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Massey sunburst shines bright in San Diego during AACR Annual Meeting 2024

Apr 16, 2024

Massey booth at AACR Annual Meeting 2024 in San Diego

VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center again made a splash as a worldwide leader in cancer care, research and education during the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2024 in San Diego on April 5-10.

The international conference recorded a record number of registrants this year of more than 23,000, and is billed by the AACR as “the focal point of the cancer research community, where scientists, clinicians, other health care professionals, survivors, patients and advocates gather to share the latest advances in cancer science and medicine.”

Nearly 50 representatives affiliated with Massey and VCU put their expertise and scientific discoveries on display over the course of the conference through panel sessions, informative presentations, Q&A seminars, poster abstracts and more. Additionally, for the first time in Massey’s 50-year history, the cancer center hosted a booth in the exhibit hall of the AACR 2024 Annual Meeting.

Friday, April 5

 

Winn discusses new solutions for old problems regarding clinical trial enrollment

Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., explained the importance of asking questions and its impact on cancer health outcomes during a workshop focused on increasing racial and ethnic diversity in clinical trials. Susan Halabi, Ph.D., of Duke University and Richard Schilsky, M.D., of the University of Chicago also participated in this workshop.

“We have consistently blamed our communities without considering what we’ve done to get them enrolled. It’s time to do a different thing," Winn said.

Winn leads grant writing session for new investigators

During a grant writing workshop designed to provide new investigators with practical tools to write competitive grants, Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., led a presentation titled "Why Write a Grant and How to Keep Going When You Feel Like You Can't."

"Grace and humility will get you over every bridge," Winn said during the session.

Saturday, April 6

Trevino moderates professional development panel for undergraduate students

 
Massey surgeon-in-chief Jose Trevino, M.D., moderated a professional development panel and Q&A for undergraduate students, during which the panelists discussed their training, career paths and defining mistakes that brought them where they are today. Panelists included Heather Beasley, Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University; Safa Majeed, M.D., Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto; Francesco Caiazza, Ph.D., of CytomX Therapeutics, Inc.; and Pablo Sanchis, graduate student at the University of Buenos Aires.

"If you're not appreciating your failures as much as your successes, then you're not appreciating life," Trevino said. "Failure is a part of life...But it makes you who you are at the end of the day."

Wages presents on clinical trial design and implementation

Nolan Wages, Ph.D., director of Massey's Biostatistics Shared Resource, talked about the implementation of novel dose-finding designs in early phase trials during a workshop on the role of biostatistics in clinical trials.

“Difficulty should no longer be a barrier...with the software and other resources available for novel dose-finding methods," Wages said.

Makar studies role of white blood cells in breast gland development

During an undergraduate and student caucus and poster competition, Sandra Makar — a research assistant in the lab of Massey researcher Paula Bos, Ph.D., and former mentee through Massey's CURE program — presented her research identifying a critical role of regulatory T (Treg) cells in mammary gland development. The findings suggest the potential for future research examining the connection between Treg cells and mammary gland stem cells, including Treg cells' impact on the growth of early-stage breast cancer into more invasive disease. Makar received an Honorable Mention award for her poster presentation. VCU collaborators on this study include Bos, Sareh Bayatpour, Hossein Ehsanbakhsh, Ailén García-Santillán and He Shen.

Sunday, April 7

Massey hosts booth for first-time ever at AACR Annual Meeting

For the first time in Massey's 50 years, the cancer center had a booth in the exhibit hall of the AACR 2024 Annual Meeting. Individuals from Massey's Cancer Research Training and Education Coordination (CRTEC) summer experiences and the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Award Program spoke with attendees about ways that current and aspiring scientists can get involved with Massey. Additionally, two community members joined us to share information about the importance of community-led research. Rev. Dr. Cheryl Ivey Green represented Massey's Facts & Faith Fridays; Sharon Rivera Sanchez, the founder of Pennies for a Cure and Trials of Color, was on hand to share information about Massey's Cancer Champions and Community Grant Initiative. The booth also featured an interactive digital photo mosaic, which can be viewed by scrolling down the page here.

