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Massey showcases world-class research at its annual Cancer Research Retreat

Massey director Gordon Ginder (center) welcomed Pendleton Memorial Lecture keynote speakers Robert Schnoll (left) and Jeffrey Engelman (right) to present at Massey's Cancer Research Retreat.

On Friday, June 16, researchers from across Virginia Commonwealth University took part in Massey Cancer Center’s annual Cancer Research Retreat. While there was no formal theme, many of the morning’s presentations detailed research relating to smoking cessation and the development of new therapies to treat lung cancer.

After a welcome from Massey’s Director Gordon Ginder, M.D., Robert Schnoll, Ph.D., presented the first of two Pendleton Memorial Lectures. Schnoll, who is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, discussed the challenges in getting people to quit smoking. He then presented his research on developing new, more effective medications, improving the efficacy of current treatments and increasing the use of evidence-based approaches for smoking cessation.

Following Schnoll, Swati Palit Deb, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Molecular Genetics research program at Massey, presented on recent research she led that uncovered a mechanism that makes lung cancer cells dependent on mutated versions of the p53 gene, opening the potential for new, more effective targeted therapies. Next, Hisashi Harada, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Cell Signaling research program at Massey, discussed his research showing that the drug venetoclax could be a promising new therapy for small cell lung cancers expressing high levels of the protein BCL-2.

The poster session featured nearly 75 research studies at Massey.

The second Pendleton Memorial Lecture and final presentation of the day was delivered by Jeffrey Engelman, M.D., Ph.D., vice president and global head of oncology research at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Engelman discussed efforts at Novartis to overcome resistance to targeted therapies, outlining several studies involving drugs designed to target genetic mutations in lung cancers.

“We hold this event every year to not only display the outstanding cancer research being conducted at Massey but also to spur collaboration among our researchers,” says Ginder, who also holds the Jeanette and Eric Lipman Chair in Oncology at Massey. “I’d like to thank everyone for making this year’s retreat such a success, especially our two keynote speakers whose research aligns with many of Massey’s own efforts and future research goals.”

At the afternoon poster session nearly 75 research studies—the most in the history of Massey’s Cancer Research Retreat—were presented by VCU graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. A panel of judges comprised of Massey research program members evaluated the posters for Excellence in Cancer Research Awards.

“We were thrilled by the participation in this year’s poster session,” says the retreat’s faculty organizer Jolene Windle, Ph.D., co-leader of the Cancer Molecular Genetics program and Irene Shaw Grigg Distinguished Professor in Genetics Research at Massey as well as professor in the VCU Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. “The quality of the research being presented was so high that our judges awarded a tie for third place.”

The poster session winners were (left to right): Wisam Toma, for third place; Ajinkya Kawale, for first place; Sierra Mosticone Wangensteen, for second place; and Daniel Heisey, for third place

One of the third-place prizes was awarded to Daniel A. R. Heisey, whose research suggested that the BCL-2 inhibitor venetoclax could potentially help overcome resistance to olaparib in the Ewing family tumors, which are a group of cancers that start in the bones or nearby soft tissues and share several common features. Wisam Toma received the other third-place prize for his preclinical experiments testing a novel treatment for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Second place was awarded to Sierra Mosticone Wangensteen for her research exposing a signaling pathway that may support breast cancer brain metastases by altering blood brain barrier permeability. First place went to Ajinkya Kawale, who revealed novel insights into the role of the PNKP enzyme and its interaction with various proteins that help repair DNA double-strand breaks and contribute to chemotherapy resistance.

Written by: John Wallace

Posted on: June 26, 2017