This past weekend, the Avon Foundation held its 14th annual event in Washington, D.C. to raise funds for breast cancer research and education. More than 1,900 participants from 41 states and Washington, D.C. walked 39.3 miles in the AVON 39 The Walk to End Breast Cancer. Of the total $4.8 million raised during the weekend event, the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center was awarded $750,000 for research, patient navigation and a retreat for metastatic breast cancer patients. Kimmel Cancer Center scientist Sara Sukumar, Ph.D., won a $300,000 grant to study a gene called HOXA5, which acts as a tumor suppressor in normal breast cells. She'll study what goes awry in the gene to lift the brakes on tumor suppression, making breast cells turn cancerous. Josh Lauring, M.D., Ph.D., and Sukumar, who are members of the Breast Cancer Program, accepted the awards at the event. Were you at the event? Tell us your story.

Breast Cancer Program members Josh Lauring and Sara Sukumar accept Avon Foundation awards

Breast Cancer Program members Josh Lauring and Sara Sukumar accept Avon Foundation awards

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
No Comments

In today's lineup of stories covered by WNYC's radio program The Takeaway, Kimmel Cancer Center expert Josh Lauring, M.D., Ph.D., provides his perspective on a new study published yesterday in the journal Nature by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The study is an analysis of the genomic sequencing of 560 breast cancer patients. Listen to Lauring and radio host John Hockenberry discuss the study:

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
No Comments

At the 2016 American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting today, scientists presented their results of a follow-up study tracking the survival of metastatic melanoma patients who were treated with the immunotherapy drug nivolumab. The drug is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for advanced lung and kidney cancers and advanced melanomas.

Results published in 2014, by a group led by Suzanne Topalian, M.D. professor at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and associate director for the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, showed the first hints that nivolumab could produce lasting, increased survival among patients with metastatic melanoma.

Today’s presentation, also co-authored by Topalian, shows an overall survival rate of 34 percent after four and five years among 107 patients with advanced melanoma who were treated with nivolumab. Typically, the relative five-year survival rate of patients with metastatic melanoma is approximately 16 percent.  In other research, long-term survival rates of metastatic melanoma patients who received another type of immunotherapy drug, called ipilimumab, were reported as approximately 21 percent.

Nivolumab aims not to kill cancer cells directly, but to block a pathway that shields tumor cells from immune system components that are potentially able and poised to fight cancer. The pathway includes two proteins called programmed death-1 (PD-1), expressed on the surface of immune cells, and programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1), expressed on cancer cells. When PD-1 and PD-L1 join together, they form a biochemical shield protecting tumor cells from being destroyed by the immune system.

“This is the longest follow up for any anti-PD-1/PD-L1 trial,” says Topalian. “We’re encouraged by the long-term survival data.  Our next steps are to find ways to combine immunotherapy with other treatments to push survival rates even higher, and continue studying the biology of tumors to learn why certain patients with cancer respond to immunotherapy and others do not.”

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
No Comments

Kristin Franchesci

Kristin Franceschi competes in a ballroom dancing event.

***Note: This is the final post of a four-part feature story, written by Elizabeth Huebeck. Read part one on Kristin's story, part two on cancer as a chronic disease and part three on Kristin's strategies for staying the course.

Regardless of which treatment path cancer patients take, painful and uncomfortable side effects cannot be avoided. How well therapies are tolerated often depends largely on patients’ overall health before and while battling cancer.

“My pulmonary function is more robust now than before my third lung surgery,” said Kristin. She attributes this improvement to lifting weights after her surgery, a strategy suggested by a member of her healthcare team to ensure optimal strength of her chest wall.

That’s just one way Kristin has made her health a priority during her cancer journey. In addition, she has relied on yoga for rehab after all three of her lung surgeries. She ardently watches her diet. And she has adopted meditative practices, which she says have been incredibly helpful during stressful times, like when she’s waiting on the table to get a scan, sitting in the waiting room, or about to go into surgery.

All these suggestions point to the same mantra that has helped see Kristin through the last five years: “The healthier you are, the better you’re going to be able to survive,” she said.

Kristin says that, right now, she feels great. But she also knows that at any point in the future, she may learn from a CT scan that her cancer has re-emerged. “You just have to take one day at a time. Put one foot in front of the other,” she says. Fitting advice from a ballroom dancer.

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
No Comments

***Note: This is the third of a four-part feature story, written by Elizabeth Huebeck. Read part one on Kristin's story and part two on cancer as a chronic disease.

Kristin Franceschi

Kristin Franceschi 

Accepting primary control of your disease

As a patient, Kristin Franceschi has learned that sometimes, after receiving the best standard practices of standard care, the cancer may return or metastasize and additional treatment may still be required. And for these next steps, a clear linear treatment path doesn’t always exist. Sometimes, that may mean choosing between less-than-perfect options—each of which can pose potentially risky side effects.

Kristin recalls some of the tougher treatment decisions she’s had to make during her cancer odyssey. “I have had to consider that I could die on the operating table if I undergo surgery. But if I do the [clinical] trial first and wait on the surgery, the tumor could grow,” she shared.

