August 2013

WCC News

URMC and Interlakes Oncology Announce Intent to Further Collaboration

The URMC and Interlakes Oncology and Hematology announced today that they have entered into formal discussions to further collaborations, which currently includes co-located oncology services at the Sands Cancer Center at Thompson Health, as well as the ability for Interlakes patients to participate in URMC-lead clinical trials. An expanded collaboration would provide URMC patients with greater access to medical oncology services through Interlakes’ established network of locations—which include Geneva, Brockport and Canandaigua—while enhancing accessibility to URMC’s robust cancer research, clinical trials and expertise for Interlakes patients.

“This is truly an exciting development for all patients suffering from cancer in the region. A strong collaboration between the Wilmot Cancer Center at the URMC and Interlakes could expand resources in a manner that will have a direct, and very positive impact on the quality of cancer care,” said Jonathan Friedberg, M.D., director, Wilmot Cancer Center.

The formal agreement could be finalized by the end of 2013. Both organizations are involved in a process of due diligence and the proposed arrangement would be subject to regulatory approval.

Pilot & Collaborative Studies Seed Grants Awarded

The Wilmot Cancer Center has awarded four seed grants to the following cancer research projects. Each project has been awarded $50,000:

  • Alison Frontier, Ph.D., Department of Chemistry
    Novel inhibitors for treatment of multiple cancers

    Frontier and her team have discovered novel inhibitors that offer promise for the treatment of multiple types of challenging cancers. They will utilize the funding to further improve the efficacy of these new generation inhibitors with the goal of providing new intervention strategies.
  • Helen McMurray, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Genetics
    Cancer cell-specific targeting of basal-like breast cancer

    McMurray’s lab examines differences between cancer and non-cancer cells to identify novel target genes and treatment approaches against basal-like or triple-negative breast cancer (BLBC). The lab focuses on a set of critical molecules that regulate tumor formation capacity of cancer cells, known as ‘cooperation response genes’ (CRGs), which they discovered control in vivo growth of BLBC cells. McMurray and her team will use the seed grant funding to explore the effects CRGs have as anti-cancer targets against BLBC.
  • Edward Messing, M.D., Department of Urology, and Chawnshang Chang, Ph.D., Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
    New combination BCG therapy with androgen receptor (AR) targeting to battle bladder cancer

    Bladder cancer has a high mortality with an estimated 69,250 new cases and 14,990 deaths in U.S. in 2012. Most of bladder cancer patients receive complete transurethral resection of the tumor, followed by intravesical instillation of anti-tumor agents. However, approximately 30 percent of patients that receive this treatment fail to respond, and for those that do respond positively respond to treatment often suffer from recurrence. Messing and Chang will use the funding to further research the effects of whether the combination of anti-AR treatment with Bacillus Calmette-Guerin will result in increased efficacy to more effectively kill bladder cancer cells and prevent recurrence.
  • Jacques Robert, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Immunology
    A novel intravital and reverse genetic Xenopus model to investigate tumor immunity and angiogenesis

    Among challenges for developing more effective cancer treatments is that tumors have the ability to grow as an autonomous entity promoting the formation of new blood vessels, and controlling all the cells trafficking inside the tumor mass, including immune cells. A key step of this control occurs through direct interactions between tumor cells with other cells in the surrounding environment. Robert and his team will use this grant funding to further research this interaction in a living organism with the expectation of significantly contributing to a better understanding of how tumors prevent immune attack and promote blood vessel formation.

Congratulations to all of our seed grant winners!

Cancer Center Colloquium Kicks off in September

The Cancer Center Colloquium scheduled for the 2013-2014 academic year is a monthly seminar series designed to replace Grand Rounds. Its mission is to showcase the work of investigators making highly significant contributions to cancer research, as well as to foster collaborations between invited speakers and investigators at the Wilmot Cancer Center. Speakers will loosely tie into our four major research programs.

