Five Grants Presented to UAMS Cancer Researchers
Jan. 29, 2018 | Five newly awarded grants will assist scientists at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute in their search for new and innovative cancer treatments.
The grants of $10,000 each were presented to young investigators by the Envoys, a volunteer advocacy group of the Cancer Institute Foundation, during their “Doctor is In” reception and research poster showcase Jan. 25.
The grants are made possible by the Envoys’ annual RockStar Lounge fundraiser. This year’s event is set for April 13 at Cajun’s Wharf in Little Rock and will feature a performance by Bon Jovi tribute band Slippery When Wet.
“In an era when research funding has become more and more scarce, we are grateful to the Envoys for providing this essential support for our scientists,” said Cancer Institute Director Peter Emanuel, M.D. “With these start-up funds, they are able to establish the preliminary data needed to secure additional larger grants in the future.”
Recipients of the grants were:
- Marie Burdine, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Surgery, UAMS College of Medicine
Burdine’s project focuses on a novel approach to regulating a protein known as ATAD2 that is highly expressed in several types of cancer, including breast, pancreas, colon and liver, as well as in metastatic disease. If successful, regulation of the protein could lead to new therapies for these types of cancer.
- Brendan Frett, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, UAMS College of Pharmacy
Precision lung cancer treatment is often effective only for the short term due to significant differences that appear in individual cases of the disease. Frett’s objective is to improve the long-term outcomes of precision lung cancer therapy by simultaneously targeting multiple facets of the disease. He will synthetically engineer single molecule drug candidates capable of impairing multiple tumor survival pathways.
- Samantha Kendrick, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, UAMS College of Medicine
Kendrick’s project focuses on understanding how and why certain genes repeatedly mutate and contribute to the aggressive nature of B-cell lymphoma. Her research examines the frequency of DNA structures in these specific gene targets and whether the structures contribute to an increased susceptibility to mutation. Uncovering this process can facilitate the design of new therapies to minimize the risk of chemotherapy resistant disease.
- Analiz Rodriguez, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery, UAMS College of Medicine
Although advances in immunotherapy have offered great promise for several types of cancer, outcomes for an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma remain grim. Rodriguez’s project uses the surgical technique laser thermal ablation in combination with immunotherapy to alter the immune microenvironment, cause cancer cell death and open the area around the tumor in an effort to improve outcomes for patients with this disease.
- Erming Tian, Ph.D., M.B.A., assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in the UAMS College of Medicine
Tian’s research addresses the role of two alias proteins produced by the gene MYC in the outcome of patients with multiple myeloma. He seeks to understand how one of these proteins affects the other in regard to cell proliferation and will use this knowledge to deliberately induce a different translation and modification of the gene that could ultimately lead to preventing uncontrollable cancer growth.
Annual Gala for Life Raises $942,000 for UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute
Oct. 11, 2017 | The bright lights of New York City shone on Little Rock on Sept. 15 when the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute hosted its 22nd annual Gala for Life.
The black-tie event, held at Little Rock’s Statehouse Convention Center, brought together 740 supporters from throughout Arkansas and raised about $942,000 for the fight against cancer. A portion of the net proceeds will directly benefit the UAMS Cancer Genetics Program, which includes Arkansas’ only board-certified geneticists who diagnose, manage and treat complex cancer syndromes.
Arkansas native and three-time Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Remmel T. Dickinson served as event chair. KTHV news anchor Craig O’Neill was master of ceremonies.
“We are so thankful for the leadership of Remmel Dickinson and for our generous sponsors who make this event possible. All of the money raised by the Gala of Life stays in Arkansas and is used to help us advance our ability to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer,” said Peter Emanuel, M.D., Cancer Institute director and professor in the UAMS College of Medicine.
Gala for Life presenting sponsors were the Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation Inc. and Highlands Oncology Group.
Donations made by guests that evening were matched by Nan Ellen and Jack M. East; Peggy and Haskell Dickinson; and Mary Kay and Dr. F.E. Joyce and family. View a complete list of sponsors here.
Dinner entertainment included performances by Michael Buble tribute artist Scott Keo; a musical revue by Broadway performers Dan’yelle Williamson and Kevin Massey; and a special performance by “America’s Got Talent” finalist and sand story artist Joe Castillo.
Guests also enjoyed a cocktail reception featuring the sights and sounds of New York City’s Rockefeller Center and Times Square, complete with ice skaters, food carts, street performers, digital caricature artists and a virtual graffiti wall.
Inherited Cancer Risk Leads Travel Blogger to Choose Mastectomy
April 14, 2017 | Lesley Murphy is accustomed to waking up in exotic locations. From snow-covered Finland to the beaches of Bali, this 29-year-old professional blogger spends more than 300 days a year documenting her travels to vacation destinations around the world.
“My number one goal is inspiring travel and showing people that if they get out of their comfort zones, they can make the world a better place,” she said.