While a patient’s medical team can and should weigh in on these decisions, ultimately, acknowledges Kristin, it’s the patient who must choose. She refers to this ownership as “playing quarterback” throughout the disease process, and it’s something she urges other patients to do.

“As a patient, you have to look at every trial. I spent a huge amount of time trying to figure out what trials were possible for me,” Kristin recalled.

While playing quarterback or taking control of your cancer can mean being the ultimate decision maker for significant medical decisions—like which cancer trials might be right for you and which treatments you should receive in what order—it can also mean finding ways to manage seemingly smaller, albeit significant, issues.

For instance, as a side effect of chemotherapy treatments, Kristin suffered from a severe skin reaction on her face and neck that caused painful burning and inflammation. After a lot of trial and error, she developed a skin regimen that was part coconut oil, part a bee venom lotion, and part Bert’s Bees. Relieved to find something that cleared up the problem significantly, Kristin happily shares her “finding” with other patients who experience similar skin reactions.

Seek expert second opinions

Although Kristin urges patients to take control of their disease, she acknowledges that seeking input from trusted medical professionals is critical to making informed decisions about treatment options.

“I would engage in the conversation about going to Hopkins, even if your diagnosis is routine. I tell other patients: Do yourself a favor and get a second opinion,” Kristin said.

In an academic medical setting such as Johns Hopkins, patients benefit from the clinician-scientist model of pioneering and practicing best standard practices. Institutions such as Johns Hopkins also tend to have much more experience than smaller, community hospitals treating rare and aggressive cancers.

Stay tuned for the final part of the series on how Kristin monitors her health. Subscribe to this blog.

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
1 Comment

***Note: This is the second of a four-part feature story, written by Elizabeth Huebeck. Read part one on Kristin's story.

Statistics show that the five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer is just 11 percent. Kristin Franceschi is beating the odds and now considers herself to be living with a chronic disease. As treatment modalities for cancer improve, the terms ‘chronic disease’ and ‘Stage IV cancer’ will, increasingly, become interchangeable. In several ways, Kristin can be considered the model for this evolving paradigm in which people previously diagnosed with terminal cancer now instead consider their disease chronic.

Kristin Franceschi

Kristin Franceschi

“Most stories people hear are of the person who made it, who was cured. As a patient, it’s very hard to hear these stories. Because not all the stories are home run stories. Mine’s not that way. I was told from day one that my cancer probably was not curable. I was told it would keep coming back. I also was also told that I was young and healthy and to keep myself in shape, because I’m going to have to deal with this stuff forever. There are a huge number of people like me who need to be told they’re not alone,” Kristin revealed.

During a break in her office at the law firm DLA Piper where she is a partner, Kristin shared some of the key strategies that have allowed her to turn her own frightening cancer diagnosis and grim prognosis into a chronic disease that she manages, one day at a time.

Stay tuned for Part 3 on how Kristin "stays the course." Subscribe to this blog.

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
1 Comment

"I, along with the other cancer patients and survivors, have waited more than 20 years to see this day arrive," says Johns Hopkins champion Sidney Kimmel.

Learn more about the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
No Comments

***This is the first of a four-part feature story, written by Elizabeth Huebeck. Read part two on cancer as a chronic disease, part three on Kristin's strategies for staying the course and part four on how Kristin monitors her health.

Kristin Franceschi

Kristin Franceschi

About eight years ago, Kristin Franceschi—a tall, striking woman in her mid-fifties—began a new hobby that would soon find her in the limelight as a nationally-ranked ballroom dancer. It seems nothing can stop her from gliding her way across ballroom floors with purpose, ease, and grace, not even a diagnosis of Stage IV colon cancer and the subsequent debilitating effects of multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgery.

Kristin’s intense perseverance has allowed her to remain a champion—not only of dance, but of her own   health. Just as she spontaneously discovered her talent at ballroom dancing after wear and tear on her knees from years of running forced her to stop competing in marathons, she also has managed a sudden and life-altering cancer diagnosis with grace and grit.

Her odyssey with cancer began just over five years ago, on her fiftieth birthday, when Kristin dutifully underwent a routine, first-time colonoscopy. A suspicious result led to a CT scan the very same day, followed by a startling finding: She had Stage IV colon cancer. “I went from being normal to having Stage IV colon cancer in 24 hours,” Kristin says.

The only symptom, she insists, was mild diarrhea. And who wouldn’t be plagued with that slightly irritating side effect when eating pounds of asparagus weekly, she jokes lightly. That unremarkable symptom of colon cancer was negligible compared to the physical and mental challenges Kristin has endured as a cancer patient.

Thus far, her treatment has included three six-month courses of chemotherapy and the near-crippling side effects that result from it, three lung surgeries to treat metastatic tumors, and the constantly nagging worry of what might surface on her quarterly CT scans. But despite Kristin’s journey long and arduous journey with colon cancer, she has much to celebrate.

