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Research Highlights for January 2024

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Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) shines the spotlight on new discoveries and cutting-edge cancer research. This month, learn how investigators have discovered a new medication that shrinks brain tumors. Also, data from the United States Veterans Health Administration (VA) shows Black and Hispanic men with equal access to care as other races live longer. Additionally, researchers are studying a new tool that could measure individual cancer cells to find the best treatments for breast cancer and melanoma.

Low-grade glioma clinical trial finds medication shrinks brain tumors in children and young adults

The journal Nature Medicine published a multi-institutional clinical trial that found an oral medication shrank or stabilized tumors in the majority of patients being treated for relapsed/refractory BRAF-altered low-grade gliomas, the most common central nervous system tumor in children. Nicholas Whipple, MD, MPH, pediatric oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital, and associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at the U, is the principal investigator of the clinical trial. 

The trial included patients six months to 25 years of age and showed that Tovorafenib could be an effective therapy. He notes that most of these brain tumors cannot be fully removed surgically. This means that doctors must often treat these patients every few years to prevent the tumor from growing. This new medication, taken weekly, is the first of its kind. 

Equal access to care can raise the survival rate of men with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer

Huntsman Cancer Institute scientists, in partnership with the VA, recently found Black and Hispanic veterans with non-metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer had improved survival outcomes when they received care equal to their White counterparts. The study was published in the JAMA Network Open

Kelli Rasmussen, PhD, a former member of Huntsman Cancer Institute and senior research analyst in the Division of Epidemiology at the U, Ahmad Halwani, MD, a physician scientist with the Division of Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies at Huntsman Cancer Institute and associate professor of medicine at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine (SOM) at the U, and Chunyang Li, PhD, research associate, Division of Epidemiology at the SOM, analyzed data from 12,992 veterans. Historically, the National Cancer Institute has reported that Black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than people of other races.

Creating personalized treatments through cutting-edge cell measurement technology

Using a technology called quantitative phase imaging, researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute are measuring breast and melanoma cancer cells to help choose the best treatment for patients. Thomas Zangle, PhD, member of the Cell Response and Regulation Program at Huntsman Cancer Institute and associate professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the U, secured two grants from the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense. His collaborators include Robert Judson-Torres, PhD; Philip Bernard, MD; Bryan Welm, PhD; Benjamin Spike, PhD; Huntsman Cancer Institute, and and Alex Lex, PhD, MSc at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute at the U.

Zangle and his team of investigators will study how different treatments affect specific patients’ cancer cells. Quantitative phase imaging uses light to weigh and measure the growth of cancer cells and investigators are turning this technology into a tool that identifies treatments that work best for patients. Zangle and his team are currently in the preclinical phase and comparing results of their technology to the patients’ own responses to therapy.

Media Contact

Heather Simonsen
Public Affairs Senior Manager
Huntsman Cancer Institute
801 581-3194

About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah 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 the highest standard of care and the most advanced treatments, ensuring world-class cancer care is available 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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