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News Around the Cancer Center

December 6, 2016

Hiebert appointed to national cancer board

Scott Hiebert, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and associate professor of Medicine, has been appointed to the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB).

The NCAB consists of 18 members appointed by the President to advise the director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Individuals are selected from among leading representatives in health and science, along with members of the general public, including leaders in public policy, law, health policy, economics, management and the environment. Members are appointed to serve for overlapping terms of six years.

Hiebert is the Hortense B. Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and is associate director of Basic Research and of Shared Resources at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC). He is among six people nominated to the federal board by President Obama.

“I am honored and humbled to be nominated for service on the NCAB, which plays an invaluable role in cancer policy and research support,” said Hiebert, who runs the Hiebert Laboratory for Cancer Research at VICC. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with other board members in support of the mission of the NCI.”

Among other activities, the NCAB reviews grant applications for research, training, health care information and programs for cancer patients and their families.

“Scott Hiebert is a remarkable scientist who has made significant contributions to cancer research as well as held leadership roles at VICC and nationally. He is highly qualified to serve in this national role,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., executive vice president for Research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) and director of VICC. “We are all proud of Scott’s appointment to this advisory board which helps shape policy for cancer research and support programs in the U.S.”

Pietenpol is an alumna of the NCAB, having recently completed service on the cancer board. Former president George W. Bush appointed her.

Hiebert received his Bachelor of Science from Bethel College, N. Newton, Kansas, and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. He pursued postdoctoral studies at Duke University as an American Cancer Society fellow and Howard Hughes Research Associate.

In 1991 he moved to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where he served as an assistant member of the Department of Tumor Cell Biology.

He joined the Vanderbilt University faculty in 1997, where his laboratory research focuses on the molecular basis for leukemia development while testing new epigenetic therapies for blood-related cancers.

In his role as associate director of VICC’s Basic Research and Shared Resources efforts, Hiebert oversees programs that include more than 100 faculty members and more than $50 million in research funding from public and private sources.

Hiebert also serves as chair of the scientific advisory board of the Edward P. Evans Foundation. He is highly published in the cancer field and currently has three research grants from the NCI as well as a grant to support the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

– by Dagny Stuart

Kleberg Foundation grant bolsters drug discovery efforts

The Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation has awarded a $3 million grant to Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) investigators in support of VICC’s drug discovery program. The gift awarded over the next three years from the private San Antonio, Texas-based Foundation will enable VICC researchers to pursue the development of new compounds to block the activity of cancer-causing genes and proteins that had previously been considered “undruggable.”

The project will focus on the uncontrolled activity of oncogenes known as MYC that drive tumor development by regulating genes connected to cell growth, division and genomic instability. MYC is implicated in nearly 70 percent of human cancer but it has been considered undruggable.

William Tansey, Ph.D., Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and co-leader of VICC’s Genome Maintenance Research Program, recently linked the function of MYC to another protein called WDR5. By blocking the function of WDR5, MYC was also inactivated.

Tansey has been collaborating with Stephen Fesik, Ph.D., Orrin H. Ingram II Professor of Cancer Research, co-leader of the Signal Transduction and Chemical Biology Research Program. The pair recently identified a set of proteins that MYC must partner with to regulate gene activity. Their characterization of how MYC binds to WDR5 opens the door to new ways to inhibit MYC.

The goal of the Foundation-supported initiative is to identify and validate small chemical molecules that can be refined into drugs and to explore their potential usefulness across a range of cancer types.

“The Foundation is pleased to continue its partnership with Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center with a three-year commitment to further this promising cancer drug discovery research project. The Foundation has long supported efforts to find less invasive and effective therapies and treatment for this devastating disease, which touches the lives of so many people,” said Helen Groves, president of the Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation.

The latest gift marks the continuation of the Foundation’s more than two decades of support for research at VICC, beginning with a $5,000 research grant in 1993 shortly after the Cancer Center was founded. Subsequent awards provided crucial funding for VICC’s renowned Breast Cancer Program. A center in genomics named for the Foundation was launched in 2000 and renamed the Robert J. Kleberg Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Center for Personalized Cancer Medicine in 2008. A gift for upper aerodigestive research supported a significant expansion of the Thoracic, GI and Head and Neck Cancer Programs, and in 2009, Foundation support for VICC’s imaging program helped foster the development of novel radiochemical probes for positron emission tomography (PET) scanning and the use of advanced research imaging to track the delivery and effectiveness of cancer therapies.

