The staff and faculty of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute accomplished much together during the past year. Here’s a sampling of achievements that reflect the mission of delivering compassionate care and scientific discoveries that will end cancer as we know it:
Serving Oregonians across the state
- U.S. News & World Report ranked OHSU among the nation’s top 40 for adult cancer care. The Knight Cancer Institute moved up a notch from last year to rank 36th among cancer hospitals, flanked by No. 35 Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego, and No. 37 Ohio State University James Cancer Hospital.
- A total of 53 cancer prevention projects in 34 of Oregon’s 36 counties have been funded by the Knight Community Partnership Program, and 89 percent are helping rural communities. One recipient went on to win the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize.
- Dermatologists performed 363 free skin checks – nearly triple last year’s total – at the second annual War on Skin Cancer event. The Melanoma Community Registry signed up 317 new participants at the event, more than twice the number last year.
- In a collaboration with Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria, a 19,600-square-foot cancer center under construction will expand existing chemotherapy infusion services and add radiation treatment capacity previously not available in the North Coast region.
Developing new talent
- Since 2002, the Ted R. Lilley Cancer Cure Program has given hands-on research experience to 56 high school students who excel in science but come from communities that are underrepresented in medical and research fields. Among this year’s graduates, one became a Gates Millennium Scholar and two received Kaiser Permanente scholarships.
- Lara Davis, M.D., received a Hyundai Hope on Wheels Young Investigator Grant, one of ten awarded nationally to expand the knowledge base of pediatric cancer and improve the standards of care.
- Research by Meghan Joly, Ph.D., with insights on poor survival in pancreatic cancer, was judged best by a postdoctoral fellow at the International Symposium on Pancreatic Cancer 2016.
- Doctoral student Kevin Watanabe-Smith took first place in Oregon’s Three Minute Thesis competition.
- OHSU Knight Cancer Institute biologist Amanda Lund, Ph.D., was awarded a Young Investigator Award from the Melanoma Research Alliance.
- Knight Cancer Institute researchers Brian Druker, M.D., and Michael Heinrich, M.D., ranked among the “world’s most influential scientific minds,” according to the annual list produced by Thomson Reuters.
- Knight Cancer Institute member Charles R. Thomas, Jr., M.D., earned the distinction of Doctor-Citizen of the Year from the Oregon Medical Association for “outstanding contributions to the community, the practice of medicine, and to health care policy in Oregon.”
- The Cancer Moonshot initiative led by Vice President Joe Biden, selected four OHSU faculty members – Sadik Esener, Ph.D., Joe Gray, Ph.D., Melissa Haendel, Ph.D., and Shannon McWeeney, Ph.D. – for working groups aiming to accelerate progress in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
- A team including Paul Spellman, Ph.D., identified many of the altered genes and cell signaling pathways that drive papillary renal cell carcinoma, a poorly understood form of cancer that accounts for about 15 percent of kidney tumors. The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are likely to affect clinical recommendations, and should help guide the development of more precisely targeted therapies.
- Reviving hope for using tumor-specific immunity to fight prostate cancer, Julie Graff, M.D., presented the first evidence of meaningful clinical activity for PD-1 blockade in men with metastatic prostate tumors. Prior studies showed no evidence of anti-tumor activity with immune therapies that work by blocking PD-1 signals.
- Researchers led by Peter Kurre, M.D., uncovered a specialized weapon deployed by acute myeloid leukemia: secreting membrane-bound vesicles, or exosomes, that are loaded with microRNA molecules that target and disrupt a pivotal control system in the blood-forming stem cells.
- Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., and colleagues discovered a key immune signaling link that drives pancreatic cancer. They showed that inhibition of Bruton tyrosine kinase, or BTK, with the FDA-approved drug ibrutinib restores T cell–dependent anti-tumor immune responses. The preclinical work led to the initiation of clinical trials testing BTK inhibitors in pancreatic cancer and also in head and neck cancer.
- In a study of more than 5,800 smokers discharged from the OHSU hospital over two years, David Gonzales, Ph.D., and colleagues obtained real-world data on factors that predict success in completing tobacco cessation, which they used to recommend strategies for improving referrals.
Collaborating to accelerate progress
- The Beat AML Master Trial emerged from a collaboration started by the Knight Cancer Institute and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. It is an umbrella trial designed to speed up discovery of new treatments for acute myeloid leukemia by matching patients with one of several different drugs selected to block a specific tumor mutation or signaling pathway.
- Lisa Coussens, Ph.D., began working with Seattle-based NanoString Technologies on studies to better understand the immune response in cancer using myeloid gene expression panels.
- Two prominent collaborators, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, joined the Collaborative Cancer Cloud developed by the Knight Cancer Institute and Intel Corp. The data platform is designed to allow institutions to share gene sequencing, imaging and clinical records on a massive scale.
- OHSU’s Center for Spatial Systems Biomedicine directed by Joe Gray, Ph.D., began mapping the pancreatic cancer microenvironment with ClearLight Diagnostics, a company developing tissue-processing and imaging technology for viewing the interactions of proteins, DNA and other cellular components in three dimensions.
- The Swedish biotech firm Immunovia and the Knight Cancer Institute reached another milestone in developing a blood test for the early detection of pancreatic cancer. The company’s antibody microarray was able to identify samples from patients with pancreatic cancer with 96 percent accuracy.
Fulfilling the promise of early detection
- The Knight Cancer Institute recruited engineer, entrepreneur and nanotechnology expert Sadik Esener, Ph.D., to lead its major new initiative on the precision early detection of life-threatening cancers.
- The world’s leading scientists in cancer early detection came to Portland for the first of a series of international conferences planned by the Knight Cancer Institute and Cancer Research UK. (The inaugural meeting featured an appearance by comedian Jay Leno, who led a talk-show style discussion with Brian Druker, M.D., and others.)
- The early detection initiative got a nice shoutout on Good Morning America from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who was promoting a new memoir.
Breaking new ground for cancer research
- A crowd of nearly 500 celebrated the groundbreaking for the Knight Cancer Research Building. “It marks the beginning of a new era in cancer medicine, discoveries and cures – once again signaling that in Oregon we blaze trails,” Gov. Kate Brown declared. (There’s video of the event at the Knight Cancer Institute Facebook page).
- The building team won the city’s approval in December to push forward with the next phase of construction – still within a month of the planned date for securing permits. The building is on its way to LEED Platinum status for energy efficiency and environmental health.
- Nearby on the South Waterfront, the Rood Family Pavilion will provide a home away from home for patients traveling from afar. And the 15-story CHH Building 2 will add space for cancer patient care and clinical trials. ZGF Architects, the firm designing these two buildings was recently judged overall best in the country by Architect magazine.