Levine Cancer Institute


Synthetic Blood Insights

A team of scientists at UNC Chapel Hill have created particles that closely mirror some of the key properties of red blood cells, potentially helping pave the way for the development of synthetic blood. The new discovery could also lead to more effective treatments for life-threatening medical conditions such as cancer.

UNC researchers used technology known as PRINT (particle replication in non-wetting templates) to produce very soft hydrogel particles that mimic the size, shape and flexibility of red blood cells, allowing the particles to circulate in the body for extended periods of time. Tests of the particles’ ability to perform functions such as transporting oxygen or carrying therapeutic drugs have not been conducted; however, the researchers believe the findings are significant because red blood cells naturally deform in order to pass through microscopic pores in organs and narrow blood vessels.

Beyond moving closer to producing fully synthetic blood, the findings could affect approaches to treating cancer. Cancer cells are softer than healthy cells, enabling them to lodge in different places in the body, leading to the disease’s spread. Particles loaded with cancer-fighting medicines that can remain in circulation longer may open the door to more aggressive treatment approaches.
“Creating particles for extended circulation in the bloodstream has been a significant challenge in the development of drug delivery systems from the beginning,” said Joseph DeSimone, Ph.D., the study’s co-lead investigator. “We believe this study represents a real game-changer for the future of nanomedicine.”

Wake Radiology Earns Another Honor

Wake Radiology’s Garner office achieved the highest designation by the American College of Radiology (ACR), being awarded the Breast Imaging Center of Excellence (BICOE) designation. This honor is awarded to centers that have achieved high practice standards in image quality, personnel qualifications, facility equipment, quality control procedures and quality assurance programs.

This is the fourth Wake Radiology office to be named a BICOE. Other offices previously recognized at this level were located in North Hills, Chapel Hill and Cary.

“This designation gives women the assurance that they are receiving the best possible exam,” said Kerry Chandler, M.D., Wake Radiology’s director of women’s imaging services. “Our breast imaging offices are staffed with specialty trained radiologists and technologists who are dedicated to the highest standards on each exam. It’s our focus on communications with referring physicians and precise attention to detail on each study that has helped us earn this distinguished status.”


Researchers to Hobble Cancer

Scientists know that some cancer cells spread, or metastasize, throughout the body by using their “feet”—called
invadopodia. But researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute believe they have discovered a way to short-circuit the cells’ travels by preventing the development of these protrusions in the cell membrane. This discovery is of importance because blocking these feet also blocks the proteins that burn through intact tissue and let cancer cells enter new cells.

The results could yield a treatment to prevent the spread of cancer, which would be taken in combination with a treatment that kills the cancer cells, said Ann Marie Pendergast, Ph.D., senior author of the research and professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke. “A combination like this would be more effective than either treatment given alone.”
The study was published in December’s Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Local Company Nixes Rx Errors

Approximately 7,000 people nationally die each year due to prescription errors. Now, Centice, a Morrisville company, has invented the PASS Rx, a device that combats this problem by making sure the drug in the bottle matches its label. There are usually more than 3,000 different types of prescription drugs in any given pharmacy, and most of them have generic versions that look different.

“Our device reduces about 77 percent of the errors,” said Scott Albert, Centice president and CEO. He said the laser is the heart of the unit. The pharmacist scans the label’s bar code and then places the bottle in the scanner chamber. The unit not only takes a picture of the pills inside but chemically verifies them, taking most of the guesswork and potentially fatal human error out of the equation. If the wrong pills are inside, the verification fails.


Test to Change Cancer Fight

A blood test so sensitive that it can spot a single cancer cell lurking among a billion healthy ones has taken a giant step toward becoming a reality.

Researchers in Boston have teamed with Veridex, a Johnson & Johnson company, to bring this technology to market and will be running studies in four major cancer centers—Massachusetts General and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Sloan-Kettering in New York and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Doctors believe that stray cancer cells in the blood mean that a tumor has spread or is going to spread, so a test that can capture such cells has the potential to improve care for many types of cancer, especially breast, prostate, colon and lung, according to an article by the Associated Press.

