UM/Sylvester Hosts Annual Cancer Research Competition Featuring MIT Professor Dr. Tyler Jacks
The University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center hosted the ninth annual Zubrod Memorial Lecture and Cancer Research Poster Competition on Thursday, May 1. This year’s lecture was presented by Tyler Jacks, Ph.D., the David H. Koch Professor of Biology and the director of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
An investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dr. Jacks presented “Modeling Cancer in the Mouse” as this year’s guest lecturer. He has pioneered the use of gene targeting technology in the mouse to study cancer-associated genes. Over the last 30 years, Dr. Jacks explained, the focus of cancer research has been in genes and the mouse provides the best possible model for that study for a few reasons. Scientists can manipulate its genome very easily, introduce mutations and control the activity of those mutations. He acknowledged that mice are certainly different from humans but the hope is they will provide useful tools in understanding basic cancer biology and therapy.
“The challenge in studying cancer in humans is no two humans are the same and this same genetic influence that determines how we turn out also influences how tumors turn out.” Mice can be genetically identical, helping scientists maintain consistency when monitoring laboratory results. Dr. Jacks detailed some of the work done in his lab with mice, including the activation of the K-ras oncogene to monitor the role of p53, a protein, in eliminating damaged or pre-cancerous cells.
Dr. Jacks, who is also a Daniel K. Ludwig Scholar in Cancer Research, also talked about using the mouse model to study microRNAs, Working with mice models, researchers have found a specific microRNA acts as a tumor suppressor. Dr. Jacks believes working with microRNAs will open up many new targets, even as a therapy. “One day, I’m quite optimistic, that may work. I think small RNA biology represents a phenomenal new tool against cancer.”
Joyce M. Slingerland, M.D., F.R.C.P.(C), Ph.D., was recognized with this year’s Outstanding Cancer Research Award, which is given to a member of the UM/Sylvester faculty who has initiated groundbreaking research. Dr. Slingerland, who is the director of the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at UM/Sylvester, has focused her research career on how breast cancer cells escape growth control by antiestrogens and inhibitory cytokines. Recently, her lab initiated new clinical trials of molecular targeted therapies to reverse antiestrogen resistance. Last year, she received the Doris Duke Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award, which honors physician-scientists with $1.5 million in funding over five years.
In accepting her award for Outstanding Cancer Research, Dr. Slingerland acknowledged the dedication of those who work in her lab and the leadership of Dr. Goodwin, saying “it takes a village to do science well these days.” She also thanked her family, colleagues, and her patients, who she described as “the ones who inspire us and keep us real.” Dr. Slingerland went on tell the audience, “we have the privilege of living in a time when what we do now is going to translate into understanding basic molecular pathways to really curing this disease.”
W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., director of UM/Sylvester, addressed the more than one hundred people at the presentations, saying it was a day to “celebrate our history and think about our future.” UM/Sylvester’s history is intertwined with Nathaniel I. Berlin, M.D., Ph.D., who died in March at the age of 87. Dr. Berlin was a renowned cancer researcher at the National Institutes of Health before he began the cancer center at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
In 1987, he joined the University of Miami where he became director of what is now the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. With Dr. Berlin’s son, Marc and daughter, Debbie on hand, Dr. Goodwin recounted the broad base of work of the scientist and physician. Dr. Berlin focused on research, early detection and helped establish guidelines for cancer screening that are still in use today. Dr. Goodwin presented the Berlin family with a plaque, saying “Dr. Berlin leaves a hole, but also a tremendous legacy here and at Northwestern University.”
Sean P. Scully, M.D., Ph.D., director of UM/Sylvester’s Office of Education and Training, presented the poster awards in clinical and basic science categories. This year, first prize in the clinical division went to Christopher Gomez, M.D., a 3rd year resident, for his study of hyaluronic acid and hyal1 as independent prognostic indicators for prostate cancer progression. In basic science, first prize was awarded to Yuqi Jing, M.D., a post doctoral fellow for the study titled “A Novel Fully Retargeted Oncolytic Measles Strain via the Urokinase Receptor Against Breast Cancer.”
The annual Zubrod Poster Presentation is a competition in honor of Charles Gordon Zubrod, who spent 25 years at the University of Miami and was a director of what is now UM/Sylvester. Dr. Zubrod created the first of the national cooperative clinical trial groups and developed the National Cancer Institute’s chemotherapy research program, leading him to be called the “father of cancer chemotherapy.”
Each year, at least one of Dr. Zubrod’s five children attends the annual poster presentation. This year, Justin Zubrod visited from Chicago and described what this honor signifies. “It means an awful lot to our family. It gets us together and brings back a lot of fond memories.” The younger Zubrod said it was exciting to see how the award has expanded over the last nine years, and understood those changes were his father’s passion. “This is why he worked in government and academia – just a great funnel of students, researchers and young people coming in. That’s where all the action is.”
About UM / Sylvester
UM/Sylvester opened in 1992 to provide comprehensive cancer services and today serves as the hub for cancer-related research, diagnosis, and treatment at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. UM/Sylvester handles nearly 1,600 inpatient admissions annually, performs 2,700 surgical procedures, and treats more than 3,700 new cancer patients. All UM/Sylvester physicians are on the faculty of the Miller School of Medicine, South Florida’s only academic medical center. In addition, UM/Sylvester physicians and scientists are engaged in more than 200 clinical trials and receive more than $36 million annually in research grants. UM/Sylvester at Deerfield Beach opened in 2003 to better meet the needs of residents of Broward and Palm Beach counties. A major expansion is currently underway, which will double the size of this facility by adding diagnostic imaging services, additional chemotherapy chairs, and expanded exam rooms. Deerfield Beach offers appointments with physicians from 12 of UM/Sylvester’s 15 Site Disease Groups, complementary therapies from the Courtelis Center, and education and outreach events.