Less than a year after becoming part of CRF, the Breakthrough Board has more than reaffirmed its position as an important and valuable philanthropic partner to the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCCCC.) Last November, the Breakthrough Board held “Bringing Breakthroughs Home,“ its first major fundraising event in two years. This spring, the Breakthrough Board announced the projects it will support with the more than $1 million raised by its donors. These projects reflect a wide range of ways in which supporting cancer science at the University of Chicago can have an immediate effect, from keeping abreast with the most recent technology to fostering teams of scientists who are the best in their chosen fields, as they pursue some of the most pressing questions in cancer.
The members of the Breakthrough Board recognize that each patient’s cancer is unique and that one way to identify a cancer’s traits and potential weaknesses is to study how cancer cells metabolize energy differently than healthy cells. This study of cancer metabolomics is a UCCCC strategic focus and the recent establishment of its core facility for metabolomics will support targeted basic and applied research, enhancing therapeutics and interdisciplinary collaborations. The Breakthrough Board has committed $150,000 towards the purchase of a state-of-the art mass spectrometer that can identify and measure metabolomics, dedicated to supporting the Metabolomics Core.
The Breakthrough Board will also continue directly supporting teams pursuing translational research. First, $100,000 has been made available to add funding to an inter-disciplinary team focused on figuring out how to make immunotherapy a better option for treating colorectal cancer. Gastroenterologist Marc Bissonnette, cancer biologists Jung Chen, PhD and Yu-Ying He, PhD and chemist Chuan He, PhD will combine their significant talents to understand how to better modify the colorectal cancer tumor microenvironment to allow cancer fighting immune cells and amplify their effect. The Breakthrough Board will also support the UCCCC’s goal of continuing to put superstar teams like this together, pledging $125,000 to support pilot funding for future Translational Groups of Research Excellence (TGREs.) Like the team focused on colorectal cancer, these diseased-based collaborative groups are strategically focused teams of basic, translational, clinical and populational scientists based on the diseases that represent both the greatest cancer burden and the greatest opportunity for success at the UCCCC.
One already recognized area of strength and opportunity at the UCCCC is in Head and Neck Cancer, and the Breakthrough Board is taking advantage of this strength by funding three different programs in Head and Neck Cancer. One will study using nanoparticle structures that collect in head and neck tumors and focus radiation therapy, allowing doctors to do more with less radiotherapy and thus fewer side effects. Another team will study whether the amount of HPV virus in a particular type of Head and Neck Cancer can act as a bio-marker, guiding therapy so that each patient receives just enough chemotherapy and no more than needed. A third team of senior scientists will investigate whether a compound called all-trans retinoic acid, a cancer treatment on its own, may be able to also enhance the anti-tumor effects of radiation. All together these three projects represent a Breakthrough Board investment of $300,000.
The Board will also continue to support projects focused on women’s cancers and has committed $100,000 to support a project on endometrial cancers, particularly uterine carcinosarcoma (CS,) a rare and deadly form of cancer which contains both carcinomatous and sarcomatous regions, each of which respond differently to treatments. Principal Investigator Katherine Kurnit, MD, plans to use tumor samples to create 3-D models of uterine CS to create immunological profiles of these cancers and test new ways to treat them. Additionally, the Breakthrough Board has committed $75,000 to support a UCCCC-driven cervical cancer outreach effort. Currently cervical cancer mortality rates in the communities surrounding the University of Chicago are roughly 8 times those in other parts of the city. With support from the Breakthrough Board, the UCCCC hopes to reduce those rates through education and HPV vaccinations.
Finally, as it has done for so many years, the Breakthrough Board will continue to support the Ben May Department of Cancer Research at the University of Chicago. The Board has committed $150,000 to support the recruitment of two junior faculty members, allowing them to set up their labs and pursue new ideas in cancer research. Additionally, outside of its direct allocation to the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Board has committed to support its first Breakthrough Board Scholar, the work of Weixin Tang, PhD, through her 2022 Cancer Research Foundation Young Investigator Award. Cumulatively these 2022 Breakthrough Board allocations represent more than 1 million dollars committed to advancing cancer knowledge and supporting innovative research at the University of Chicago. They also represent the Breakthrough Boards first year of successful independent fundraising. Now, as we look towards the return of the Breakthrough Ball, scheduled for November 12, 2022, we have high hopes that next spring we will announce even greater successes, in both the science the Board is supporting and its ability to increase that support.