Bob Zhang, Author at NFCR - Page 6 of 10

Bob Zhang

Prevention & Early Detection

What is Prevention & Early Detection?

One of the best ways to reduce the number of patients dying from cancer is to prevent the disease from developing in the first place. That’s why researchers are investigating links between nutrition and cancer, as well as pre-cancerous conditions that could stop cancer from starting (known as chemoprevention).

Scientists are also working to improve early detection tools that are likely the most effective means to finding cures for many cancers.

NFCR Research Highlights

Dr. Robert Bast, who receives NFCR support, is best known for developing the OC125 (CA125) monoclonal antibody in 1981 that led to the production of the CA125 radioimmunoassay – the first useful biomarker for monitoring the course of patients with epithelial ovarian cancer. Since this discovery, Dr. Bast and his team have been evaluating ways CA125 and other biomarkers can be used together to screen for ovarian cancer.

Dr. James Basilion and his team at the NFCR Center for Molecular Imaging are developing new tools that can literally change the way doctors are looking at cancer. One newly-designed molecular probe allows researchers to view multiple molecular biomarkers simultaneously and see a tumor’s genetic structure in real time. This visualization allows for the very early detection of tiny tumors that will greatly improve treatment outcomes for many cancers.

NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Paul Schimmel recently showed how resveratrol – a natural ingredient found in foods including cacao and grape skins – may have potent preventative effects when combined with tRNA synthetase enzymes and a key protein – PARP-1.

Dr. Helmut Sies¸ whose work is funded by NFCR, discovered that the antioxidant lycopene, a micronutrient found in tomatoes and other foods can reduce the damaging effects of oxygen produced by our body’s essential metabolic processes. Lycopene has strong skin cancer prevention effects.

Dr. Michael Sporn, whose work was supported by NFCR, is known as the “Father of Chemoprevention” because much of his research has dealt with the development of new drugs that can be used as chemopreventive agents. Throughout his career, he has been involved in the synthesis of several hundred naturally-occurring molecules called triterpenoids. These molecules have potent preventative effects, including anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, pro-apoptotic (cellular suicide) and cytoprotective effects. The triterpenoids could be used as agents against several types of cancer, including breast, lung and pancreatic cancers. For individuals at especially high risk, the promising results of Dr. Sporn’s research offers hope that there could be new and safe drugs for cancer prevention.

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Targeted Cancer Therapies

What is Targeted Cancer Therapies?

Targeted cancer therapies use drugs to more precisely identify and attack cancer cells, based on a person’s genes, as compared to traditional cancer treatments. As such, targeted cancer therapies are sometimes called “molecularly targeted drugs” or “molecularly targeted therapies” and allow for more personalized treatments.

In addition to being molecularly-focused, targeted therapies are often cytostatic (which means they block tumor cell proliferation), whereas standard chemotherapy agents are cytotoxic (which means they kill tumor cells). Therefore, many targeted drugs go after the mechanisms that make cancer cells different than normal cells and leave the healthy cells alone.

NFCR Research Highlights

At the NFCR Center for Targeted Cancer Therapies, Co-Directors Dr. Daniel Von Hoff and Dr. Laurence Hurley have been working together on a genetic structure-based approach to drug design. They combine Dr. Hurley’s medicinal chemistry research with Dr. Von Hoff’s clinical oncology program in cancer therapeutics.

The researchers at the Center are currently working on an entirely new approach to treating cancer by developing drugs that block newly-recognized genetic structures called “super enhancers.” These large clusters of DNA regulatory elements control the expression of a host of genes — including the critical cancer gene c-Myc – and offer a great opportunity for cancer disruption. This new approach may lead to improved treatments for pancreatic cancer, lung cancer (the small-cell type, in particular), lymphoma, multiple myeloma, colorectal and other cancers.

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Therapeutic Antibody Engineering

What is Therapeutic Antibody Engineering?

Antibodies are blood proteins that chemically combine with substances in the body, such as bacteria, viruses and foreign substances in the blood.