Scientists study the effects of neighborhood disadvantage on aggressive prostate cancer

Kathryn Barry, Ph.D., M.P.H., cancer epidemiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and Joseph Boyle, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow in Massey's T32 Cancer Prevention and Control-Cancer Health Equity Research Training Program, presented their work investigating the associations between neighborhood disadvantage and aggressive prostate cancer in African American and European American men. This study is one of the first to formally report links between racial segregation and redlining and advanced prostate cancer.
 
Massey researcher David Wheeler, Ph.D., was a collaborator on this study.

Han studies how fiber type and energy consumption contribute to muscle wasting in pancreatic cancer

 
Bo Han, Ph.D., a researcher at Keck Medicine of USC and collaborator with Massey chief of surgery Jose Trevino, M.D., shared findings from her study investigating how pancreatic cancer-derived organoids impact muscle fiber and energy consumption, ultimately leading to cachexia. This research suggests that developing an in vitro cachexia model will enhance the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying cancer-associated cachexia.

Winn Awards scholar proposes way forward for increasing clinical trials diversity

Sheldon Holder, M.D., Ph.D., member of the first cohort of the Winn Awards program and a physician-scientist at Legoretta Cancer Center, proposed a novel strategy for increasing diversity in cancer clinical trials that involves a systematic network among historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). "Why don't we have a cancer consortium run by HBCUs?" Holder asked. Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., was a collaborator on this research initiative.

 

Shahab emphasizes data desegregation among cancer registries

Guleer Shahab, M.P.H., a Ph.D. student at Massey and the VCU School of Medicine, highlighted the need for diverse cancer registries to accurately reflect representation from Southwest Asian and North African (SWANA) populations. Her study findings indicate that misclassification of the SWANA ethnicity may be obscuring important cancer outcome disparities. "Data desegregation is one of the keys to alleviating cancer inequities," Shahab said. Shahab collaborated on this study with Massey research members Andrew Barnes, Ph.D., and Katherine Y. Tossas, Ph.D., M.S.

Massey celebrates AACR success at team dinner

About 50 Massey team members joined together for dinner at a seafood restaurant on Sunday evening to celebrate the cancer center's presence at the conference and growing reputation as a national and international leader in cancer science and care.

 

Monday, April 8

Trevino leads roundtable discussion on career advancement

Massey surgeon-in-chief Jose Trevino, M.D., led a professional advancement session table discussion on balancing research and clinical practice to navigate a path to a successful career in cancer research. This interactive session and networking reception provided a forum in which students, junior investigators and early-career researchers could discuss professional development topics and survival skills during informal mentored roundtable discussion.

Massey director selected for cancer equity leaders team, meets with NCI cancer disparities leader

On April 8, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) announced the Cancer Equity Leaders (CEL), a diverse team of premier cancer research leaders who will reimagine and transform the future of cancer health equity. Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., has been selected as one of 13 members of the CEL. The group will work to assess the landscape to elucidate critical strengths and gaps in cancer equity infrastructure, prioritize the critical needs for expanding institutional capacity and achieving cancer health equity, and develop a strategic agenda to enhance the National Cancer Plan.

Altman uses RNA sequencing data integration to decode breast cancer

Julia Altman, a Ph.D. candidate in the lab of Massey research member Chuck Harrell, Ph.D., showed off her research using a form of RNA sequencing data integration to decode breast cancer and effectively identify which compounds correlate to which disease subtypes. "It's important for predicting response in patients," Altman said. VCU collaborators on this study include David Boyd, Ph.D. Mikhail Dozmorov, Ph.D., Nicole Hairr, Bin Hu, Ph.D., Jennifer Koblinski, Ph.D., Rachel Myrick, Amy Olex, Ph.D., Madhavi Puchalapalli, M.S., Carson Walker and Emily Zboril.

Massey researcher presents findings on tobacco use among rural youth and cannabis use among cancer survivors

Massey research member Sunny Jung Kim, Ph.D., M.S., presented findings from two different research efforts at the AACR Annual Meeting 2024. One study examined the association between tobacco marketing exposure, media screen use and tobacco use among rural youth populations. Her other study looked at quality of life in cancer survivors who use cannabis, which supports future studies investigating psycho-oncology outcomes of cannabis use in cancer survivors. 