The Colloquium will be held the first Friday of each month at 12 p.m. Renier Brentjens, M.D., PhD., of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center will kick off the program on September 27 in K307 (3-6408). Brentjens is a medical oncologist specializing in the treatment of acute and chronic leukemias. His lab is focused on developing novel treatment approaches for certain leukemias and lymphomas utilizing the patient's own immune system. Specifically, his work involves the genetic manipulation of patients' immune cells to recognize and kill their own cancer cells, resulting in a promising form of gene therapy.

Heidi Klepin, M.D., associate professor of Hematology & Oncology from Wake Forest is also confirmed for November 15.

Please reach out to Pam Iadarola or Jason Mendler with questions or if you have a speaker in mind for a future session.

New Cancer Imaging Technology Shows Promise

Dr. Vikram Dogra has created a new medical imaging technology in collaboration with the RIT Center for Imaging Technology, that combines ultrasound and laser technologies to more effectively identify prostate cancer—and could also impact the detection and tracking of breast, kidney, liver, skin and thyroid cancers.

Multispectral photoacoustic imaging uses nanosecond long bursts of light from a laser to bombard the target tissue. This heats the tissue and creates thermal waves that can be detected by ultrasound. These signals are then used to recreate an image of the target tissue and—because different wave lengths elicit different responses—observe variations in light absorption. To accomplish this, the researchers used an acoustic lens to focus the image, a method that is more cost effective than the alternative electronic focusing system.

The system enables researchers to track the level of lipids (fat), water, and forms of hemoglobin found in the blood, all of which respond to different wave lengths from the laser. Fluctuations in these compounds can indicate a tumor’s status. Hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen, is of particular interest. Increases in the level of deoxyhemoglobin—the form hemoglobin without the bound oxygen—significantly raises the odds that the tissue is malignant.

Out Run the Sun: Racing for Melanoma Research

When the Rochester Melanoma Action Group was looking for a place to invest its first $25,000 seed grant, it found Glynis Scott, M.D., an accomplished skin pathologist at the URMC who’s been investigating the basic biology of melanoma for several years. Scott’s latest work focuses on acral lentiginous melanoma, a rare subtype that tends to afflict African Americans and Asians. It appears under the nails, on the palms of hands and soles of feet, and is highly aggressive.

The group’s second annual Out Run the Sun race to benefit melanoma research will be held on Friday, August 2 at Webster Park.

Scott McIntosh Appointed to State Tobacco Board

Scott McIntosh, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, and director of the Greater Rochester Area Tobacco Cessation Center was nominated by Senator Ted O'Brien to the New York State Tobacco Control Program Advisory Board.

The program implements evidence-based and promising strategies to prevent and reduce the use of tobacco. McIntosh, with more than 10 years of experience researching the effects of smoking and promoting smoking cessation efforts, will continue to help New Yorkers quit smoking through the use of web tools and expanding the availability of tobacco cessation counseling and knowledge of the state Smokers' Quitline in healthcare providers' offices.

Carla Casulo, M.D., Selected for ASH Education & Mentoring Program

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) chose Carla Casulo, M.D., as one of 21 hematology and hematology/oncology fellows and junior faculty to participate in the 11th annual ASH Clinical Research Training Institute (CRTI). This education and mentorship program is designed to prepare trainees for careers in patient-oriented clinical research.

Wilmot Nurse Completes Ironman in Lake Placid

Acute Leukemia Nurse Coordinator, Laura Kassel, finished the Ironman in Lake Placid on July 27. Her journey included a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride and closing out with a 26.2 mile run.

Congratulations Laura!

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Recently Published

Pushing Personalized Therapy for Lung Cancer
Personalized medicine is transforming lung cancer and bringing a measure of hope to patients, according to a review by Eric S. Kim, M.D., and Kishan J. Pandya, M.D., published in the journal Expert Opinion on Medical Diagnostics.

