December 2013

WCC News

Town Hall Meeting Overview

Dr. Jonathan Friedberg, Wilmot Cancer Center director, and Hucky Land, Ph.D., co-director of the Wilmot Cancer Center, hosted two Town Hall meetings this week to provide an update on Cancer Center news and a glimpse into plans for 2014. Topics covered included an update on the collaboration with Interlakes Oncology and Hematology, facility updates, 2013 seed grant recipients, the research strategic plan, a welcome to new faculty, and advancement initiatives.

Dr. Friedberg shared that the Comprehensive Breast Center will be relocated to Pluta Cancer Center in February, and the Wilmot Cancer Center 5th Floor will open in March, which will be home to Surgical Oncology, Orthopaedic Oncology, ENT Oncology, Urology and Medical Oncology.

In 2013, 11 seed grants were awarded totaling $550,000 to investigators across 10 departments in the areas of basic, translational, behavioral and epidemiological research. Since 2012, nearly $1 million in seed grant funding has been awarded by Dr. Friedberg and Dr. Land.

Dr. Land shared updates on the research strategic plan across the four program areas—the Hallmarks of Cancer, Blood Cancers, Solid Tumor Cancers, and Cancer Control and Survivorship. The strategic plan focuses on targeted recruitment in the areas of GenoNew Doctorsmics/Bio-informatics and Heme-Malignancies, as well as a focus on cores. Also included in the plan are advances and investments in infrastructure including preclinical animal models, tissue banking and clinical trials.

In advancement initiatives, the team is preparing to kick off a $30 million research-focused capital campaign, with the goal of supporting research endowments, professorships in core programs, recruitment, and current use funds including seed grants, cores, and infrastructure.

 Dr. Friedberg also welcomed some of our newest additions to the Wilmot Cancer Center team: Frank Akwaa, M.D., Sophia Balderman, M.D., Kevin Bylund, M.D., Rachel Farkas, M.D., Marcus Noel, M.D., Emily Carmody Soni, M.D., and Clive Zent, M.D. Welcome everyone!

Interlakes Update

On December 28, Interlakes Hematology & Oncology will become officially affiliated with the Wilmot Cancer Center. This expanded collaboration will provide URMC patients with greater access to medical oncology services through Interlakes' established network of locations, while enhancing accessibility to URMC's robust cancer research, clinical trials and expertise for Interlakes patients. The medical records for the patients will be integrated with our electronic medical record, and patients will have access to our care model, while able to stay close to home.

Interlakes offices in Brockport, Greece, Canandaigua, and Geneva will remain in their current locations. The current office on Whites Spruce Boulevard will be relocated to Highland Hospital.

Interlakes oncologists, physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, along with a few support staff will remain employees of Interlakes. The remainder of the staff at the various Interlakes facilities will become employees of URMC.

We're looking forward to continuing our work with Interlakes and welcoming their employees to the Wilmot family.

Pilot & Collaborative Studies Seed Grants Awarded

We're excited to announce the most recent recipients of seven seed grants to help advance individual or collaborative research projects in the area of basic, translational, behavioral or epidemiological cancer research.


The bi-annual program helps research programs get started—providing Cancer Center scientists with preliminary data to help in prepare to apply for federal funding for their studies.

Since Jonathan Friedberg, M.D., director of the Wilmot Cancer Center, and Hucky Land, Ph.D., director of research and co-director of the Wilmot Cancer Center, began working on this program together, $850,000 has been distributed in seed grant funding to support the development of new research projects. A total of $1,275,000 has been awarded since 2011.

Each of the following investigators has been awarded $50,000 to fund basic or translational cancer research projects:

  • Michael Becker, M.D., Division of Hematology/Oncology
    Cancer stem cells are believed to be a therapy resistant reservoir for relapse following treatment. Acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) follows many of the principles of the cancer stem cell model. Currently, most patients with AML relapse, resulting in death, despite their initial ability to achieve a complete remission. This failure to be cured is believed to be due to resistant leukemic stem cells (LSCs) that form the basis of minimal residual disease (MRD). Becker's lab will research the direct assessment of the impact of therapy on LSC populations in patients to provide valuable prognostic information, as well insight into the potential mechanisms for therapeutic escape.
  • David Herrmann, M.D., Departments of Neurology, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
    Chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is a major complication of several types of chemotherapy, including cisplatin, which is widely used in the treatment of several forms of cancer. CIPN symptoms include numbness, tingling and pain in the hands and feet, and problems with balance, walking and occasionally weakness, which can significantly worsen quality of life. Herrmann and his colleagues plan to evaluate whether a recently developed technique to image sensory nerve endings in the skin affected by CIPN is useful to detect and assess severity of CIPN in cancer survivors who have received cisplatin chemotherapy.
  • Andrei Seluanov, Ph.D., Department of Biology
    The naked mole rat is the longest living rodent with the maximum lifespan of 32 years. In addition to its longevity, the naked mole rat has an extraordinary resistance to cancer. Seluanov's lab discovered that cancer resistance of the naked mole rat is due to a unique form of the molecule hyaluronan found in the naked mole rat tissues. They propose to create transgenic mice expressing naked mole rat gene for production of hyaluronan and test their cancer resistance. Their study will test whether the unique naked mole rat form of hyaluronan can prevent cancer in other species.