“The Foundation’s leaders have a vision to improve the quality of life for cancer patients through innovation and discovery. Their unwavering generosity continues to provide critical support for the efforts of our researchers as they seek new treatments and cures,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., President and CEO of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Early career scientists at VICC known as Kleberg fellows have received grant awards, and the Foundation’s continued support for genomics research has bolstered Vanderbilt’s reputation for excellence.

– by Dagny Stuart

Jagasia assumes new role at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center

Madan Jagasia, M.B.B.S., M.S., professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has assumed the role of medical director for Hematology and Oncology. In this role, Jagasia will provide leadership and oversight of medical oncology and hematology clinical services in the Cancer Patient Care Center.

Jagasia specializes in stem cell transplants for hematological malignancies and bone marrow disorders and is recognized for leading the substantial growth of the outpatient transplant program at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC). He is also nationally recognized for his research in graft-versus-host disease, an immune complication after a donor stem cell transplant.

“I am honored to be selected for this leadership role and to assume the post at a time of such important and transformative changes in the health care arena,” Jagasia said.

Jagasia received his M.B.B.S. degree from King Edward Memorial College, Bombay, India. He completed post-graduate training in Internal Medicine at Nassau County Medical Center, Long Island, New York, and the University of Tennessee, Methodist Hospital in Memphis, along with a fellowship in Hematology/Oncology and a Master of Science in Clinical Investigation at Vanderbilt University.

He joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2001 and has authored or co-authored more than 120 papers published in peer-reviewed publications.

– by Dagny Stuart

Effort launched to raise $1 million for teen, young adult cancer care

Teen Cancer America and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt have launched a collaborative effort to raise $1 million to expand the Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer program.

Grammy Award-winning sibling trio The Band Perry will work closely with both the foundation and the hospital and support them on the various fundraising efforts over the coming year. They kicked off the fundraising with a $25,000 donation to the nonprofit, which they won on an episode of “Celebrity Family Feud.”

“It is the commitment of world-class artists like The Band Perry in support of this important Vanderbilt partnership that makes Teen Cancer America’s mission entirely possible,” said Simon Davies, executive director of Teen Cancer America. “We encourage and support extraordinary institutions like Vanderbilt, but it will be great music and The Band Perry’s enthusiasm that will allow this partnership to flourish and fulfill its mission to improve the care and lives of teens and young adults impacted by cancer. We are deeply grateful to all who have made this possible.”

“With this initiative and growing partnership with Teen Cancer America, we are poised to further enhance our exceptional clinical care and comprehensive array of programs to meet the unique medical and psychosocial needs of adolescents and young adults affected by cancer,” said Steven A. Webber, MBChB, MRCP, pediatrician-in-chief, James C. Overall Professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital.

“We are deeply appreciative of Teen Cancer America for its commitment to Vanderbilt so that together we can provide a better experience, improved outcomes and a brighter future for the adolescent and young adult patient population. We are also very grateful to The Band Perry for lending their support to this important initiative.”

Founded by The Who’s Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, Teen Cancer America is a nationally recognized organization dedicated to transforming the lives of teens and young adults with cancer by helping hospitals and health care professionals bridge the gap between pediatric and adult oncology care.

As ambassadors, The Band Perry has made a long-term commitment to raising awareness of teen cancer issues across the country.

– by staff reports

VUMC is world’s first site to launch new prostate cancer surgery

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is the world’s first site to treat a patient in the TULSA-PRO Ablation Clinical Trial (TACT), which employs an emerging therapy that uses MRI guidance and robotically driven therapeutic ultrasound to obtain precise prostate cancer tissue ablation.

Investigators, David Penson, M.D., MPH, Paul V. Hamilton M.D. and Virginia E. Howd Professor of Urologic Oncology, and Sandeep Arora, MBBS, assistant professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, treated the first patient Sept. 21, 2016, in Nashville.

Multiple sites throughout the United States, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Canada will also be participating in TACT, a prospective, single-arm pivotal clinical study of 110 patients to further evaluate the safety and efficacy of TULSA-PRO.

Penson said the Vanderbilt research is a joint effort between Urology, Radiology and the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science.

“Enrolling the first patient in this trial is truly exciting for our institution. We recognize the potential value that TULSA provides to the clinical community to address the unmet needs associated with current prostate cancer treatments,” Penson said. “We are pleased to collaborate with the other clinical trial sites in the effort to advance this promising therapy.”

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men, and patients often experience side effects such as erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence and bowel complications.

The results of a previous Phase 1 clinical study for TULSA-PRO, published in the September 2016 issue of European Urology, showed accurate ablation of targeted prostate tissue with minor impact on urinary, erectile and bowel function at 12 months.

– by Craig Boerner