Progress report

Lurie Cancer Center:
#1 in Illinois and Top 10 in the Nation


The Hippocratic Cancer Research Foundation (HCRF) supports the research efforts of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. The Lurie Cancer Center has a long-standing history of providing the best in cancer research and patient care. The Lurie Cancer Center is a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), an alliance of 28 of the world's leading cancer centers dedicated to quality and effectiveness of cancer care. Through the NCCN, important guidelines and standards of cancer care are established and emulated at cancer centers throughout the country. The center is also a founding member of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, a network of academic institutions working together on clinical trials that can truly address the critical medical needs of cancer patients.

Comprised of outstanding clinicians and scientists, the Lurie Cancer Center has  approximately 300 researchers who have annually been awarded $200 million in NIH federal funding for cancer-relevant research. Together they bring the knowledge gained through basic, clinical and translational research directly to our patients. The Lurie Cancer Center and our physicians treat nearly 16,000 cancer patients each year, offering a full range of prevention, early detection, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care programs for all types of cancer. In addition to the excellence of our clinical care, the Lurie Cancer Center has cultivated major research strengths in a  variety of areas, including: breast cancer, gynecologic cancers, gastrointestinal and digestive cancers,  neurologic cancers, sarcoma, melanoma as well as pediatric cancers. With over 150,000 square feet of space  dedicated to research and administrative support, the Lurie Cancer Center provides access to the shared  resources of cell imaging, pathology, genomics, clinical research and more.  

We are positioned among an elite group of top cancer centers  in the country and poised for the next phase of growth," said Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, director of the Lurie Cancer  Center and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of HCRF. "We look forward to expanding our capabilities and intensifying our efforts to defeat cancer as a  disease. We have exciting plans for the future. We are also  expanding our precision medicine capabilities and leading-edge clinical trials across the rapidly growing Northwestern Medicine network."

The Hippocratic Cancer Research Foundation's diverse network of donors provides the philanthropic support to fund interdisciplinary cutting edge research teams at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of  Northwestern University, empowering their world-class investigators to join forces and address the most urgent questions in the fields of cancer biology and oncology in daring and innovative ways. By investing in  "out of the box" research, with an emphasis on translational cancer research, the HCRF will accelerate and  heighten the impact of scientific discoveries. The proceeding pages provide highlights on the very important  investment that has been made in research at the Lurie Cancer Center by the Hippocratic Cancer Research  Foundation.

LURIE CANCER CENTER PROGRAMS AND RESEARCH EFFORTS SUPPORTED BY FUNDS RAISED BY THE HIPPOCRATIC CANCER RESEARCH FOUNDATION 

Translational research combines clinical observation and laboratory research to produce advances in our  understanding and therapies for the treatment of cancer. Bedside to bench, or bench to bedside, has been  the key for medicine's greatest successes. HCRF support facilitates crucial laboratory-based efforts that have  the potential to lead to important discoveries and a deeper understanding of all cancers. Translational  research studies funded by and led by top researchers in the Lurie Cancer Center are summarized below.

Leonidas C. Platanias MD, Lurie Family Professor of Oncology, Professor of Medicine (Hematology-Oncology) and Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics 

The laboratory of Dr. Platanias has been working to understand the role of cytokines called interferons, as mediators of the immune response against cancer cells. With support from HCRF they have shown that some proteins in cancer cells called schlafens  can shut down the activation of the immune system in pancreatic cancer cells. This is important, as pancreatic cancer is completely refractory to immune therapy in contrast to other tumors. Dr. Platanias' team is now working with the chemistry core of Northwestern to develop new drugs that can target these proteins. This should result in completely new ways to treat cancer and may  apply to different types of tumors. In parallel related work, a clinical trial is currently planned based on the  research work that will involve combinations of interferon with a check point immune therapy for pancreatic cancer. 