Two breast cancer research projects will receive $50,000 each:

  • John Frelinger, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Immunology
    Frelinger's lab plans to us the grant funding to develop and test a new strategy to harness the body's own defenses to find a more effective and less toxic treatment for breast cancer. Frelinger and his peers plan to change the suppressive tumor microenvironment to one favoring an anti-tumor immune response by changing the cytokine environment at the tumor site. Their approach has the potential to treat breast cancers that have metastasized while minimizing side effects—making treatment less toxic. They will utilize their strategy in conjunction with an already approved FDA drug used clinically in the treatment of other cancers. They hope to not only dramatically improve any naturally occurring response to breast cancers, but also ones achieved through vaccination or adoptive cell therapy.
  • Mark Noble, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Genetics
    Noble and his lab have investigated novel approaches to the discovery of highly effective, cancer-selective agents for the treatment of basal-like breast cancers (BLBCs) using drugs already approved by the FDA. Through collaborative efforts between labs of Mark Noble and Helene McMurray, researchers have found a way to enhance anti-BLBC effects in vitro, and when combined with tamoxifen, the effects are even more powerful. Noble and his lab plan to further investigate in-animal models to assess how these drugs interact with standard-of-care chemotherapy, and plan to investigate optimizing drug combinations. Through their research they hope to bring a new combination of drugs into clinical trials against BLBCs.

Each of the following investigators has been awarded $25,000 for their research projects in behavioral, clinical or epidemiological cancer research:

  • Anita Peoples, Ph.D., Behavioral Medicine, Department of Surgery
    Radiotherapy (RT) for lung cancer patients results in lung injury as lungs are one of the most radiosensitive organs. For many patients, this lung injury often progresses to radiation pneumonitis and/or fibrosis. Peoples and her team have shown in animal studies that irradiation of the murine lung results in chronic reduction of the airway Clara stem cells, and their predominant protein, Clara cell secretory protein (CCSP), which suggests that CCSP is involved in the development of RT-induced lung injury, and potentially in the progression to pulmonary fibrosis. Peoples and her team have translated the initial part of the animal studies to the clinical side, and plan to use the seed grant to support additional research to establish the CCSP assay as a non-invasive and innovative clinical test to predict lung injury due to RT, as well as to determine patients at increased risk of developing it.
  • Fergal Fleming, M.D., Departments of Surgery and Oncology
    Although advances in the surgical care of colorectal cancer have significantly increased the survival rate of patients, surgery often has a negative effect on the patient's physiological and psychological function. Patient activity is often reduced by up to 40 percent following surgery which often leads to further problems such as increased fatigue, increased insomnia, and decreased quality of life, which could delay the start of additional treatment (chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy). Fleming and his team will use these funds for their research which hypothesizes that by providing Exercise for Cancer Patients (EXCAP) before surgery could reduce post-operative problems, allowing patients to start additional treatments on time, potentially improving survival rate.

Congratulations to all of our seed grant winners!

Wilmot Cancer Center Launches In-Patient Smoking Cessation Initiative

The Wilmot Cancer Center is helping patients navigate the complexities of quitting smoking after a cancer diagnosis with the introduction of an in-patient smoking cessation program—the first in the region to offer this comprehensive service to cancer patients admitted to the hospital.

The program aims to give smokers the tools they need to help quit while in the hospital, and then provides additional support once they go home. The patient's care team, made up of doctors and nurses, plays a key role in helping that person to successfully quit.

Once enrolled in the program, smoking cessation treatment will be integrated into the patient's cancer treatment, and will include counseling from nurse managers, the development of a quit plan, access to nicotine replacement and other tobacco cessation medications, and behavioral strategies for managing craving. At home, the patient will receive check-in phone calls from his or her care team and can schedule outpatient sessions with the Healthy Living Center.

With tobacco cessation as a core health outcome in the Affordable Care Act, JPWCC is implementing programs and systems to incorporate the treatment of tobacco use into daily patient services. "A diagnosis of cancer is a 'teachable moment' for patients. This opens the door for our care team to help influence lifestyle changes that will impact the patient's overall outcome," said Chunkit Fung, M.D., director of the in-patient smoking cessation program.

Dr. Archibald Perkins Alex Lemonade Stand Foundation Grant

Dr. Arch Perkins has spent more than three decades looking for new ways to treat acute myeloid leukemia, one of several forms of blood cancer that affects adults and children. His lab was recently awarded a $100,000 grant—one of five nationwide—from Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, a nonprofit in Wynnewood, Pa., that funds pediatric cancer projects across the country.

Perkins and his team have identified a gene in animal models that is essential to the growth of leukemia and are working on a drug with promising advances that will bind to a protein in that gene to help treat AML.