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
No Comments

Vice President Biden Speaks at Launch of Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy

Vice President Joe Biden and philanthropist Michael R. Bloomberg at the launch of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins University.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to researchers, medical students, government leaders and others during the dedication of the new Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. It was founded with gifts of $50 million each from Michael R. Bloomberg and Sidney Kimmel, and $25 million from more than a dozen additional supporters. Read the immunotherapy feature story in Promise and Progress magazine, a news release, re-cap of the dedication event, and our news feature items. Watch the dedication event on Periscope or YouTube.

The news was reported by the Washington Post, Associated Press, STAT News, Baltimore Sun, and many other media outlets. Other organizations also voiced their support: “The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is delighted to learn that Johns Hopkins will establish a new immunotherapy center as this institution has on its faculty a number of outstanding leaders in this field who will help to make major advances against cancer, and we congratulate Drew Pardoll, M.D., Ph.D., the institute’s inaugural director, ” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), CEO of the AACR. “Immunotherapy has the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment as we know it.  The AACR has long believed that only when all stakeholders collaborate in the quest to conquer cancer will we achieve the vision of making significant advances against cancer in the very near future.”

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
No Comments

Bladder Cancer Symposium

From left to right: Noah Hahn, Stephanie and Erwin Greenberg, William Isaacs and Charles Drake

***This blog is the third in a three-part series on bladder cancer. Read parts one and two.

The Johns Hopkins Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute held its first public symposium with three leading bladder cancer experts providing novel new approaches to managing bladder cancer.

“This institute, solely focused on bladder cancer, is the first one of its kind in the world engaged in clinical and laboratory research singularly aimed at finding better ways to diagnose and treat bladder cancer and ultimately find a cure,” said William Isaacs, Ph.D., interim director of the institute. “The institute leverages all of the expertise throughout Johns Hopkins and the Kimmel Cancer Center to transform the treatment of bladder cancer.”

The symposium was attended by Erwin and Stephanie Greenberg, who helped establish the institute with a $15 million gift, Ronald Peterson, President of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, Diane Zipursky Quale, Director and President of the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner, Johns Hopkins bladder cancer experts, patients, and families. Wen presented Peterson with a proclamation of “Bladder Cancer Awareness Day” in recognition of the Greenberg’s generosity and the important work it has facilitated at Johns Hopkins.

“Tens of thousands of people are diagnosed each year, and this is far too important for us to ignore any longer. That’s why we’re here today,” said Wen. “What an extraordinary group. All of you—patient advocates, patient and family members, researchers, nurses, doctors, and other caregivers—make me understand what patient and family centered care means. “

The highlight of the event was the presentation of laboratory and clinical advances by three Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute-funded scientists “These three are internationally renowned experts and they form the heart of the bladder cancer institute,” said Isaacs.

Trinity Bivalacqua, M.D., Ph.D. – Nanoparticles and Re-engineered Urinary Tract

A Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute-developed therapy uses nanoparticles to deliver chemotherapy beyond the superficial lining to penetrate deep muscle where cancer cells can hide. Studies in patients using this form of novel chemotherapy administered directly into the bladder are planned.

Another unique clinical trial used tissue engineering to restore and make a complete urinary system after radical cystectomy, using the patient’s own tissue—smooth muscle cells on a biologic scaffold. Implantation of the neo-urinary conduit resulted in regeneration of all layers of the urinary tract, including new nerve fibers The trial provided proof-of-principle of the ability to make urinary tissue, however there is much work to be done to achieve Bivalacqua’s ultimate goal of developing a urinary conduit and bladder made out of patients’ own cells.

Charles Drake, M.D., Ph.D., and Noah Hahn, M.D. – Targeted Treatments and Immune Therapy

A better understanding of the biology of bladder cancer has led to a never before tried gene targeted therapy aimed at preventing recurrence. Hahn and Drake studied dovitinib, a drug that targets a common bladder cancer-related mutation of a gene known as FGFR3. The genetic alteration is linked to cancer progression and spread, and nearly 70 percent of patients with early stage bladder cancer have it. Hahn and Drake want to find out if giving the drug to early-stage bladder cancer patients whose tumor cells have alterations in the FGFR3 gene will prevent recurrence and spare patients from surgical removal of the bladder. First, they had to prove that the drug, given orally by pill, could reach the target bladder cells. In every patient treated in this early study, the bladder tissue drug concentration was successfully measured at levels far higher than Hahn and Drake anticipated. With these promising early results that proved that the drug gets where it needs to go and at the right concentration, clinical studies to investigate its impact on the progression of bladder cancer are planned.

Another new therapy is harnessing the power of immune system and providing a much needed treatment option to patients with advanced bladder cancer that has invaded the muscle wall but are not good candidates for surgery and chemotherapy. The treatment combines two immune therapies—one takes the brakes off the immune system, and the other hits the gas pedal and makes the immune system work aggressively against the cancer. The trial will take about a year to complete, and Drake says it will provide important information about how the immune system works and what cells are activated against the cancer.

VN:F [1.9.17_1161]
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
No Comments