Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)

Phoenix, Arizona
Physician in Chief and Distinguished Professor, TGen
Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic
Professor of Medicine, University of Arizona College of Medicine
Chief Scientific Officer, Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare

Research

Dr. Von Hoff is a pioneer and world leader in translational medicine, accelerating novel drug discoveries from the laboratory to cancer treatments in clinical trials. He has personally been involved in over 200 clinical trials. In 1985, when his NFCR grant support began, his research led to the first approved treatment for pancreatic cancer, the chemotherapy gemcitabine. Resistance to pancreatic cancer therapies results in poor survival. His current research involves developing precision therapies for pancreatic cancer patients, by identifying the role of different pancreatic cancer cell populations in resistance to therapy.

Recently, he discovered that pancreatic tumors express scar-forming cells called fibroblasts that protect cancer cells from immune system attack. This has furthered our understanding of signaling pathways in the tumor microenvironment to exploit and make tumors more susceptible to attack and cell death. Dr. Von Hoff’s team identified one such pathway, known as the EMT pathway, that makes tumor cells more aggressive and resistant to many chemotherapeutics. He also discovered that pancreatic cancer cells expressing the EMT pathway respond better to a sequential regimen of chemotherapy and an EMT inhibitor. Dr. Von Hoff demonstrated that first treating patients with chemotherapy resulted in killing most pancreatic cancer cells and subsequent treatment with EMT inhibitors killed the remaining drug resistant EMT-positive pancreatic cancer cells. His laboratory is currently developing this regimen for a clinical trial to provide precision oncology therapy for pancreatic cancer patients.

Bio

Daniel Von Hoff, M.D., attended Carroll College and Columbia University before conducting his residency in internal medicine at UC San Francisco. After that, he had a fellowship in oncology at the National Cancer Institute before joining the faculty at the University of Texas Health Science Center as a professor of medicine and cellular and structural biology. Dr. Von Hoff went on to become the founding director of the Institute for Drug Development at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center and director of the cancer center at the University of Arizona.

Dr. Von Hoff’s major interest is in the development of new anticancer agents, both in the clinic and in the laboratory.

Throughout his career, Dr. Von Hoff has published more than 650 papers, 140 book chapters and 1,000 abstracts. Dr. Von Hoff was selected as a 2016 Giant of Cancer Care® by OncLive, honored with the Scripps Genomic Medicine Award in 2011, named one of the American Society of Clinical Oncology 50 Oncology Luminaries in 2014 and among the first class selected in 2013 by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) for its Fellows of the AACR Academy.

In addition to leading the NFCR Center for New Therapy Development (2001-2006) and the NFCR Center for Targeted Cancer Therapies (2007-2017), Dr. Von Hoff was appointed to President Bush’s National Cancer Advisory Board from 2004-2010, is the past President of AACR, a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member and past board member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.  He is also the founder and the Editor Emeritus of Investigational New Drugs – The Journal of New Anticancer Agents and past Editor-in-Chief of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

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Thunder God Vine: A Powerful Discovery for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

With a name as powerful as Thunder God Vine comes great responsibility – and National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR)-funded researcher Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff has proven that this medicinal plant is up for the challenge.  Dr. Von Hoff is considered one of the nation’s leading authorities on pancreatic cancer.  He and his team began exploring how thunder god vine — an herb used in China for centuries to treat joint pain, swelling, and fever — could be used for cancer patients. The team was overcome with excitement as they discovered a particular compound in this miracle herb can kill cancer cells and potentially improve clinical outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the ninth and tenth most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and men, respectively, in the United States. It is the fourth deadliest cancer and is one of the few cancers for which survival has not improved substantially in over 40 years. An estimated 57,600 new cases of pancreatic cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, with 47,050 deaths expected to result from the diagnosis. With little to no groundbreaking discoveries or treatment, pancreatic cancer is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States by 2030. The key ingredient of the thunder god vine is called triptolide. Triptolide makes up a molecule called Minnelide, which appears to attack pancreatic cancer cells. It also attacks the tumor’s stroma or outer layer that shields it from the body’s immune system. This allows Minnelide to disrupt ‘super-enhancers,’ strings of DNA that aid the growth and survival of pancreatic cancer cells. The team found that disrupting these super-enhancers attacks the cancer cells and the stroma, which helps accelerate cancer cell death. Thunder god vine is commonly found in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. The approaches that make up traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, tai chi, and herbal products, have been the subjects of many clinical studies and scientific reviews. Researchers have concluded that traditional Chinese medicine may help improve quality of life and certain pain conditions, and it is becoming more and more prevalent in western medicine practices. Today, for example, thunder god vine is used for rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, psoriasis, fever, amongst other conditions.  This new approach using an old method may provide means for effective treatment options for pancreatic cancer patients, a glimmer of hope that health professionals and patients have long-awaited. To learn more about groundbreaking research undertaken by NFCR-funded researchers, visit our scientist page. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: Controlling the Uncontrollable: HER2 Breast Cancer Propelling the Fight Against Pancreatic Cancer Ancient Wisdom, Modern Cure Stay connected with the cancer community! Receive NFCR’s monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more. Sign up here.

Life Happens Quickly: Aly’s Story

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