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Research Highlights for February 2023

Read Time: 4 minutes

Research Highlights

Huntsman Cancer Institute research highlights shine the spotlight on new discoveries and cutting-edge research. Recently, investigators found a new genetic biomarker in pancreatic cancer patients that creates a resistance to treatment and genetic mutations that increase risks for sarcoma. Additionally, researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to help predict prostate cancer treatment outcomes. Then, a new clinical trial for breast cancer patients may have found a less-invasive replacement for lumpectomies and finally, Lindsey Fitzgerald, MD, has received a grant to investigate the care gap for veterans who face disparities based on their location and race.

Newfound Genetic Markers Create Resistance to Treatment in Pancreatic Cancer

Rendering of DNA strand

In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers found a gene in pancreatic cancer patients that is resistant to treatment. Mark Silvis, PhD and Dilru Silva, BS, researchers in the McMahon and Kinsey labs at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U), found that the gene MYC is resistant to trametinib and hydroxychloroquine but a specific combination of medicines can overcome the resistance.

Discovering Genetic Mutations That Increase Sarcoma Risk

Huntsman Cancer Institute patients participated in an international study published in the journal Science, to find the genetic risks of sarcoma. Sarcoma is a soft tissue cancer of the muscle, bone, and connective tissues. Researchers collected DNA from almost 5,000 patients and discovered gene mutations that increase cancer risk. In the future, researchers hope genetic testing can help screen for sarcoma.

Artificial Intelligence Helps Predict Treatment Outcomes for Patients with Prostate Cancer

Jonathan Tward, MD, PhD, FASTRO, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and professor of radiation oncology at the U, presented a new way to predict the future of prostate cancer patients.  Researchers are using AI and digitizing biopsy slides from prostate cancer patients to find patterns. Tward notes that using AI is beneficial because there are no human biases and it can find patterns that people might dismiss as irrelevant. The AI finds biomarkers that help predict the risk of prostate cancer recurring or spreading, which allows doctors to deliver more personalized and effective treatments. The findings were presented during the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s Annual Meeting in October 2022.

Paving the Way for Future Breast Cancer Treatments

Phases of clinical trials

Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute used a magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound device for the first time to treat a patient with breast cancer in a clinical trial. This device uses magnetic resonance imaging to locate and target the tumor, then sound waves heat the tissue and kill the cancer. Cindy Matsen, MD, breast surgeon at Huntsman Cancer Institute and associate professor in the department of surgery at the U, is the principal investigator for this clinical trial and Allison Payne, PhD, associate professor of radiology and imaging sciences at the U, invented the device and developed the procedure. The clinical trial is analyzing the procedure’s effectiveness. Eventually, researchers hope this treatment will replace surgery for some breast cancer patients.

Physician-Scientist Receives Grant to Help Veterans with Geographic and Racial Disparities

Lindsey Fitzgerald, MD, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, received the 2022-23 Association of Veterans Affairs Hematology/Oncology (AVAHO) Cancer Research Catalyst Grant. The grant is for young researchers working at a VA medical center in healthcare who completed training in the last 10 years. Working with Ahmad Halwani, MD, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, and the IDEAS center of excellence at the Salt Lake City VA, Fitzgerald will study geographic and racial disparities in elderly veterans who have diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DBCL), the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma affecting older patients. Little is known about how to manage DLBCL, so these findings will be used to address potential disparities in survival rate.

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Huntsman Cancer Institute
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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) is the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center for Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. With a legacy of innovative cancer research, groundbreaking discoveries, and world-class patient care, we are transforming the way cancer is understood, prevented, diagnosed, treated, and survived. Huntsman Cancer Institute focuses on delivering a cancer-free frontier to all communities in the area we serve. We have more than 300 open clinical trials and 250 research teams studying cancer at any given time. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center. Our scientists are world-renowned for understanding how cancer begins and using that knowledge to develop innovative approaches to treat each patient’s unique disease. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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