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Loyola, Notre Dame join forces against cancer

Collaboration kicks off with $200,000 in grants for joint research projects

Two research powerhouses, Loyola University Chicago (LUC) and the University of Notre Dame, are joining forces in a multidisciplinary cancer research collaboration.

The goal of the alliance is to provide direct support for revolutionary new cancer research, with the ultimate objective of making cancer a more manageable, and potentially curable, disease.

"Through this collaboration we will draw on the breadth of our scientific expertise, bringing together the clinical and translational work we do at LUC with the strong, cutting-edge science research program at Notre Dame," said Patrick Stiff, MD, director of LUC’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center in Maywood, Ill. "Our purpose is to spur the discovery and development of innovative new therapies."

"This will enable world-class investigators and clinicians from different disciplines to hone in on key areas of cancer research," said M. Sharon Stack, PhD, the Ann F. Dunne and Elizabeth M. Riley director of the Harper Cancer Research Institute at the University of Notre Dame. "The research we do today is going to set the standard for the future treatment of cancer patients."

Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center (SJRMC), located in north central Indiana, was instrumental in bringing together LUC and Notre Dame. Recognized as strong community partners, SJRMC and Notre Dame have long collaborated in multiple areas. The SJRMC and Loyola health systems, both members of CHE Trinity Health, also share an academic affiliation.

"In addition to having robust cancer research programs, all of these organizations also share a foundational Catholic heritage," said Albert Gutierrez, President and CEO of SJRMC. "We are honored to associate with other institutes that are driven by their values and a mission to serve."

A total of four $50,000 grants will fund the LUC-Notre Dame research project. LUC’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, University of Notre Dame’s Harper Cancer Research Institute and CHE Trinity Health are funding three of the grants. A fourth grant is funded by donors Michael and Estella Cronk of Oak Brook, Ill.

The grants will provide initial funding for four joint research projects:

New weapon against ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is silent during early stages, and often is not detected until it is in an advanced stage. Only 20 percent of women diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer survive for five years. Ovarian cancer is associated with an overabundance of receptor molecules on the surface of tumor cells. Researchers hope a drug to block the production of one of these receptors may ultimately improve survival in ovarian cancer patients. This grant is funded by Michael and Estella Cronk.

Principal investigators: Maureen Drakes, PhD (LUC) and M. Sharon Stack, PhD (Notre Dame).

Helping the immune system fight cancer. Various therapies boost the immune system to kill cancer cells. Researchers have identified an interaction among cellular proteins that weakens this immune response. Preventing the proteins from interacting is a possible strategy for enhancing cancer immunotherapy.

Principal investigators: Brian M. Baker, PhD, (Notre Dame) and Stephanie K. Watkins, PhD, (LUC).

A better model to study leukemia. Molecular signals that emanate from the bone marrow help to protect leukemic cells from the lethal effects of chemotherapeutic drugs. This results in drug resistance, and greatly hampers patients’ recovery. Such signaling also attracts cancer cells to the bone marrow, leading to the spread of cancer. However, the detailed molecular features of this signaling are difficult and time-consuming to study with current methods. So researchers are developing a new and more efficient experimental model to study this important molecular signaling pathway.

Principal investigators: Diane Wagner, PhD (Notre Dame), and Jiwang Zhang MD, PhD and Paul Kuo, MD (LUC).

A Trojan Horse approach to fighting melanoma. An anti-melanoma drug that is effective when applied topically is ineffective when injected, because the cells are able to purge the drug. To disable this defense mechanism, researchers are planning a Trojan Horse approach. They will package the drug inside nanoparticles so that the drug reaches a site inside the cell where it can exert its toxic effect.

Principal investigators: Caroline Le Poole, PhD (LUC) and Basar Bilgicer, PhD (Notre Dame).

The one-year grants are intended as seed funds for investigators to establish collaborative projects that collect preliminary data needed for a competitive application to a major external funding source.

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