Frank Eckerdt, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery (Research) 

Dr. Eckerdt is a key researcher on Dr. Platanias' team and he has been working to identify unique enzymes in brain cancers that can be used to develop novel therapies for glioblastoma, one of the most fatal cancers in humans. With support from HCRF,  his work recently established novel pharmacological combinations involving the targeting of special enzymes called MNK kinases. This work is further explored, in  collaboration with Dr. Gary Shiltz, a chemist at the Evanston campus of Northwestern, with attempts to develop novel and more specific drugs that block these kinases and,  ultimately, can be targeted for the treatment of brain tumors and other cancers.  

Elspeth Beauchamp, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Research) 

Dr. Beauchamp is has been focusing her work on acute myeloid leukemia, overseeing the area of leukemia research in Dr. Platanias' group. She has been working to identify new drugs of an important signaling pathway in malignant cells, called the  mTOR pathway. Using a high throughput screening approach with collaborators in the Evanston campus, she has identified a novel drug that blocks a protein that interacts with mTOR, called Sin1. This drug is a unique inhibitor of mTOR and has activity in the laboratory against leukemia. She is currently working with chemists to optimize the drug to develop it further, ultimately, for clinical use. Beyond leukemia, this drug may have  activity against other tumors and will be studied as well. 

Diana Saleiro, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Research) 

Dr. Saleiro has been working to understand immune pathways in malignant melanoma,  one of the most virulent forms of skin cancer. With the support of HCRF she was able to identify a previously unknown mechanism in melanoma cells, in which interferon pathways and genes correlate with either response or resistance to immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment in melanoma in a context-dependent manner. She has also identified a gene called ULK1, whose expression correlates with survival in melanoma.  She is currently examining the role of ULK1 in the generation of immune responses in melanoma and  whether combination of inhibitors of ULK1 with immune therapies may provide a new effective approach for the treatment of melanoma. 

TRANSLATIONAL BRIDGES 

A unique, leading-edge initiative, the Translational Bridge Program, supports the creation of interdisciplanary  research teams and their ability to join forces, empowering investigators to addresss the most urgent  questions in the fields of cancer biology and oncology in daring and innovative ways. This program funds  the salary and/or supplies of a research scientist or post-doc working in the laboratory of a translational  researcher, who is also supervised by a clinical investigator, aiming to bring the basic research discovery to  the clinic.

CANCER CLINICAL TRIALS  

Every cancer treatment that is saving lives today is the result of a clinical trial. The Lurie Cancer Center is  involved in more than 300 clinical therapy trials at any given time, covering a broad range of research  relevant to the 14 cancer-types. The estimated annual cost of clinical trials for the Lurie Cancer Center is $10  million total with philanthropy funding approximately 50 percent of this cost and the remaining cost funded  through industry or federal grants. HCRF support has been used to fund highly innovative trials for  different types of cancer, reflecting cutting edge research translated to the laboratory. Clinical trials  currently being supported in part by HCRF include:

HIPPOCRATIC SCHOLARS

The Hippocratic Scholar Awards are selected via a thorough review of many applications once a year and each support researchers who have designed highly innovative, cutting-edge basic science that will advance the efforts of Lurie  Cancer Center members to eliminate cancer. For this award that provides important research support, the  researchers are required to have previously shown evidence of national and international recognition and presence.  Three Hippocratic scholars were selected in February 2019.  

Looking forward

The Hippocratic Cancer Research Foundation has made a major difference in the fight against cancer, by allowing Lurie Cancer Center researchers to develop out of the box ideas for basic science research projects  and translational-high impact-clinical trials. The establishment of the Hippocratic Scholar Awards is also a form of recognition for exceptional researchers aiming to develop new treatments for cancer. Going forward, HCRF's support will be even more important for the next phase of research, as the early results can  be expanded, translated and lead to new cancer breakthroughs. We are very grateful for HCRF's continued support of the Lurie Cancer Center and we look forward to working jointly with the members of the  foundation to accelerate the development of new cures for cancer.