2018 Research Awardees

2018 Research Awardees

2018 Research Grantees and Fellows

Sigrid Carlsson, M.D.Grantee:  Sigrid Carlsson, M.D.
Named Award: The Marvin Davis Estate Research Grant
Position: Assistant Attending Epidemiologist
Institution: Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, New York, NY
Project Title: Optimizing prostate cancer screening through the electronic health record

Cancer Prevention Statement:
Primary care physicians need guidance in talking to patients about “shared decision making” and “smarter” prostate cancer screening in a way that saves lives and avoids diagnosing slow-growing tumors. We will develop a computer system tool to help doctors facilitate discussions about the benefits/harms of prostate cancer screening.

General Audience Summary:
While national screening programs for major cancers, e.g. breast and colorectal cancer, have been embraced, screening for prostate cancer––the most common cancer in men and the third most common cause of cancer-related death among U.S. men––has remained controversial. This controversy is due to clear benefits of prostate specific-antigen (PSA) screening in preventing metastatic prostate cancer and cancer deaths, which is balanced by the clear harms of overdiagnosis and overtreatment, including the risk of serious side effects such as urinary leakage and sexual dysfunction. Ongoing efforts are focused on “smarter” ways to screen that focus on men who have the highest risk of aggressive prostate cancer, while minimizing harms of overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

As of 2017, multiple professional guideline groups, including the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and the American Urological Association, recommend “shared decision making” (discussing pros and cons) between men and their doctors for prostate cancer screening. The guidelines on prostate cancer screening are fairly complex and can be difficult for physicians to remember. Screening remains relatively underused in younger, healthy men, while it is overused in the older, less healthy population. Physicians need guidance on how to have conversations about shared decision making and how to apply smarter screening approaches. We hypothesize that the physicians’ electronic health record system is ideal to implement clinical decision-support tools around shared decision making for prostate cancer screening. 

Sho Kitamoto, Ph.D.Fellow: Sho Kitamoto, Ph.D.
Named Award: The Marvin Davis Estate Research Grant
Position: Postdoctoral Fellow
Institution: The Regents of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Project Title: The role of oral pathobionts in the development of colon cancer

Cancer Prevention Statement:
This proposal will clarify whether genotoxic bacteria residing in the oral cavity promote colon cancer development. If successful, the detection/clearance of genotoxic bacteria in the mouth could be useful for the early detection and prevention of colon cancer.

General Audience Summary:
Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. Recent studies show that not only genetic factors (e.g., family history), but also environmental factors (e.g., aging, western diet) contribute to colorectal cancer risk.

Gut bacteria have attracted considerable attention as potential environmental risks. For example, a certain type of gut bacteria, which cause DNA damages in the colonic cells, accumulate in cancer tissues. Since DNA damage is a known risk for cancer, an abnormal expansion of these bacteria may lead to colorectal cancer.. However, we still do not know how these DNA-damaging bacteria expand in the colon.

We found that DNA-damaging bacteria accumulate in the mouth as a result of periodontal disease in mice. Expanded “bad” oral bacteria can reach the colon via a natural orogastric translocation. Therefore, the presence of periodontitis significantly increased the risk for colorectal cancer in mice. The evidence that periodontal disease is a significant risk for colorectal cancer in humans supports these results.

In this study, we will further characterize the bad oral bacteria and unravel the mechanism by which these bacteria cause colorectal cancer. It is expected that the early detection of genotoxic bacteria in the mouth can be utilized as a non-invasive method for identifying individuals at increased risk for colorectal cancer, and that optimal oral hygiene can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer

Qing Miao, Ph.D.Fellow: Qing Miao, Ph.D.
Position: Postdoctoral Fellow
Institution: Joan & Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY
Application Title: Prevention of HNSCC by Using Receptor Selective Agonists

Cancer Prevention Statement:
We need better preventive approaches for head and neck cancers. We’ve shown that one type of retinoid (vitamin A derivative) drug can prevent tumor formation in a mouse model of this cancer. We propose that a combination of retinoids will have greater cancer preventive effect.

General Audience Summary:
Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) is the seventh most common cancer worldwide. Surgery is the preferred treatment for early stage HNSCC. However, aggressive local invasion and metastasis lead to a high recurrence rate, which makes HNSCC a challenging disease to treat. To this end, prevention of HNSCC is an important goal.

Retinoids include vitamin A and related molecules. 13-Cis-RA, a retinoid, can reverse premalignant lesions and prevent the development of second primary tumors in head and neck cancers because of its ability to restore normal cell growth and differentiation. Our lab uses a carcinogen to induce HNSCC tumors in mice, and has shown that the synthetic retinoid CD1530 effectively prevents the development of oral tumors in the mice.

