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VICC hosts cancer researchers during annual retreat

May. 23, 2013, 8:36 AM

Presenters at this year’s VICC retreat were, from left, Robert Coffey, M.D., Michael Karin, Ph.D., Timothy Wang, M.D., David Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D., Sanford Markowitz, M.D., Ph.D., Ann Richmond, Ph.D. (photo by Anne Rayner)

The role of inflammation in gastrointestinal cancer development was a prominent theme among guest speakers during the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center annual retreat held at the Vanderbilt Student Life Center.

Four well-known cancer investigators discussed the causes and challenges of treating gastrointestinal malignancies during the May 15 event organized by Ann Richmond, Ph.D., Ingram Professor and vice chair of the Department of Cancer Biology, and Robert Coffey, M.D., professor of Medicine, Cell and Developmental Biology and Ingram Professor of Cancer Research at VICC, with assistance from Jan Lotterer, VICC associate director for Special Events and Meetings.

Participants at the retreat heard from colon cancer survivor and VICC patient research advocate Ron Obenauf, who shared his story about the physical challenges and spiritual awakenings that came with his cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Coffey led the research discussion with an update on current research in the VICC GI Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE), including a focus on cancer stem cells.

Guest speaker Tim Wang, M.D., chief of the Division of Digestive and Liver Diseases at Columbia University Medical Center, highlighted research on the inflammatory process and its impact on cancer formation. Wang and his colleagues have found that overexpression of a single pro-inflammatory protein can drive cancer formation through changes in the microenvironment.

Michael Karin, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology, University of California San Diego, also explored the role of inflammation in the development of colorectal cancer, including the activity of Interleukin-23 (IL-23) in cancer development and tumor growth.

The challenge of finding a molecular chink in the armor of pancreatic cancer — one of the most treatment resistant forms of cancer — was highlighted by David Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D., deputy director of the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center. Tuveson and his colleagues are exploring methods to block Connective Tissue Growth Factor (CTGF) to reduce this treatment resistance.

Finding a way to inhibit the 15-PGDH antibody was the focus of the discussion by Sanford Markowitz, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Case Western Reserve University. Markowitz and his research group are now testing a compound that may be useful in blocking the 15-PGDH pathway in colon cancer.

Several awards were announced during the retreat, including a special award for Lotterer, who was named VICC Employee of the Year. In addition to helping produce the annual retreat, Lotterer has major responsibilities for several VICC activities, including the Board of Overseers meetings.

There was a tie vote for both the Graduate Student of the Year and Postdoctoral Fellow of the Year awards. Stephen Deppen, M.S., and Caitlyn Barrett were named Graduate Students of the Year and Matthew Resnick, M.D., and Anne Powell, Ph.D., received Postdoctoral Fellow of the Year awards.

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