Knight Cancer signal achievements of 2017

Anupriya Agarwal, Ph.D., works in her lab (OHSU photo by Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Serving Oregonians. Delivering discoveries. Developing talented clinicians and scientists. Leading the way. Here’s a look at the accomplishments of the people at the Knight Cancer Institute. They reflect a mission of delivering compassionate care and scientific discoveries that will end cancer as we know it.

Serving Oregonians

  • OHSU was first in the Pacific Northwest to offer the first FDA-approved CAR-T-cell therapy, Novartis’s Kymriah, in which immune system T cells from each patient are genetically modified to target leukemia cells. Eneida Nemecek, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., director of the pediatric bone marrow transplantation program at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, was a principal investigator in the pivotal clinical trial.
  • The Community Partnership Program led by Jackilen Shannon, Ph.D., R.D., and Kerri Winters-Stone, Ph.D., extended its reach to all 36 Oregon counties. The program supplies funding and guidance for projects that address local, community-led cancer-related needs.
Sokhonna Hiet (left), Ryannah Thilavan and their grandmother picked up fresh vegetables in a project supported by the Knight Cancer Community Partnership Program (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)
Sokhonna Hiet (left), Ryannah Thilavan and their grandmother picked up fresh vegetables in a project supported by the Knight Cancer Community Partnership Program (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)
  • The Knight Cancer Institute is one of 12 National Cancer Institute-designated centers to receive NCI awards to increase HPV vaccine coverage, a safe and effective means to prevent cervical cancer, head-and-neck cancer, and other malignancies caused by human papillomavirus. Rates of completed vaccination in rural Oregon counties are as low as 16 percent for teen girls and 6 percent for teen boys.
  • The Knight Cancer Institute received official confirmation of its Comprehensive Cancer Center status from the National Cancer Institute, the highest distinction given by the NCI.
  • The team developing the Knight Cancer Institute’s new research building kept its budget on target at $190 million with 90 percent of the construction bids in, and all city permits issued. The efficiency is making it possible to build out more of the interior space than expected when the project began.
  • U.S. News & World Report rated OHSU among the top 30 for adult cancer care in its Best Hospital Rankings. The Knight Cancer Institute advanced to number 26 in the nation – up from 36 the previous year.

Delivering discoveries

  • Cancer survivors who engage in strength training or other vigorous physical activity tend to live longer and have a lower risk of recurrence than those who don’t work out. A new study led by Kerri Winters-Stone, Ph.D.helps explain why. In another study, Winters-Stone and colleagues found that supplying an exercise video to women with breast cancer can help them significantly improve fatigue symptoms.
Michael Heinrich, M.D. meets with Victoria Castle of Sacramento, California during an appointment, November 1, 2017 at OHSU. Castle, who was diagnosed with gastrointestinal stromal tumor in 2009, began seeing Heinrich in 2014. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)
Michael Heinrich, M.D., meets with Victoria Castle, a GIST survivor (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)
  • Cancers can evolve quickly to resist drugs designed to stop them. It’s the big limitation of targeted therapies. A team including Michael Heinrich, M.D., found a way to re-target a deadly gastrointestinal cancer. The new agent is being tested in a phase 1 clinical trial at OHSU and other medical centers, and the company developing it has announced plans to begin a phase 3 trial in the first half of 2018.
  • Breast cancers that emerge after a woman gives birth are significantly more deadly. Pepper Schedin, Ph.D., and doctoral student Erica Goddard are closing in on the reasons why. They’ve discovered how the liver – one of the most common sites of breast cancer metastasis – becomes vulnerable to tumor invasion after childbirth.
  • Aggressive prostate tumors can rapidly evolve resistance to a promising new class of drugs called PARP inhibitors. But it may be possible to detect resistance early enough to counteractJoshi Alumkal, M.D., and colleagues reported.
  • Average life expectancy had been no better than 18 months for people diagnosed with advanced gastrointestinal stromal tumors, or GISTs. The outlook changed dramatically in 2001 with the arrival of the targeted therapy drug imatinib (Gleevec). “Now we’ve learned that some might live a decade or longer. And we’ve come to understand which class of patients benefit the most,” said Michael Heinrich, M.D., first author of a report on long-term outcomes.