AC261066 is another synthetic retinoid drug that has been identified in our laboratory. AC261066 may also have cancer preventive effects in HNSCC because its target protein is a purported tumor suppressor. My hypothesis is that AC261066, in combination with CD1530, will prevent the induced HNSCC tumor formation with greater efficacy than either drug alone.

Collectively, this research has the potential to identify new strategies for more effective retinoid-based cancer prevention in HNSCC. These findings should save lives by preventing cancer in high-risk individuals. 

David C Montrose. Ph.D.Grantee: David C Montrose, Ph.D.
Named Award: Prevent Cancer Foundation Board of Directors Research Fund
Position: Instructor
Institution: Joan & Sanford I. Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York, NY
Project Title: Modulating the microbiota and metabolome for GI cancer prevention

Cancer Prevention Statement:
We will investigate whether changing the types of bacteria or the small molecules they produce can prevent the formation of pre-cancerous polyps in the intestine by affecting stem cell function. These studies have the potential to lead to novel approaches for colon cancer prevention.

General Audience Summary:
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. and develops as a result of the change from normal colon tissue to pre-cancerous tissue to cancer. This transition typically takes 10 to 15 years, which provides time to prevent cancer development. Currently, colonoscopies are the best way to prevent colon cancer by removing pre-cancerous tissue. Although this procedure is helpful, it is less than perfect, and some people avoid it because of its invasiveness. Medications can also prevent cancer development by disrupting the cellular pathways that support the progression from normal tissue to cancer. However, side effects can limit their use.

Given the limitations of current options to prevent colon cancer, it is clear that alternative methods are needed. The colon contains trillions of bacteria, which can impact cancer development. We believe they do this by releasing small molecules into the colon, which interact with the body’s cells to disrupt their molecular pathways. Our group published a research study showing that changing the types of bacteria in the colon and the small molecules they produce was associated with lower amounts of pre-cancerous tissue and reduced function of colon stem cells. Since stem cells are thought to contribute to colon cancer development, we believe all of these changes are related and by changing the types of bacteria and the small molecules they produce, we can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.

Our work is the first to demonstrate an association between changes in bacteria and stem cell function. We will directly test whether altering bacteria and the molecules they produce can, in fact, affect stem cell function and ultimately reduce cancer risk. This has the potential to open an entirely new approach for colon cancer prevention.

Christopher J. Recklitis, Ph.D.Grantee: Christopher J. Recklitis, Ph.D.
Named Award: Awesome Games Done Quick Research Grants
Senior Psychologist
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA
Project Title: SunSmart: Preventing Secondary Skin Cancer in Young Adult Cancer Survivors

Cancer Prevention Statement:
Young adult cancer survivors (YACS) have an elevated skin cancer risk, but do not practice sun protection (SP)  to reduce this risk. By testing SunSmart, a sun protection education intervention targeting young adult cancer survivors, this study can prevent future skin cancers in this high-risk population.

General Audience Summary:
After completing cancer therapy, young adult cancer survivors (YACS) are at very high risk for being diagnosed with a second cancer, and more than half of these second cancers will be skin cancers. To reduce their skin cancer risk, young adult cancer survivors are counseled to limit their exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, but studies show most do not practice adequate sun protection. Despite their skin cancer risk and poor sun protection, there are currently no evidence-based interventions to prevent secondary skin cancers in young adult cancer survivors.

To respond to their unique needs, we propose to refine and test SunSmart, a new sun protection video intervention designed to prevent secondary skin cancer in young adult cancer survivors by increasing their adherence to recommended sun protection. Prior research has shown that educational interventions to increase sun protection in healthy young adults are most effective when they include messages emphasizing negative effects of UV exposure on appearance, but this has not been studied in young adult cancer survivors.

SunSmart is an engaging video intervention that is specifically tailored to young adult cancer survivors, and can be delivered on the internet. In Phase 1 of this study, we will use feedback from young adult cancer survivors to refine the SunSmart educational videos before they are pre-tested as a web-based intervention. In Phase 2, we will determine how effective the SunSmart interventions are in changing young adult cancer survivors’ sun protection attitudes and behaviors. Developing a new intervention to increase young adult cancer survivors’ sun protection behaviors will prevent future skin cancers in this vulnerable population.

Qinggong Tang, Ph.D.Fellow: Qinggong Tang, Ph.D.
Named Award: Awesome Games Done Quick Research Grants
Position: Postdoctoral Student
Institution: University of Maryland-College Park, College Park, MD
Project Title: Early Cancer Detection by Multi-modal Endoscopic Optical System

Cancer Prevention Statement:
Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. We propose to develop an endoscopic multi-modality optical imaging system for early colon cancer detection, which can improve the survival rate of the patients.

