £20M Prize

February 2019

Kevin Haigis, PhDKevin Haigis, PhD, Director, Cancer Genetics Program at the Cancer Research Institute at the Cancer Center at BIDMC, will lend his expertise to a global research team assembled to solve a long-standing riddle in cancer research. The SPECIFICANCER team –  comprised of experts from the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands – was one of three awarded funding through Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge competition, an international funding initiative.

Led by Principal Investigator Stephen Elledge, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Haigis and collaborators seek to understand why and how potentially cancer-causing mutations, which exist in every cell throughout the body, cause cancer only in specific tissues. For example, defects in the tumor suppressing APC gene can result in a rare inherited form of colon cancer, but does not induce tumors in any other tissues. Haigis and colleagues will study why this is the case and use their findings to identify ways to prevent or treat cancer in these organs.

The Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge competition awards five-year, £20 million (approximately $25 million) prizes to international, multidisciplinary research teams seeking to revolutionize our understanding of cancer and make big strides toward better treatments and new ways to prevent and diagnose the disease. 

In addition to funding from Cancer Research UK—the world's leading independent charity dedicated to cancer research—the team’s project is also supported by The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to accelerating cures for cancer by integrating discoveries in biology with innovative technology.


Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Part of International Research Consortium Awarded $9.2 Million to Develop microRNA-targeted Therapy

January 24, 2019

Pier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhDPier Paolo Pandolfi, MD, PhD, Director of the Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute at BIDMC, is part of an international research consortium awarded $9.2 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Challenge 2018 Programme. Known as the NASH Research Consortium, the team will use the funds in a combined effort to develop new therapies for the treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a severe form of liver disease that is rapidly becoming the leading cause of end-stage liver disease, liver transplantation and some forms of liver cancer. 

“There are no medical treatments yet for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and microRNA-targeted drugs have the potential to become the first treatment option for patients with NASH,” said Pandolfi.  “We’re very grateful to the Novo Nordisk Foundation for supporting this potentially life-changing science.” 

Combining the scientific expertise and resources of four leading research institutions to tackle NASH, the Consortium is led by Sakari Kauppinen, PhD, from the Center for RNA Medicine, Aalborg University in Denmark. In addition to Pandolfi, the team also includes Anders Naar, of University of California, Berkeley, and Ryan Temel of the University of Kentucky, Lexington. 

Pandolfi and colleagues will evaluate the metabolic microRNAs – short strands of non-coding genetic material that regulate gene expression and play a critical role in diseases – present in samples taken from patients to assess the molecules’ potential as biomarkers for the disease. The team will also work to discover drugs for the effective and safe inhibition of these microRNAs as potential as treatment for NASH.