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AACR: 'Dream Teams' Stand Up to Cancer

In a session moderated by Phillip Sharp, professor at MIT's Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, principal investigators of the five Stand Up to Cancer grant-funded Dream Teams, researchers shared their progress. With SU2C, "we were challenged for finding teams out of a process that solicited — across the country — new ideas. And we used several criteria to look at these teams," Sharp told attendees of the American Association for Cancer Research's annual meeting. "Innovation: what could be done new, now? Translation to patients: let's make sure we select science that can be in patients within the period of the grant. Have an impact — make something happen, be different." Sharp said that out of the hundreds of proposals the AACR Scientific Advisory Committee to SU2C received, they eventually narrowed it down to 12 investigators, and merged disparate groups to enhance interdisciplinary collaborations.

Meanwhile, Steve Baylin at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his colleagues are "bridging epigenetic therapy to the forefront of cancer," by creating "novel uses of existing drugs." Their goal is to bring epigenetics "to the forefront of [cancer] management" within three years, in order to create a "large therapeutic impact for subgroups of patients." Lewis Cantley at Harvard Medical School and his colleagues are working to target the PI3K pathway in breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. Their emphasis is on "biomarkers, biomarkers, biomarkers," he said. "Our goal is to deeply interrogate the mutational status." Daniel Haber of Massachusetts General Hospital and his team aim to enhance the clinical applications of circulating tumor cell chips with their engineering of a "herringbone chip," which induces turbulent flow, forcing cell adherence, therefore achieving higher sensitivity — and hopefully, scalability in the future. Dennis Slamon at the University of California, Los Angeles' Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Joe Gray, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, relayed the progress of their "fusion" dream team's "shotgun marriage." The two teams merged as part of the SU2C selection process, and have seen success together since. They aim to explore the molecular diversity of human breast cancers.

Also, Daniel Van Hoff at the Translational Genomics Institute and his colleagues aim to increase the one-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients and are "get[ting] up to speed on metabolomics"; Craig Thompson at the University of Pennsylvanian Abramson Cancer Center aims to ascertain why their appears to be "something different about certain cancers not amenable to the standards of therapy."

Though exact funding details were not disclosed during the session, Van Hoff called SU2C's challenge "an excellent check on our own science." Cantley said that the flexible funding that SU2C provides has "allowed us to innovate this as we go…[we] can't wait for the genetic profiling test," he said, but with this "unique funding mechanism…we've been given the keys to the store."

SU2C is also supporting 13 young investigators as part of their Innovative Research Grant program.