They are highly adaptive structures and, specifically, monoclonal antibodies (Mabs) – that bind to only one substance – have emerged as a major target of research for biological drugs for various diseases. For cancer treatments, Mabs bind only to cancer cells and produce immunological responses against the cancer cells.

Fueled by advances in molecular biology and genetic engineering, efforts are underway to engineer new generations of Mabs with tumor-fighting effects that are less harmful to normal cells (as compared to traditional cancer treatments).

NFCR Research Highlights

Dr. Wayne Marasco is a world-renowned antibody engineering expert who works on infectious diseases and cancer immunotherapies.

In an effort to greatly expand the use of Mabs in the treatment of cancer, Dr. Marasco and NFCR founded the NFCR Center for Therapeutic Antibody Engineering. He collaborates with accomplished global cancer investigators in a joint effort to uncover new Mabs using his laboratory’s human antibody library.

Dr. Marasco has had great success developing Mabs that attach to an important protein – carbonic anhydrase IX (CAIX) – that is highly expressed in renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer. Once attached, the CAIX antibody can halt abnormal cancer growth.

Most recently, his team at the NFCR Center developed a combination immunotherapy treatment that holds promise for treating metastatic kidney cancer more effectively. The immunotherapy they have engineered includes not only the CAIX antibody that detects and binds to CAIX growth-promoting proteins on cancerous kidney cells, but also unblocks T cells to enable more rigorous attacks against cancer. Moreover, this double treatment approach could be adapted to treat advanced colon, breast, brain and other difficult-to-treat solid cancers using different antibodies.

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Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia

What is a Tissue Bank Consortium?

A Tissue Bank Consortium is a collaborative platform that provides researchers with access to high-quality cancer tissues and blood samples from patients.

The current era of cancer genomics involves research projects (and subsequent treatments) that are dependent on reliable biospecimens. In fact, tumor biospecimens are considered the key components of the molecular-medicine universe. However, a lack of access to high-quality cancer tissues remains a major obstacle worldwide and collective consortiums help alleviate that problem.

NFCR Research Highlights

NFCR built the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia in 2006 because, in Asia, there has been a unique opportunity to collaborate with the United States (and other countries) in the creation of large-scale biorepositories.

In China, over three million new cancer cases are diagnosed each year (almost twice that of the United States). This large patient base, in addition to the relatively low costs associated with tissue collection and storage, provides great potential for collaboration.

NFCR established the Joint Tissue Banking Facility at Tianjin Medical University Cancer Institute and Hospital as the flagship member of the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia. There, they collected and stored cancer tissues with annotated clinical information, as well as conducted a research project on gastric cancer – the fourth most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the world. They used genome-sequencing technology to analyze hundreds of gastric cancer tissue samples and discovered that defects in three cellular-signaling pathways (BRCA2, Wnt and PI3-K-ERBB4) might improve the response of gastric cancers to therapy. Several newly-developed drugs that target these pathways have already been tested in other cancer types, such as breast and ovarian cancers.

As of 2016, the biorepository contained over 54,500 fresh frozen tissue samples and over 77,700 blood samples. The project is currently on hold, as regulations for tissue collections in different countries are being reassessed.

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Computational Drug Design

What is Computational Drug Design?

Drug design is the process of finding and testing new treatments based on biological targets. Computational drug design – often called computer-aided drug design – refers to the drug invention process that relies on computer modeling techniques.

Computational drug design has been significantly improved by advances in algorithms, large amounts of data and improved technology.

NFCR Research Highlights

NFCR provided over $2.25 million in funding from 1983 to 2010 to Professor Graham Richards’ research on computational drug design, which led to the establishment of the NFCR Centre for Computational Drug Design at the University of Oxford. The centre was a virtual consortium that included researchers from several European countries and the ScreenSaver LifeSaver Project stemmed from the work in this centre.
In the early 2000s, NFCR teamed with technology companies Intel, United Devices and the University of Oxford on the project that aimed to turn personal computers into a virtual supercomputer to be used in the discovery of new drugs to combat cancer.

