Quick Research Summaries

Moving the Needle Forward

The Prouty has supported teams of NCCC investigators who have pioneered work in fields such as pathway checkpoints and cell biology inhibitors which provide the basis for the currently prominent and most promising research fields (e.g. precision medicine and immunotherapy). 

Here are a few exciting examples of advancements in cancer research being made at NCCC:

  • Moving away from whole-body toxic treatments, such as systemic chemotherapy, cancer research now is pursuing precision medicine based on targeted therapies. Dartmouth Principal Investigators (PIs) Scott Gerber, PhD, and Yolanda Sanchez, PhD, are studying spaces within cancer cells to determine which are vulnerable to the cell-killing attributes of various cancer drugs.  Identification of these cellular targets, and the structure of other currently off-target pathways, will be used to develop additional drug candidate lead compounds.
  • Solomon Diamond, PhD, and Todd Miller, PhD, received a joint Prouty Grant to study image-guided drug delivery that combines magnetic tags and new imaging capabilities. Diamond is building an imager at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering that would detect and track magnetic nanocarriers, tiny transport vehicles, developed in collaboration with the University of Vermont, that serve as sponges to hold drugs.  The nanocarriers are modified with antibody labels that target triple-negative and HER2-positive breast cancer, permitting release of carried drugs directly into the tumor.  While this concept has been performed successfully in laboratory cells, the collaboration with Miller’s team pursues demonstrating the same success in animals.  Once confirmed, a human-safe magnetic field will be added to test in the animals the hypothesis that a magnetic field can speed up release rates for drugs conveyed to tumors by nanocarriers.
  • Ivy Wilkinson-Ryan, MD, seeks to increase immune-mediated tumor killing in ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer cells inhibit a patient’s immune response by releasing substances that recruit immunosuppressive cells to a tumor, such as macrophages, which swallow helpful cells and result in protecting the tumor from attack.  Prevention of this recruitment would free the immune system to do its intended job of attacking cancer cells.  “Understanding how the immune system interacts with cancer cells will help us select targeted immune therapies that potentially offer improved efficacy and fewer side effects.  Ovarian cancer patients desperately need to have this capability in fighting their disease,” Wilkinson-Ryan explains.
  • Gregory Tsongalis, PhD, and John Zhang, PhD, received Prouty funding to look in the blood for circulating tumor DNA. The concept of a “liquid biopsy” is based on advances in the detection of biomarkers, that are proving useful in determining clinical prognosis, and offers the possibility of diagnostics less invasive than a surgical procedure.  The Tsongalis’ study proposes to develop an array to detect and isolate nano-levels of tumor DNA in the blood plasma of patients with pancreatic cancer, a deep-seated cancer site difficult to access or observe locally.  “The proposed ability would aid in earlier detection methods which provide a basis for improved survival rates,” explains Tsongalis.