Recently, however, the Arkansas native took a detour from her globetrotting lifestyle to focus on a very different subject — her future health. About three years ago, Lesley was living in Argentina when she received the call that her mother, Martha Murphy, was diagnosed with breast cancer. With no history of breast cancer in her family, the diagnosis came as a shock.
“It was my first year living abroad, and I felt so far away,” Lesley said. “It was a wash of emotions. You never want to hear the words ‘mom’ and ‘cancer’ in the same sentence.”
Martha Murphy, who was living in Fort Smith at the time, felt a lump in her breast before scheduling a mammogram in early March 2014. After it was confirmed she had stage 1 breast cancer, Martha immediately sought the advice of her next-door neighbor, who happened to be an oncologist. He recommended genetic testing to determine if she might have a mutation of one of the BRCA genes, commonly known as the breast cancer genes.
While every person is born with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, women who inherit mutations of the genes have up to an 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70. If Martha tested positive for a gene mutation, it would mean her three adult daughters had the potential for it as well.
“My doctor in Fort Smith ordered the genetic test on the same day I was diagnosed, but it took a few days to receive the results,” Martha said.
The morning after her diagnosis, Martha decided she wanted to seek a second opinion at UAMS, Arkansas’ only academic health sciences center. After a reassuring visit on March 21 with breast surgeon V. Suzanne Klimberg, M.D., director of the Breast Cancer Program at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Martha scheduled a double mastectomy for 10 days later.
Her breast reconstruction surgery was completed at UAMS in August, followed by an oophorectomy to remove her ovaries in September. A BRCA gene mutation also can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.
“When I look back, this experience was just a blip on my radar. While it was happening, I was in the midst of helping my eldest daughter plan her wedding. I didn’t have time to focus on myself, so I’m terribly blessed that I didn’t have any complications or need any chemo or radiation,” Martha said.
Klimberg also is a professor of surgery and pathology in the UAMS College of Medicine and director of the Division of Breast Surgical Oncology.
Martha received the results of her genetic test prior to her visit with Klimberg and was surprised to discover she did indeed carry the BRCA2 gene mutation. She immediately knew that she wanted her daughters to be tested as well.
“I told them, this is what we’re going to do. They needed to know if they had the gene mutation, so they could make informed decisions about their future,” Martha said.
Each child of a parent — mother or father — who carries a mutation in one of the BRCA genes has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation.
Martha’s eldest daughter, Lauren, and youngest, Jordan, both underwent testing at the UAMS Cancer Genetics Clinic and received mixed results.
“After Jordan’s test came back negative, we were hopeful they all would,” Martha said.
That would not be the case, as Lauren’s results were soon found to be positive for her mom’s BRCA2 mutation. The UAMS Cancer Institute is home to the only clinical cancer genetics team in Arkansas. Although any doctor can order genetic testing — which is conducted using a blood or saliva sample — UAMS has the only board-certified geneticists and genetic counselors in the state who can diagnose rare syndromes and manage complex cancer syndromes, of which there are more than 50.
As for Lesley, finding time for the genetic screening was a challenge in itself. Because she was living in South America, did not have domestic insurance, and was launching her career as a travel blogger, the sense of urgency wasn’t strong.
“I would be in Arkansas for two days and then gone for a month, so there was never any time to schedule it. Two years went by before I was home for an extended time. That’s when Mom encouraged me to get it done,” said Lesley, who initially gained fame as a contestant on season 17 of ABC’s “The Bachelor.”
When her genetic test came back positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, Lesley knew she had some choices to make. She looked to Kent McKelvey, M.D., director of Cancer and Adult Genetics Services, and the UAMS Cancer Genetics Clinic staff for guidance.
“Each person ultimately has to make the choices that are best for themselves and their families. We are here to help people understand the evidence and options and guide them to make the best informed decisions,” said McKelvey, who also is associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Division of Genetics.
For Lesley, those choices were to undergo breast cancer screenings every six months in an attempt to catch any tumors in their earliest stages or have a preventive double mastectomy, followed by reconstruction. With her travel career in full swing, Lesley said the choice was clear.
“Because of my schedule, I didn’t foresee the twice-yearly screenings as a realistic option. While it may sound drastic to some people, having the surgery was definitely the best option for me,” she said.
The fact that Lesley was able to learn about her gene mutation and make the best choice for herself provides a sense of freedom and empowerment, McKelvey said.
“Given her active career and the fact that she gave this decision serious consideration, her choice to have elective surgery makes perfect sense,” he said.
Following the double mastectomy with UAMS breast surgeon Daniela Ochoa, M.D., Lesley’s risk of developing breast cancer will be reduced by about 95 percent. Nothing can eliminate the risk entirely, McKelvey said, however, surgery is the most effective strategy to dramatically reduce her risk of breast cancer and eliminate any future need for screenings. Ochoa is a professor of surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine Division of Breast Surgical Oncology.
Because of her public image and large social media following, Lesley chose to document her experience on social media channels including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.