VCU collaborators on these studies include Ghader Abbasabad, M.P.H., Jeremy Barsell, M.S., Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., Kendall Fugate-Laus, Rashelle Hayes, Ph.D., LCP, Susan Hong, M.D., Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D., and David Wheeler, Ph.D.

Omeaku studies impact of Medicaid expansion on colorectal cancer screenings

Paulette Omeaku, M.P.H., a student researcher at Massey and the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Population Health, assesses the impact of Medicaid expansion on the use of colorectal cancer preventative services. Her findings indicate that although Medicaid expansion improved access to colorectal cancer screenings for low-income populations, additional barriers remain for minority groups and more targeted interventions are still needed.

"We know policies like Medicaid and Medicare are effective but they need to be created with communities in mind," Omeaku said.

VCU collaborators on this research include Eric Britton, Ph.D., Peter Cunningham, Ph.D., and Arnethea Sutton, Ph.D.

International partnership examines clinical trial participation among Hispanic and Latino gastrointestinal cancer survivors

Massey researcher Arnethea Sutton, Ph.D., and Hilmaris Centeno-Girona, M.S., of the University of Puerto Rico Comprehensive Cancer Center, presented their findings from two different studies assessing clinical trials awareness and participation among Hispanic and Latino gastrointestinal cancer survivors, in populations from both the United States and in Puerto Rico. They found that many survivors were aware of clinical trials, but did not how to participate in them, prompting further assessment of the social determinants of health that impact clinical trials participation among these populations. 

VCU collaborators on these studies include Katherine Y. Tossas, Ph.D., M.S., Victoria Williams and Robert A. Winn, M.D.

Turner uses research to inform enduring cancer disparities

Massey research member David Turner, Ph.D., presented his study findings titled "Non-enzymatic glycoxidation reports on society, environment and biology to inform on enduring cancer disparities." 

VCU collaborators on this research include Boxiao Ding, Victoria Findlay, Ph.D., and Bradley Krisanits, Ph.D.

 

Vudatha links redlined neighborhoods to worse outcomes in pancreatic cancer

Vignesh Vudatha, M.D., general surgery resident at Massey and the VCU School of Medicine, showed Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., his research that uncovered how living in redlined neighborhoods is linked to diminished survival in patients with the most common type of pancreatic cancer. This study supports the need for future research examining the intersection of Home Owners' Loan Corporation grades, residential distance from cancer centers and patient outcomes. 

VCU collaborators on this study include Devon Freudenberger, M.D., Christopher Liu and Jose Trevino, M.D.

Researchers look for treatment response biomarkers in breast cancer

Carson Walker, Ph.D. student at Massey and the VCU School of Medicine, and Massey research member Chuck Harrell, Ph.D., showcased their efforts looking at the relationship between chemo resistance and the efficacy of an antibody drug conjugate in triple-negative breast cancer. Using a clinically approved drug called sacituzumab govitecan, they set out to identify predictive biomarkers of treatment response in breast tumors. 

VCU collaborators on this research include Julia Altman, David Boyd, Ph.D., Mikhail Dozmorov, Ph.D., Nicole Hairr, Bin Hu, Ph.D., Rachel Myrick and Emily Zboril.

Wright studies enzyme's role in pancreatic cancer growth

Polina Wright, a student in the laboratory of Massey research member Azeddine Atfi, Ph.D., presented her research unveiling a critical role of the enzyme transglutaminase 2 (TGM2) in pancreatic cancer development, opening avenues for targeted treatments to ultimately improve patient prognosis.

 

 

Winn Awards scholars, members meet up at AACR meeting

Winn Awards scholars and members of the national advisory council stopped by the Massey booth at the AACR Annual Meeting 2024. The program, named after Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., aims to increase diversity in clinical trials and transform the clinical research landscape.

 

 

Scientists use AI to study mutational profiles in pancreatic cancer

Vignesh Vudatha, M.D., general surgery resident at Massey and the VCU School of Medicine, and Brooke Rhead of Tempus Labs, Inc., used artificial intelligence modeling to identify potential associations between pancreatic cancer mutational profiles, genetic ancestry and race/ethnicity. Their findings suggest that there are not large differences in mutational profiles for pancreatic cancer according to genetic ancestry or by race and ethnicity. 

