Dawn Scardino named 2012 LLS Woman of the Year

Dawn Scardino named LLS Woman of the Year

Dawn Scardino, Coordinator of Academic Services in the Department of Medical Oncology, was named the 2012 Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Woman of the Year for the eastern Pennsylvania Chapter.

Dawn took the top recognition for raising almost $27,000 in a 10-week fundraising “race” that began on Jan. 30 and ended on April 12.  Four women and nine men took part in the race.

Participants had 10 weeks (Dawn did it in eight!) to organize and run their campaigns, with the goal of raising the most money in their chapters. The man and woman who raises the most are named the winners.

The winners–the top male prize went to Anthony Falco, who raised over $200,000–were announced at the Grand Finale Celebration at the Union League of Philadelphia on April 12.

In total, the whole group raised almost $443,000.

All proceeds from the effort go to the LLS, whose mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life for patients with these diseases.

The funds Dawn raised are in honor of LLS’s Boy of the Year, Andrew Clark, a 13-year-old leukemia survivor who began his battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, at the age of 3.

Since 1949, the LLS has funded over $680 million in medical research aimed at curing different cancers. LLS supports therapies that not only help blood cancer patients but are now used to treat patients with rare forms of stomach and skin cancers and are being tested in clinical trials for patients with a range of cancers including lung, brain, breast, pancreatic and prostate.

Dawn started at Jefferson in 1991.  Since her arrival in Medical Oncology in 2008 she has helped with the recruitment of 27 new faculty members to the department. This was Dawn’s first year participating in the LLS campaign race.



Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Celebrates 20 Years of Patient Care and Cancer Discovery

October 2011 marks 20 years of exceptional cancer care and research at KCC

From October forward, the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson (KCC), a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, is celebrating 20 years of service to the community and the groundbreaking cancer research from the scientists and physicians who’ve provided an invaluable contribution to medical science and healthcare.

“This is truly a milestone for the Kimmel Cancer Center—it’s two decades of caring and collaborating to beat cancer,” says Richard Pestell, M.D., Ph.D., director of the KCC and Chair of the Department of Cancer Biology at Thomas Jefferson University.

“With our multidisciplinary approach, KCC’s team of clinicians and researchers has continued to put their best feet forward to provide excellent, stand-out personalized care for cancer patients in the Philadelphia region and beyond and uncover new pathways to better prevent, diagnose and treat the disease,” he added.

Today, the KCC offers up an experienced team of medical and radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, urologists, neurosurgeons, nurses and other specialists for patients as they fight against cancer. With the Jefferson Breast Care Center, the Bodine Center for Radiation Therapy, the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, and Jefferson Pancreatic, Biliary Tract and Related Cancer Center, to name a few, patients have access to the best facilities, providers and technologies for cancer screening and treatment.

It was October 1991 when the Jefferson Cancer Institute opened, with the dedication of the Bluemle Life Science Building on the Thomas Jefferson University campus. Four years later, with the awarding of a Cancer Center Support Grant, the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute (NCI) officially recognized it as one of only 54 NCI-designated cancer centers in the U.S. at the time. The institute took its current name in 1996 when businessman and philanthropist Sidney Kimmel made a generous donation to the institute to expand its research activities.

The donation to Jefferson is not a “gift,” but “an investment for humanity,” Mr. Kimmel told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1996. “I really believe we’re going to have a breakthrough” in cancer research.

Living up to his expectations, KCC cancer researchers have made significant contributions over the last two decades, including better care in prostate cancer (Leonard Gomella, M.D.); new targets and diagnostics for prostate and breast cancer (Hallgeir Rui, M.D., Ph.D., Dr. Pestell); discoveries in colon cancer (Scott Waldman, M.D., Ph.D); pioneering discoveries in cancer metabolism and stem cells (Michael Lisanti, M.D. Ph.D., Dr. Pestell); better bone marrow transplants (Neal Flomenberg, M.D.); more selective radiation treatment (Adam Dicker, M.D.); and new areas of the human genome to treat (Isidore Rigoutsos, Ph.D., and  Paolo M. Fortina, M.D., Ph.D.).

Dr. Pestell, who became director in 2005, has made significant contributions to understanding cell cycle regulation and the aberrations that can lead to cells turning cancerous. His work identified new molecular markers, and new targets for cancer treatment. An internationally renowned expert in oncology and endocrinology, Dr. Pestell’s record of research funding is outstanding, securing substantial National Institutes of Health grants for the KCC.

Today, KCC’s well-funded basic science programs include cell biology, immunology and structural biology, developmental therapeutics, melanoma, leukemia/lymphoma, prostate and breast cancers, and gastrointestinal and genitourinary cancers. KCC also conducts numerous cancer clinical trials each year aimed at prevention and treatment of cancer.

Two recent clinical trials have resulted in the addition of new procedures at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.  For example, in the Department of Urology, under chairman Leonard Gomella, M.D, a bladder cancer diagnostic tool using an imaging agent and blue light technology is now helping physicians better detect tumors along the bladder lining. Also, a new, two-step approach to half-match bone marrow transplants (where a patient can use a sibling or parent as a donor) developed by Chair of Medical Oncology Neal Flomenberg, M.D., is proving to be a success for blood cancer patients whose options were otherwise limited.  Jefferson is the only hospital in the region performing half-match procedures.

Since being appointed as chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology in 2010, Adam Dicker, M.D., Ph.D., has led extensive clinic renovations and the ongoing addition of new technologies. That includes Bodine’s recently acquired radiation therapy equipment for head and neck and prostate cancer patients and an upcoming radiosurgey instrument designed to deliver higher doses of radiation to smaller areas. Bodine’s state-of-the-art brachytherapy suite is also set to open in early 2012.