The Screensaver LifeSaver Project encouraged owners of personal computers worldwide to download software that enabled researchers to utilize unused computer power and create a virtual supercomputer to study over 1.5 billion molecules.
And after years of collecting data, the Screensaver LifeSaver Project used the idle time of over 3.5 million personal computers linked through the internet to computationally screen a large database of molecular structures. From 2000-2007, more than 3.5 billion drug-like molecules were screened against 12 cancer targets, which yielded tens of thousands of lead compounds that were analyzed by science project leaders and used to identify new anti-drug candidates.

Recently, an off-shoot company from the ScreenSaver LifeSaver Project received a nearly £1 million grant from Innovate UK to continue research into novel anti-resistance, cancer-fighting antibiotics.

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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide, claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of women each year. Although it’s rare, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. With breast cancer continuing to impact so many people, it’s important to understand the disease and what strides researchers are making.

Key Facts

  • More than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors live in the U.S. today.
  • The lifetime risk of getting breast cancer in the U.S. is about 1 in 8 for women and 1 in 1,000 for men.
  • Research shows only 5-10% of breast cancers are hereditary.
  • Dense breasts can be six times more likely to develop cancer. If you have dense breasts, ask your doctor about extra screening tests, like ultrasound or MRI, to check for tumors that a mammography might have missed.
  • A lump isn’t the only sign of breast cancer. Call your doctor if you notice a change in the size or shape of your breast, a nipple turned inward, fluid other than breast milk, dimples in your breast or scaly, red or swollen skin on your breast, nipple or areola.

Breast Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack breast cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

survivors in the U.S. today
in 8 women will be diagnosed
times more likely with dense breasts

NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Susan Horwitz’s work has been instrumental in the development of a successful class of anti-cancer drugs called Microtubule-Stabilizing Agents (MSAs) – a class that includes Taxol®. Dr. Horwitz is now collaborating with NFCR-funded organic chemist Dr. Amos B. Smith, III to develop MSA hybrid drugs to overcome drug resistance problems associated with treatments using Taxol for Triple Negative Breast Cancer. With promising preliminary results, the two scientists are now testing the effectiveness and toxicity of some hybrid drugs.

NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Daniel Haber developed the CTC-iChip — an advanced micro-engineered device that captures extremely rare circulating tumor cells from the blood. Genetic testing on captured CTCs may give doctors a way to more effectively treat the tumor or stop it from spreading. Moreover, CTCs allow the response of treatments to be monitored in real-time. This device could dramatically improve treatment and diagnosis for many different types of metastatic cancers, including metastatic breast cancer.

Dr. Danny Welch and his team at the NFCR Center for Metastasis Research are exploring how mitochondria – a specialized cell part that generates energy for our bodies – may determine why breast cancer metastases develop in some patients, but not in others.  Differences in tumor formation, metastasis location and responses to therapy could be from our mitochondrial DNA. With continued success, this research may suggest that a simple blood test can help guide doctors in treating those patients who are susceptible to metastasis and may need more aggressive treatment.

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Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer continues to affect women of all ages worldwide. The disease often presents no symptoms in its early stages, which is why it is often referred to as a “silent killer.”

Key Facts

  • Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another through sexual activity. 
  • With the advent of the HPV vaccine and regular Pap screening tests, most cervical cancers can now be prevented.
  • In 2017, it is estimated that nearly 13,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in the U.S. and more than 4,000 patients will lose their battle with the disease.
  • Although the number of new cases has been declining over the past decades, thanks to Pap screening, cervical cancer is still the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide.

Cervical Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack cervical cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

expected diagnoses in 2017
deaths expected in 2017
second most common cancer for women

NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Harold F. Dvorak discovered the vascular endothelial cell growth factor (VEGF), which plays a central role in angiogenesis, the process by which tumors recruit blood vessels to supply the nutrients they need to grow and survive. Dr. Dvorak’s breakthrough led the research community to develop inhibitors of VEGF. One anti-VEGF targeted cancer therapy has treated over 1.5 million patients with various types of primary and metastatic cancers. In 2014, this anti-VEGF antibody combined with chemotherapy was approved by the FDA to treat patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer.