Massey surgeon-in-chief Jose Trevino, M.D., collaborated on this study.

Research partners from Puerto Rico stop by Massey booth

The AACR 2024 Annual Meeting presented an opportunity for the Massey team to connect with the University of Puerto Rico Comprehensive Cancer Center (UPRCCC). Some UPRCCC students stopped by the Massey booth to say hello. In 2023, Massey and UPRCCC launched the post-doctoral BRIDGE fellowship focusing on Latino health. Researchers from both institutions teamed up to present research at the AACR conference.

 

Tuesday, April 9

Massey team members meet with NCI director

Several members of the Massey team had the privilege to meet and discuss the future of cancer research with W. Kimryn Rathmell, M.D., Ph.D., M.M.H.C., director of the National Cancer Institute, during the AACR Annual Meeting 2024.

 

Winn chairs AACR Cancer Health Disparities steering committee

Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., chair of the AACR Cancer Health Disparities steering committee, met with the full committee ahead of the release of the 2024 Cancer Disparities Progress Report, May 15 on Capitol Hill. This landmark report features the latest research on why disparities in cancer incidence, diagnosis, treatment, and survival exist, and what can be done to address them. Additionally, it underscores tales of survival and highlights the work of policymakers in breaking down these disparities. Massey research members Katherine Y. Tossas, Ph.D., M.S., and Nolan Wages, Ph.D., are also on the steering committee.

Trevino speaks to high school students about humble beginnings

Massey surgeon-in-chief Jose Trevino, M.D., delivered a presentation about moving beyond humble beginnings at a session designed for high school students titled "The Conquest of Cancer and the Next Generation of Cancer Researchers." 

“Where you sit right now sets you up to be behind a podium like I am today talking about cancer," Trevino addressed the room of students.

 

Massey scientists identify effective combination therapy in triple-negative breast cancer

Massey scientists — including research member Sandro R.P. da Rocha, Ph.D.; Ph.D. student Matthew Fernandez; and Douglas Sweet, Ph.D. — showcased how macrophaged-targeting immunotherapy enhances chemotherapy response for primary and metastatic breast cancer. Fernandez highlighted how their study demonstrated that macrophage immunotherapy in triple-negative breast cancer models leads to improved outcomes when used in combination with chemotherapy. 

Other VCU collaborators on this research include Yasir Alshehry, Harry Bear, M.D., Ph.D., Jennifer Koblinski, Ph.D., and Laura Graham.

Dalton explores metabolic relationships in neuroblastoma

Krista Dalton, Ph.D., scientist in the laboratory of Massey research member Anthony Faber, Ph.D., presented her research exploring the relationship between metabolism and the epigenome in MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma. The findings could inform the development of novel treatment option for a high-risk disease that has few clinically actionable targets. 

Other VCU collaborators on this research include Marissa Calbert, Colin Coon, Mikhail Dozmorov, Ph.D., Jennifer Koblinski, Ph.D., Timothy Lochmann and Lisa Shock, Ph.D.

 

Heath analyzes the relationship between neighborhood violence, genetic changes and lung cancer

Hannah Heath, a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and collaborator with Massey director Robert A. Winn, M.D., studied how neighborhood violence alters genes and drives lung tumor growth. She hopes the findings could help change lung screening requirements and reduce cancer disparities.

Hosseini investigates role of DDI2 in autophagy

Nora Hosseini, a Ph.D. candidate in the laboratory of Massey researcher Senthil Radhakrishnan, Ph.D., led a poster session on her research investigating the cellular mechanisms involved in autophagy and cancer cell death. Her findings indicate that targeting DDI2 in combination with autophagy inhibition could further potentiate novel proteasome inhibitor drugs as anti-cancer therapies. Holly Byers also collaborated on this study.

 

Thomson explores medical mistrust and preventive cancer care

Massey research member Maria Thomson, Ph.D., showcased her work examining the relationship between medical mistrust and access to preventive cancer care among American Indian, Black and white Virginians. Her study demonstrated significantly elevated medical mistrust factors among Black and American Indian populations, but was not necessarily associated with access to preventive cancer care. 