Last year, Charles J. Yeo, M.D., Chair of Surgery, performed his 1,000th Whipple procedure.  The Whipple procedure is a major surgical operation involving removal of portions of the pancreas, bile duct and duodenum, and is typically performed to treat malignant tumors involving the pancreas, common bile duct or duodenum.  Jefferson’s surgery department treats more pancreatic cases than anywhere in the region.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital is consistently ranked in the top 50 best hospitals for treating cancer in America (#31 in 2011) in U.S. News and World Report. What’s more, the hospital has moved up more than 20 places in the past five years for cancer.



New Half-Match Bone Marrow Transplant Procedure Featured in Philadelphia Inquirer

Neal Flomenberg, M.D., chair of the Department of Medical Oncology at Jefferson and Dolores Grosso, DNP, co-principal investigator of the study, have developed a way to make stem-cell transplants work, even when only half the immune markers are matched.

Featured in the “Check Up” section of The Philadelphia Inquirer, this research has major implications. Half-match transplants would triple the pool of suitable donors, giving new hope to patients with terminal leukemia, lymphoma, sickle-cell anemia and other blood diseases. “You could help almost everybody,” said Grosso.

Learn more by reading “Check Up: Innovation in stem-cell donation.”



Half-Match Bone Marrow Transplant Procedure Yields Promising Outcomes for Cancer Patients

Dolores Grosso, DNP, Co-Principal Investigator and lead author of the article

Half-matched bone marrow or stem cell transplants for blood cancer patients have typically been associated with disappointing clinical outcomes. However, a clinical trial conducted at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson testing its unique, two-step half-match procedure has produced some promising results: the probability of overall survival was 45 percent in all patients after three years and 75 percent in patients who were in remission at the time of the transplant.

Reporting in the journal Blood in a published-ahead-of-print article dated August 25, Neal Flomenberg, M.D., Chair of the Department of Medical Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Dolores Grosso, DNP, Co-Principal Investigator and lead author of the article, and colleagues discuss the results of 27 patients treated on this phase I/II trial who had diagnoses that included leukemia, lymphoma and myelodysplasia.

The patients received their transplant in two steps. First, after receiving radiation therapy to further treat their disease, the patients were given a specified dose of T cells (a type of immune cell that fights infection) from their half-matched family donor. The donors were parents, siblings or children of the patient. The patients next received the drug cyclophosphamide to help the newly infused donor T cells to be more tolerant to the patient’s body. The second step of the transplant occurred when the patients received a dose of their donors’ stem cells to help their blood counts return to normal and further strengthen their new immune system.

Dr. Flomenberg and his team found that after a follow-up of 28-56 months, overall survival for the patients after one year was 54 percent and 48 percent at three years. Patients in remission at the time of the transplant fared better with an overall survival of 75 percent. Seventeen of the 27 patients—with a median age of 52 years old—were alive six months after their transplant, which was the official end point of the trial.

While more recent studies have shown promising increases in overall survival for patients undergoing half-match transplants, historically, clinical outcomes for these types of transplants have been poor, which has limited the use of this type of procedure.

The results of the Jefferson trial represent a very promising improvement in this area.

Bone marrow or stem cell transplants are performed in order to replace a patient’s diseased immune system with that of a healthy donor. Traditionally, the use of a genetically fully matched donor has been associated with the best results in bone marrow transplant, but many patients lack a fully-matched related or unrelated donor. Almost every patient will have a half-matched donor (also known as a haploidentical donor) in their family, however.

The successful use of haploidentical donors would greatly expand the number of donors available to a patient, extending this therapy to almost everyone who would benefit from receiving a transplant.  This would include minority patients, including patients with sickle cell anemia, who do not have as many fully-matched unrelated donors available to them.

“Our half-match bone marrow transplant results open up many doors for different types of patients who can’t find an exact match,” said Dr. Flomenberg. “It also justifies recommending that patients at high risk for relapse should consider having a half-match transplant early in the treatment of their disease.”

“Jefferson’s two-step procedure provides promising results that could serve as the basis for further exploration and optimization of the technique,” he added.

Jefferson medical oncologists’ approach is unique in that the dosage, timing and treatment of donor T cells was carefully controlled and optimized. No other transplant regimen controls the exact amount of donor T cells given.  The investigators believe that dosing the T cells in this way helped avoid many of the life-threatening side effects of this type of transplant.

“We believe the dosage and timing of T cells from the donor into the patient is essential for success. In fact, it’s equally as important as prescribing specific doses of radiation and chemotherapy to initially treat the disease,” said Dr. Grosso. “The goal of this two-step regimen was to develop a better technique for half-matched patients with relapsed blood cancers initially, but we also showed that it can be appropriate for high risk patients earlier in their disease who lacked fully matched donor options.”



Therapeutic Effect of Imatinib Improved with Addition of Chloroquine

Dr. Bruno Calabretta

Dr. Bruno Calabretta

The therapeutic effects of the blockbuster leukemia drug imatinib may be enhanced when given along with a drug that inhibits a cell process called autophagy, researchers from the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson reported in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The cell-death effect of imatinib (Gleevec) was potentiated when chloroquine, an autophagy inhibitor, was given with imatinib for the in vitro treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) cells including the CML stem cells, according to Bruno Calabretta, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Cancer Biology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University.

Autophagy is a process that allows cells to adapt to environmental stresses, and enables drug-treated CML cells to escape cell death. Imatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that suppresses proliferation and induces death of the malignant cells that cause CML. However, additional effects of the drug have not been studied in detail, according to Dr. Calabretta.

Read more…