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USC researchers unveil findings at ASCO

With dozens of presentations and posters, Keck School of Medicine cancer researchers were among those announcing advances in cancer research and treatment at the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Atlanta, Georgia.

Researchers regularly unveil newsmaking results from major trials at the yearly international conference, which draws more than 25,000 attendees. USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Keck School oncologists contributed to the abundance of research findings in 2006.

Studies presented at the meeting, which took place earlier this month, included new findings on the quality of cancer care in the U.S., assessments of the safety and efficacy of breast cancer therapies and research on the safety and efficacy of novel targeted therapies.

Jeffrey Weber, the Lucy and Berle Adams Chair in Cancer Research and the Keck School’s chief of oncology, presented promising data from an adjuvant study in melanoma of high risk patients who received a CTLA-4 antibody with extended dosing. CTLA-4 is a molecule on T cells that is responsible for suppressing the immune response and thought to be pivotal in melanoma metastases.

“These were 25 patients with Stage 4 disease who were resected and rendered free of disease, and in 12 months none have died,” said Weber. “There have been only six relapses, and most had good levels of immunity to the vaccine.”

Treatments are urgently needed for Stage 4 melanoma (in which the disease has spread to distant organs) because only about 10 percent of patients with Stage 4 melanoma live for five years after the diagnosis.

Weber said the vaccine appeared to break the tolerance to antigens in the gastrointestinal tract, which “suggests this may be a good treatment for colon cancer because it induces a vigorous immune response in the GI tract.”

Investigators from the lab of gastrointestinal oncologist Heinz-Josef Lenz, professor of medicine at the Keck School, presented breakthrough research as well.

In one study, researchers found a potential molecular marker for efficacy and toxicity to 5-FU/oxaliplatin in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer.

The combined chemotherapy of 5-FU/oxaliplatin is still the primary adjuvant therapy used to combat colorectal cancer, and researchers suggested that looking at the SCN1A gene polymorphism may help determine the efficacy and toxicity of that therapy. This is a novel gene, which is now being studied in further experiments in collaboration with Robert Ladner, assistant professor of pathology.

In another study, findings suggested for the first time an immune response that might be a potential marker to indicate the clinical outcome for metastatic colorectal cancer patients treated with Cetuximab. This finding has significant implications for the development of this targeted agent.

Anne Schultheiss, a German medical student in Lenz’s laboratory, presented her data on potential marker of Avastin sensitivity, one of the most promising new anti-angiogenetic drugs in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

This is the first time molecular predictors of this novel agent have been identified, and these findings will allow development of better and more effective anti-angiogenetic agents.

USC researchers unveil findings at ASCO

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