Developing talent

  • Anupriya Agarwal, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the OHSU School of Medicine and researcher with the Knight Cancer Institute, is among the winners of the American Cancer Society’s 2017 Research Scholar Grants for scientists in the first six years of an independent research career or faculty appointment.
  • With a $50,000 Early exploration & Development Fund award, Uma Borate, M.D., M.S., is pursing work to improve the early detection of incipient cancers in people with inherited gene mutations linked to myelodysplastic syndrome and acute myeloid leukemia. She is an assistant professor in the OHSU School of Medicine.
Uma Borate appeared on the "Portland Today" television show with ten-year-old Ramsey Farrar, who had recently celebrated his fifth year free of cancer.
Uma Borate appeared on the “Portland Today” television show with ten-year-old Ramsey Farrar, who had recently celebrated his fifth year free of cancer.
  • Timur Mitin, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Medicine, picked up a Coltman fellowship for outstanding early-career investigators at the April meeting in San Francisco of the SWOG clinical trials cooperative group. The award provides $100,000 in salary support over two years to outstanding early and mid-career investigators.
  • Research presented by Rosemary Morgan, M.D.took first place in the residents’ competition at the Pacific Coast Surgical Association Annual Meeting in February. Morgan, a surgery research resident working in the lab of SuEllen Pommier, Ph.D., reported on the role of breast cancer stem cells in treatment failure after neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
CURE intern DeAuj’Zhane Coley talks science with Brian Druker, M.D. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)
CURE intern DeAuj’Zhane Coley talks science with Brian Druker, M.D. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)
  • The Knight Cancer Institute’s Ted R. Lilley Cancer CURE internships extend opportunities to high school students who excel in science, but come from communities that are underrepresented in medical and research fields. This year, the eight-week internship included nine students chosen from 57 applicants. Since 2002, all of the graduating high school seniors who participated have successfully enrolled in a university or college.
  • The Knight Cancer Institute awarded nine pilot project grants to help early career and senior investigators generate preliminary data to pursue more expansive funding from external, peer-reviewed sources. The $50,000 awards are made possible by support from philanthropic donors and the Knight’s NCI Cancer Center Support Grant.

Leading the way

  • The world’s leading scientists in cancer early detection gathered in Cambridge, England, for the second annual Early Detection of Cancer Conference organized by the Knight Cancer Institute and Cancer Research UK. The two organizations established two new funding opportunities to foster collaborations between UK and OHSU scientists working on cancer early detection, and created an online tool that matches scientists with similar research interests.
  • A $2.5 million surprise gift from the Wayne D. Kuni & Joan E. Kuni Foundation funded an endowed chair for Knight Cancer Institute researcher Joshi Alumkal, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology.
Joshi Alumkal, M.D., meets with intern Sherwin Shabdar (OHSU/Boone Speed)
Joshi Alumkal, M.D., meets with intern Sherwin Shabdar (OHSU/Boone Speed)
  • Knight Cancer Institute Director Brian Druker, M.D., came in at no. 8 in Medscape’s ranking of the 25 most influential physicians in the past century, which included the likes of Jonas Salk, George Papanicolau, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and Virginia Apgar. Druker also received one of the highest honors bestowed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, its Science of Oncology Award and Lecture.
  • With a $15 million award from the National Institutes of Health, a team including Adam Margolin, Ph.D., is building the largest database on pediatric cancers. Margolin is an associate professor of biomedical engineering and director of computational biology in the OHSU School of Medicine and the Knight Cancer Institute.
  • Vinay Prasad, M.D., M.P.H., landed a $2 million award from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation for a three-year project aiming to uncover low-value medical treatments and tests, particularly those that are contradicted by reliable evidence yet still commonly offered.
  • The first federally funded clinical trial of immunotherapy for rare cancers was organized by SWOG, the research consortium headquartered at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. The study team includes Christopher Ryan, M.D., a professor in the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology.
  • The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory formed one of the three new Proteogenomic Translational Research Centers funded by the National Cancer Institute to advance the use of protein and gene analysis to better understand the molecular basis of cancer. Brian Druker, M.D., is the principle investigator with co-investigators Anupriya Agarwal, Ph.D., Uma Borate, M.D., Marc Loriaux, M.D., Ph.D., and Jeff Tyner, Ph.D.