Dr. Dvorak

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Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. Although the death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping for the past 30 years, it is still the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.

Key Facts

  • There are currently more than one million colorectal cancer survivors in the U.S.
  • The overall lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 21 for men and 1 in 23 for women
  • With regular screenings, colorectal cancer can be preventable.
  • Several factors may place you at a higher risk for colorectal cancer, including age, personal history of polyps or cancer, inflammatory bowel disorders, family history, genetics and lifestyle choices, such as low physical activity, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use and diets high in red and processed meats.

Colorectal Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack colorectal cancer – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

or more survivors in the U.S. today
in 21 men will be diagnosed
in 23 women will be diagnosed

NFCR-funded scientist, Dr. Wei Zhang has vast experience identifying biomarkers and genes in colorectal cancer. His current research team is studying how genetic expression, amplification and mutations relate to and regulate each other. Using data from next-generation sequencing, Dr. Zhang’s team is identifying growth-promoting genes of a patient’s cancer. Dr. Zhang has previously identified microRNAs (miRNAs) as biomarkers to improve colorectal cancer prognosis and predict treatment response. He used blood samples from healthy donors and patients with stage I through IV colorectal cancer, and confirmed that one microRNA molecule – miR-141 – may predict the outcome for stage IV colorectal cancer patients.

For approximately 20 years, with NFCR support, Dr. Yung-Chi Cheng has explored the therapeutic properties of PHY906, a Chinese herbal medicine formula. Dr. Cheng and his laboratory team have discovered that cancer treatment with PH906, combined with chemotherapy, alleviates the unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects of chemotherapy for colon and rectal cancer patients. Moreover, their research demonstrated that PHY906 also has its own, solo anti-tumor attributes. If there is continued success in clinical trials, PHY906 could become one of the first FDA-approved oral herbal medicines for anti-cancer treatment.

The c-Myc gene is a cancer-causing gene (or oncogene) that is amplified in colorectal cancer and is a tough molecule in terms of finding targets for drug development. NFCR-sponsored scientists Dr. Daniel Von Hoff and Dr. Laurence Hurley are creating drugs to block large clusters of DNA called “super enhancers,” which control the expression of a network of genes – including the c-Myc gene, which has been unresponsive to nearly all drug treatments.

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Stomach and Esophageal Cancers

Stomach cancer (also known as gastric cancer) is cancer that starts in any part of the stomach and is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. Esophageal cancer is a cancer that develops in the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, and is the eighth most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 28,000 new cases of stomach cancer and 16,940 new cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2017, with more than 26,650 deaths expected to result from these diagnoses.
  • Men are twice as likely to develop stomach cancer and three times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than women.
  • The risk of developing either stomach or esophageal cancer increases with age.
  • The lifetime risk of developing esophageal cancer in the U.S. is 0.8%, while the average risk for developing stomach cancer is 0.5%.
  • The overall five-year relative survival rate in the U.S. for people with stomach cancer is about 29% and about 18% for esophogeal cancer.
  • Both stomach and esophageal cancers are more common in other parts of the world, particularly in less developed countries.

Stomach and Esophageal Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack stomach and esophageal cancers – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

Esophageal and Gastric
expected diagnoses in 2017
expected deaths in 2017
% survival rate for stomach cancer
% survival rate for esophageal cancer

Dr. Wei Zhang has devoted his entire career to the pursuit of precision oncology – specifically to the key molecular and genomic events that drive the development and progression of cancer. Over the last 18 years, Dr. Zhang and his team have identified multiple novel cancer markers and oncogenic signaling molecules.

In collaboration with the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia and other scientists, Dr. Zhang led his team to analyze advanced genome-sequencing data from hundreds of gastric cancer samples and discovered defects in three cellular signaling pathways (BRCA2, Wnt and PI3-K-ERBB4). Several newly developed drugs that target these pathways have been tested in breast and ovarian cancers and may lead to improved treatments for patients with stomach cancer.

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