General Audience Summary:
Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. These cancers can also be named colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.  It is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States and the second leading cause in men.

When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread, it has a five-year survival rate of 90 percent, but the survival rate drops to less than 10 percent after metastasis. Unfortunately, only 25 percent of colorectal cancer cases are discovered in the early stage. Excisional biopsy and histology is currently the gold standard for cancer diagnosis, but there are high false negative rates due to sampling errors. Using current video colonoscopy to guide the biopsy can only provide data on superficial tissue structure and does not have the depth-resolved capability to image the colonic mucosa and submucosa, where early-stage colon cancer arises. New high-resolution imaging techniques tools could minimize the invasiveness of screening, aid early colorectal cancer detection and guide biopsy procedures to improve the sampling accuracy. The objective of this application is to develop an endoscopic multi-modality optical imaging system for early cancer detection.

Trang VoPham, Ph.D.Fellow: Trang VoPham, Ph.D.
Named Award: The Richard C. Devereaux Fellowship
Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Institution: Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Inc., Boston, MA
Project Title: Reducing PM2.5 exposure and lung cancer risk using spatial data science

Cancer Prevention Statement:
Fine particulate matter air pollution (PM2.5) is a known lung cancer risk factor. Using spatial data science, we will develop a PM2.5 forecasting system and propose an educational and behavioral intervention to reduce personal PM2.5 exposure, reduce lung cancer risk, and ultimately prevent cancer.

General Audience Summary:
Lung cancer is the most commonly occurring and deadliest cancer worldwide. The International Agency for Research on Cancer announced in 2013 that there is strong evidence showing that exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution called PM2.5 increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer, even among those who have never smoked cigarettes. In fact, 15 percent of all lung cancer deaths are attributed to PM2.5 exposure.

PM2.5, which includes tiny particles too small for the eye to see, comes from man-made sources, such as cars, and is found all around us. People breathe in PM2.5 particles that penetrate deep into lungs, and 13.6 percent of Americans live in areas where PM2.5 levels exceed national public health standards.

We will develop a behavioral and educational intervention to promote healthy behaviors, such as avoiding high-traffic areas, to reduce personal exposure to PM2.5 and thus reduce lung cancer risk. We will use the latest advances in spatial data science, deep learning and big data to create a system to forecast real-time PM2.5 exposure with high accuracy and precision, just like weather forecasts. These PM2.5 forecasts will be a vast improvement over current air quality predictions. We expect that including these forecasts in an intervention will change people’s beliefs, knowledge and behaviors around PM2.5 exposure and lung cancer risk. This will be the first intervention study in the U.S. aimed at reducing PM2.5 exposure and cancer risk. Ultimately, since environmental exposure to PM2.5 can be reduced by adopting healthy preventive behaviors, this study can provide useful information on how to modify PM2.5 exposure to decrease the likelihood of developing lung cancer.

2018 Special Award

Atiqur Rahman, Ph.D.Fellow: Atiqur Rahman, Ph.D. 
Partnership Award: PCF/IASLC Global Partnership Award made possible by AGDQ
Applicant Title: Postdoctoral Fellow
Institution: School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, University of Newcastle, and Hunter Medical Research Institute, Newcastle, Australia
Project Title: Discovery of efficient and accurate early stage biomarkers is crucial towards the treatment of early stage lung cancer.

This research aims to identify a small subset of microRNAs that can be used to identify tumors early during their development. This research could lead to identifying new diagnostic markers for the early detection of lung cancer. 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death globally. According to the GLOBOCAN 2012 report, each year there are an estimated 1.8 million new lung cancer cases and 1.5 million lung cancer deaths. The high mortality rate is mainly due to the lack of effective early diagnostic procedures and because lung cancer is the worst treated of all cancers. As a result, most lung cancers are not diagnosed until later stages of the disease, when tumors have progressed and have spread all over the body. If lung cancer can be diagnosed in the early stages, current treatment options would have a much greater chance of being successful. Therefore, it is crucial to develop effective early diagnostic procedures to improve the prognosis and survival rates of lung cancer patients.

There are tiny genes, called microRNAs, which regulate most of the functions of the cells within the body. Some of these microRNAs are only found when cancer cells are present and are not found in healthy people. In addition, microRNAs are also found free and stable in all body fluids, such as blood, airway secretions and urine. This proposal aims to identify specific microRNAs that occur in these easily accessible body fluids during the early development of lung cancer. An additional advantage of studying microRNAs is that they are likely to be involved in cancer-inducing processes and can also be inhibited therapeutically.

This research can significantly improve the ability to diagnose lung cancer in early stages and enable more effective treatments, thereby improving the prognosis and outcomes of lung cancers in patients.