“I saw this as a way to educate people and encourage them to be more knowledgeable about their own personal health decisions,” she said.
After a four-week break from traveling following her April mastectomy, Lesley will hit the road again in May, this time with Mom by her side.
“The doctors think I’ll be fine to travel by then, but she’ll be there for support if I need it,” Lesley said.
She will return to UAMS in late summer to complete her breast reconstruction process under the direction of plastic surgeon Eric J. Wright, M.D., associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Then, it’s back on a plane to her next destination. “I will always travel. I don’t know what my career will eventually evolve into, but travel is definitely what I’m passionate about and what makes me happy,” Lesley said.
Cancer Institute’s Kacie Simpson Honored for Work with Research Participants
Feb. 2, 2017 | Kacie L. Simpson, the clinical research associate team lead at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, is the 2016 Bonny Hope Wallace Award recipient for her outstanding work with research participants.
The award was presented by Sandy Annis, a past recipient of the award who directs the UAMS Cancer Clinical Trials Office, at a Jan. 27 ceremony. Simpson was chosen for the award by members of the UAMS Certified Research Specialist Program.
Simpson has been at the Cancer Institute for 10 years. For the last nine years she has worked with patients in cancer clinical trials. She has served many roles in the Cancer Clinical Trials and Regulatory Affairs offices, including regulatory specialist, study coordinator, and for the last four years, manager of the study coordinators.
“It was an honor to be nominated for the Bonny Hope Wallace Award and selected by my peers to receive the award,” Simpson said. “I am also honored to work with world class physicians, nurses, research staff, and most importantly, the people who participate in research at the Cancer Institute.”
Simpson is a member of the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCRA), Association of American Cancer Institutes (AACI), the SWOG Oncology Research Professional (ORP) Liaison Committee, and the study coordinator for the SWOG Melanoma Committee. She has had UAMS Certified Research Specialist (CRS) certification since 2008 and SoCRA Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP) certification since 2010.
Wallace is remembered for her respectful treatment of research participants and her commitment to research integrity. She worked in research at UAMS for more than 30 years before her death in 2004.
Recipients of the award in Wallace’s name must demonstrate dedication to the research participant; respect for the participant’s sacrifice; devotion to research integrity; commitment to mentoring; and enthusiasm for learning.
Wallace was an instructor in surgery and laboratory director for surgical research at the Department of Surgery at UAMS as well as clinical coordinator of research at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Burn Unit. Her efforts were focused on cutting-edge research to promote women’s health. Her accomplishments were many and her awards of recognition are numerous.
UAMS Scientists Awarded Grants for Cancer Research
Jan. 30, 2017 | Three newly awarded grants will assist UAMS scientists in advancing their cancer research projects.
The three grants of $10,000 each were presented to investigators Jan. 26 at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute by the Envoys, a volunteer advocacy group of the Cancer Institute Foundation, during their “Doctor is In” reception and research poster showcase.
The grants are made possible by the Envoys’ annual RockStar Lounge fundraiser. This year’s event is set for April 7 at Cajun’s Wharf in Little Rock and will feature a performance by Resurrection — A Journey Tribute.
“Thanks to the support of the Envoys, our scientists can receive start-up funds to propel their research forward. The preliminary data these funds help establish will assist them in applying for larger grants in the future,” said Cancer Institute Director Peter Emanuel, M.D.
Recipients of the grants were:
- Gunnar Boysen, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the UAMS College of Public Health for “Targeting Cancer Metabolism to Improve Lung Cancer Therapy”
- Ping-Ching Hsu, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the UAMS College of Public Health for “Metabolomic Profiling from the Arkansas Cardiovascular Health Examination Survey (ARCHES)”
- Rajan Gogna, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology in the UAMS College of Medicine for “Immune-targeting Flower Code, a Key Regulator for Tissue Fitness and Oncogenesis”
Boysen’s research seeks to understand how tumor metabolism contributes to tumor growth. His previous laboratory research has shown that the enzyme glutaminase is essential for production of the antioxidant glutathione (GSH) and growth of lung tumor cells. His grant funding will assist in further determining the importance of GSH in lung tumor cells.
Hsu’s project addresses Arkansas’ high death rate from smoking-related cancers by investigating the metabolic impact from cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in human blood. Her study aims to provide feasibility data for a larger study representative of adult Arkansans and help inform clinical and community studies to reduce the risk of tobacco-caused diseases.
Gogna’s research focuses on the process called cell competition, during which cancer cells acquire space and nutrition for growth by killing their neighboring cells. During this process, cancer cells and normal cells communicate and compare their relative fitness levels through the help of a protein called Flower. Cancer cells express a form of the Flower protein called Win, while normal cells express a form called Lose. Gogna’s lab now seeks to discover if blocking this Win-Lose interaction between cancer and normal cells can serve as an anti-cancer and chemo-preventative strategy.
In addition to the grant presentation, the event included a research poster showcase in which UAMS cancer researchers displayed posters outlining their work and discussed their findings with guests.