“This new technology has the potential to facilitate an easy-to-administer, noninvasive blood test that would allow us to count tumor cells and to characterize the biology of the cells,” said Robert McCormack, head of technology innovation and strategy for Veridex, in a press release. “Harnessing the information contained in these cells in an in vitro clinical setting could enable tools to help select treatment and monitor how patients are responding.”

Initially, doctors would use the test to predict the best form of treatment for each patient and would be benefited by receiving much quicker feedback regarding whether the course of treatment was working.

“This is like a liquid biopsy that avoids painful tissue sampling and may give a better way to monitor patients than periodic imaging scans,” Daniel Haber, M.D., chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s cancer center and one of the test’s inventors, said in the AP article. “If you could find out quickly, ‘this drug is working, stay on it,’ or ‘this drug is not working, try something else,’ that would be huge.”


Jimmy V Week Brings in $1.2 M

ESPN’s fourth-annual Jimmy V Week for Cancer Research set a new record in 2010, raising more than $1.2 million—all of which goes directly to cancer research. Nick Valvano, chief executive officer of The V Foundation, and George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, said the week-long fundraising initiative saw a 30 percent increase from last year’s total, bringing the event’s total contribution to cancer research to nearly $3.9 million since its inception in 2007.

“I’m amazed how ESPN employees continue to raise and surpass the bar on this initiative,” said Valvano. “Fans are aware of ESPN employees’ enthusiasm for providing great sports coverage. They also have a great passion for giving back and beating cancer.”
Jimmy V Week launched with a simulcast of the organization’s namesake, Jim Valvano, giving his famous “Don’t ever give up” speech from the 1993 ESPY awards across ESPN media. The week concluded with a men’s and women’s college basketball doubleheader from Madison Square Garden.

“I am continually inspired by our ESPN people and the staff and board of The V Foundation,” said Bodenheimer. “It’s great that so many fans are joining us in this fight.”


LLS Attacking Four Key Areas

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is taking an aggressive approach to tackling the challenge of improving outcomes for patients with cancers that remain stubbornly resistant to treatment. As it has for more than 62 years, the LLS will continue to accept applications from the world’s best and brightest scientists to advance progress in all areas of blood cancer and award grants based on merit. In addition, the LLS has identified four specific areas of need and is soliciting applications from scientists and physicians who are working on these difficult problems.

“We are charting the course by identifying and prioritizing the areas of need and directing funding to research that shows the most promise for improving survival and quality of life for patients with these particular diseases,” said Louis DeGennaro, Ph.D., chief mission officer of the LLS.

The LLS is issuing requests for proposals from researchers working to identify and characterize many of the key challenges blood cancer patients face, as well as ways to improve their treatments.
Grant applications must be completed online by March 1. For more information, visit www.leukemia-lymphoma.org.


GSK Announces Local Grants

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and health-care companies, recently announced the winners of its GlaxoSmithKline IMPACT Awards. Twelve health-care nonprofit organizations located in central North Carolina and the Philadelphia area each received $40,000 in grant funding for providing access to health care for the underserved in their

“All of the GlaxoSmithKline IMPACT Award winners are leaders in the non-profit world and in their communities,” said Mary Linda Andrews, GlaxoSmithKline director of community partnerships. “The dedicated teams of professionals and volunteers at these organizations are working on the frontlines to provide access to health care at a time when people need it most.”

Located in Research Triangle Park, GlaxoSmithKline works in partnership with the Durham-based Triangle Community Foundation (TCF), a nonprofit organization that connects philanthropic resources with community needs, creates opportunity for enlightened change and encourages philanthropy as a way of life.

“It is essential that nonprofit organizations have the resources they need to address ever-increasing demands for their services, especially in the world of health care,” said Andrea Bazán, president of TCF. “Our partnership with GlaxoSmithKline highlights the dedication of these nonprofits and will encourage others to participate in the future as we strive toward excellence in health access.”

Grants awarded in North Carolina included those to the Benson Area Medical Center in Benson, the Community Health Coalition and Healing with CAARE in Durham, the North Carolina Dental Health Fund in Cary and Pretty in Pink in Raleigh.