Jacqueline Knight Wilt, M.P.H., collaborated on this study.

Turner studies racial differences in breast cancer survivors receiving cardiotoxic therapy

Ashley Turner, Massey research assistant in the C.A.R.E.S. lab at VCU, presented her work investigating racial differences in treatment experiences among breast cancer patients receiving cardiotoxic therapy. Black breast cancer survivors are up to three times more likely to develop cancer therapy-related cardiac dysfunction when compared to White survivors, and this study found a significant difference between positive cancer care experiences reported by Black and white breast cancer survivors. VCU collaborators on this research include Susan Hong, M.D., Paulette Omeaku, M.P.H., Arnethea Sutton, Ph.D., and Victoria Williams.

"This [study] could be the driving factor to help us close that disparity gap," Turner said.

Yang discovers new therapeutic insights for drug-resistant breast cancer

Lu Yang, Ph.D., Massey scientist in the VCU Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, presented her research finding that dual degrader of HER2 and EGFR obliterates oncogenic signaling, overcomes therapy resistance, and inhibits metastatic lesions in HER2-positive breast cancer models. The results provide new insights and innovations to advance treatment of drug-resistant HER2-positive breast cancer that remains an unmet problem. 

VCU collaborators include Arup Bhattacharya, Yun Li, Darrell Peterson, Valentina Robila, M.D., Ph.D., and Yuesheng Zhang, M.D., Ph.D.

Zboril studies endocrine therapies in advanced breast cancer

Emily Zboril, a Massey Ph.D. student in the lab of Chuck Harrell, Ph.D., assessed the efficacy of new endocrine therapies in treating ER-positive breast cancer that has spread to the bone. Zboril will expand on this effort to determine if other endocrine therapies will provide better protection to the bone architecture while reducing metastatic burden in tumor cells. 

Other VCU collaborators on this research include Julia Altman, David Boyd, Ph.D., Henry Donahue, Ph.D., Mikhail Dozmorov, Ph.D., Nicole Hairr, Rachel Myrick and Amy Olex, Ph.D.

Wednesday, April 10

Floros investigates novel targeted drugs in sarcoma

Konstantinos Floros, Ph.D., a scientist in the laboratory of Massey research member Anthony Faber, Ph.D., presented research findings that pharmacological targeting of SUMOylation leads to cBAF complex stabilization and disruption of the synovial sarcoma signature, positioning the novel therapeutic used in the study as a clinical candidate to treat this refractory cancer. 

Other VCU collaborators on this research include Krista Dalton, Ph.D., Mikhail Dozmorov, Ph.D., C.K. Fairchild, Bin Hu, Ph.D., Jennifer Koblinski, Ph.D., Senthil Radhakirshnan, Ph.D., Jane Roberts, Angeliki Stamatouli, M.D., and Y. Xing.

Landry uncovers promising combination therapy regimen in triple-negative breast cancer

Massey research member Joseph Landry, Ph.D., presented his study findings after investigating the dual inhibition of chromatin remodeling and DNA methylation as a novel treatment option for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). This study suggests that a combination therapy regimen including BPTF inhibition with a DNA methyltransferase inhibitor could provide clinical benefits to patients with TNBC through both tumor cell intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms. 

VCU collaborators on this research include Harry Bear, M.D., Ph.D., James Kang, Rebecca Martin, Ph.D., and C. Morecock.

Tang examines connection between racial disparities and treatment resistance in breast cancer

Amy Tang, Ph.D., scientist at Eastern Virginia Medical School, presented findings from her study in collaboration with Massey physician-researcher Harry Bear, M.D., Ph.D., examining the relationship between racial disparities and treatment resistance in breast cancer. This research demonstrates the prognostic power of the SIAH gene for patient risk stratification, therapy quantification and relationship to racial disparity in triple-negative breast cancer.

"We could really begin to save lives" by expanding on this effort, Tang said.

Other VCU collaborators include Michael Idowu, M.D., M.P.H., Jennifer Koblinski, Ph.D., and Valentina Robila, M.D., Ph.D.

Written by: Blake Belden and Amy Lacey

 

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