Even chemotherapy can be personalized now to some degree, based on the identification of tumor biomarkers that make it sensitive to certain drugs. Advances in genomics and bioinformatics, which allow scientists to improve molecular profiling, are expected to push this even further by rapidly driving discoveries. View the abstract»

Study Clarifies Surgical Options for Kidney Cancer
Surgery is often the first step in treating kidney cancer, and new data from the URMC, which contradicts earlier research, questions whether removal of only the tumor (partial nephrectomy) is better than removing the entire kidney (radical nephrectomy).

The decided trend for the past decade has been toward a partial resection in the case of smaller cancers. Many physicians inferred that a radical nephrectomy would be worse for kidney cancer patients, due to a concern that even mild or moderate dysfunction in the remaining kidney could lead to an earlier death.

However, the URMC found the opposite to be true: that losing a whole kidney to surgery does not translate into poorer outcomes for patients. In fact, those people who received a partial nephrectomy did not have improved survival, according to the study published this month in European Urology. View the journal article»

Driving Away Dry Mouth from Cancer Treatment
Most of the 14,400 head and neck cancer patients in the U.S. who will undergo radiation therapy will likely experience an unpleasant side effect called xerostomia, or dry mouth. For most, the persistent dryness becomes a permanent part of their lives, causing difficulty with eating and speaking, oral infections, dental caries, tissue inflammation, and decreased quality of life.

A team of scientists led by Catherine Ovitt, Ph.D., from URMC’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health, report initial success in reducing dry mouth in mice by treating the salivary gland before radiation exposure. Their research, supported by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, was published in the journal Molecular Therapy. View the journal article»

Staff Profile

Wilmot Cancer Center Staff Profile: Susan Koomen

Position: Nurse Practitioner, Wilmot Cancer Center supporting Alissa Huston, M.D. in the Breast Clinic and Pluta Cancer Center supporting Marcia Krebs, M.D. and Brian Yirinec, M.D.

Employed at URMC since: March 2013, and before that I was in New York City for 12 years working as an NP at New York University’s Cancer Center

What I love most about my job: The patients I get to care for and the staff at Pluta Cancer Center

If you could choose an occupation other than your current one, what would it be? Teacher

When I’m not at work, I enjoy: Spending time with my husband and kids

Something that people might be surprised to know about me: I’m an only child

Last good movie I watched: Sophia the First


  • Saturday, September 14
    • Pluta Cancer Center Emerald Ball
    • Oak Hill Country Club
    • Proceeds to benefit the Pluta Cancer Center Foundation
    • Get more information»
  • Wednesday, September 18
    • Dine Out for Wilmot
    • Enjoy a meal out to support oncology nursing education. Various restaurants in Rochester will be donating at least 25 percent of their sales.
    • Get more information»
  • Friday, September 27
    • Cancer Center Colloquium
    • 12 p.m. in K307 (3-6408)
    • Renier Brentjens, M.D., PhD., will speak on his research and gene therapy

Advancement News

Fourth-Annual Contestabile Golf Tournament Raises $12,000
Getinge employees and retirees, family and friends honored the memory of Michael Contestabile at Shadow Pines Golf Club on Monday, July 15 with a golf tournament that raised $12,000. The funds will support Aram Hezel, M.D.’s pancreatic cancer research in memory of Michael, who lost his battle in 2009.

Funding Opportunity

Call for Submissions: Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator Award 2014
The Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator Award supports young physician scientists conducting patient-oriented cancer research. Five $450,000 awards each will be given to qualifying candidates, and will be paid out over a three-year period. In addition, the foundation will retire up to $100,000 of the awardee’s medical school debt.

The URMC dean can nominate three candidates for consideration. If you are interested, by September 1, please submit your expression of interest (chair’s recommendation letter, CV and three-page research abstract) to Catherine Muzytchuk (, with the words “Damon Runyon Clinical Investigator” in the subject line. The dean will notify nominees around September 15.

Nominees will then need to draft full applications to submit in early February 2014.

If you have questions about deadlines or eligibility criteria, please contact Dr. Paul Spengler, director of Foundation Relations at 276-3955 or Get more information about the award.

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