Massey Research Retreat features promising cancer research at VCU
On June 8, Massey held its annual Cancer Research Retreat, bringing together researchers, physicians and students from across VCU for a day of education and collaboration. After a short breakfast, VCU Massey Cancer Center Director Gordon Ginder, M.D., welcomed the large audience in the auditorium of the Kontos Medical Sciences Building before kicking off the morning seminar series.
Paul Dent, Ph.D., Universal Corporation Distinguished Professor for Cancer Cell Signaling and member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program, was the first Massey researcher to present. Dent focused on research that is leading to a phase 1 clinical trial at Massey opening in the coming months, detailing the series of preclinical experiments that showed a combination of the drugs neratinib and valproate enhances the effectiveness of immunotherapies known as checkpoint inhibitors. Next up was Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., Theresa A. Thomas Memorial Chair in Cancer Prevention and Control and associate director of disparities research at Massey. Sheppard presented on research at Massey to address a wide range of cancer disparities, as well as opportunities for inter-disciplinary collaborations to address needs in our communities. Following a short break, Seth Corey, M.D., Ph.D., Children’s Hospital Foundation Endowed Professor of Pediatric Cancer Research, discussed research involving zebra fish that’s providing new insights into the reasons for bone marrow failure leading to hematological disorders in children. Next, Mario Acunzo, Ph.D., member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey, talked about the potential of designing artificial microRNAs to target cancer-causing genetic mutations. The last presentation was the Frank D. Pendleton Memorial Lecture by Channing Der, Ph.D., Kenan Distinguished Professor at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Der summarized new directions in cancer research that hold potential for the development of effective drugs that target the RAS family of oncogenes, the most frequently mutated oncogene family in human cancer.
Following lunch, participants reconvened on the 11th and 12th floors of the McGlothlin Medical Education Center for the afternoon poster session. More than 65 students and postdoctoral fellows submitted research abstracts for the yearly Excellence in Cancer Research Awards. A panel of judges comprised of Massey research members spent more than two hours reviewing each abstract and discussing the research with the primary investigators. While there were many exciting ideas on display, the judges narrowed the field to three winners. Michael R. Evans took home third place for his research demonstrating that a subset of anti-viral genes known as U-ISGF3 are involved in the lifecycle of HPV-related oral cancers and could possibly be exploited for future therapies. Second place was awarded to Nicholas M. Clark for his innovative study showing that regulatory T cells can potentially be modulated through specific signaling pathways to help treat breast cancer. First place went to Janina A. Vaitkus, whose research centered on the role of brown adipose tissue, a type of fat that helps regulate body temperature, in cancer-associated cachexia. Her research is connected to an upcoming Massey Pilot Project-funded clinical trial exploring the role of thermogenic adipose tissue activation and expansion in cancer patients.