Wilmot Holiday Project

Thank you to all the employees and volunteers who supported this year's Holiday Project for patients and families experiencing financial hardship due to the burdens of cancer treatment. Due to the generosity of so many, the 2013 Holiday Project raised $2,275 to help 20 families in need. Happy holidays!

Recently Published

Hematology Event Draws Wilmot Scientists, New Data

Several members of the lymphoma and leukemia teams at the Wilmot Cancer Center presented research at the 55th annual American Society of Hematology (ASH) meeting, Dec. 7 to 10, which is attended by more than 20,000 clinicians and scientists worldwide.

Jonathan Friedberg, M.D., director of the Cancer Center, is co-chair of the ASH Committee on Educational Affairs and will critique this year's ASH speakers, and then propose topics and design next year's sessions as co-chair of the Educational Program.

Faculty presenting data include:

  • Paul Barr, M.D., who conducted a Phase II clinical study of the drug Imexon in patients with relapsed non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This was the first trial to demonstrate that the drug works by affecting a particular cellular pathway. Study results indicate the drug may be a viable treatment for NHL as well as follicular lymphoma.
  • Michael Becker, M.D., treats patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) and studies leukemia stem cells for clues about why this blood cancer is prone to relapse. This study was the first to characterize the changes that occur in leukemia stem cells during treatment and disease progression. By understanding how stem cells expand in this environment, Becker's team hopes to improve treatment options for patients.
  • Carla Casulo, M.D., led a study to understand what factors were associated with early death from follicular lymphoma. (Despite recent gains in survival, about 20 percent of patients are at high risk for death after aggressive therapy.) An analysis of 588 patients confirmed that early progression of the disease is linked to poor outcomes, and that five specific biological factors help to define this unique category of patients.

In addition, the Cancer Center was represented at ASH through several poster presentations from faculty members including Clive Zent, M.D., Sophia Balderman, M.D., Russell Pizzo, Makiko Ban-Hoefen and Michael Wilson.

Breast Center Faculty Present at the San Antonio Breast Cancer

Symposium Physicians and scientists from the Wilmot Cancer Center's Comprehensive Breast Center traveled to the 2013 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium Dec. 10-14, to present data and learn the latest about management of the disease.

The Cancer Center team presented information on several topics, including cost-effective ways to estimate the risk of breast cancer coming back at another site in the body, and an analysis of a protein (folate receptor alpha) associated with an aggressive subtype and worse outcomes.

Poster presenters included: Kristin Skinner, M.D., Rachel Farkas, M.D., and James Peacock, M.D., from surgical oncology; Michelle Shayne, M.D., Jason Mendler, M.D., Ph.D., and Alissa Huston, M.D., from medical oncology; David Hicks, M.D., Ping Tang, B.Med, Ph.D., and Linda Schiffhauer, M.D., from pathology; and Marilyn Ling, M.D., from radiation oncology.

Staff Profile

Clive Zent

Wilmot Cancer Center Staff Profile: Dr. Clive Zent

Position: Interim Professor, Department of Medicine, Hematology/Oncology

Employed at URMC since: November 2013

What I love most about my job: It is very challenging, and also very rewarding.

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

When I'm not at work, I enjoy: cycling, kayaking, cross country skiing and hiking

Something that people might be surprised to know about me: : I was an enthusiastic marathon runner, although I'm retired now.

Last good movie I watched: 12 Years A Slave

Advancement News

Stand Against Cancer Raises $12,000 for Research

Stand Against Cancer When Pittsford resident Stacey Bolger decided to reopen his childhood fruit stand to benefit the Wilmot Cancer Center, he was hoping to raise at least $1,200 from the sale of pumpkins, squash and other fall gourds. Much to his surprise, the community and several businesses rallied around his cause and Bolger raised a whopping $12,000 in less than three months' time.

On Friday, November 22, Bolger presented the check for $12,000 to be used for cancer research in honor of his dad, Bruce Bolger, a lymphoma patient here. In recognition of the community's efforts for this cause, the Wilmot Cancer Center plans to name an infusion room in honor of the Stand Against Cancer.

Step it Up for Pancreatic Cancer
Step it Up for Pancreatic Cancer More than 800 walkers and volunteers raised $72,600 to help fight pancreatic cancer during the Fourth Annual Step It Up walk on November 16. The funds raised will directly support Aram Hezel, M.D.'s pancreatic cancer research at the Wilmot Cancer Center. Since its inception, the event has raised nearly $228,000 for pancreatic cancer research.

Strollin' For the Colon
Step it Up for Pancreatic Cancer Committed to engaging the greater Rochester community in the fight against colon cancer, the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the URMC sponsored the 2nd annual Strollin' for the Colon 5K Walk/Run on April 20. Participants and volunteers raised $2,000 to support colon cancer research and the development of cancer awareness programs.



  • Friday, December 20
    • Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Brass Ensemble performance
    • 1p.m. in the Wilmot Cancer Center Atrium
  • Tuesday, January 21
    • Integrative Oncology Lecture Series: Nutrition and Cancer
    • 5:30-7 p.m. in the Luellen Patient Resource Room
    • Free and open to the public