News & Events

Taubman Scholar Theodore S. Lawrence tapped as new cancer center director

Taubman Scholar Theodore S. Lawrence, M.D., Ph.D., has been named the director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. The appointment was approved Feb. 19 by the University of Michigan Board of Regents.

Lawrence succeeds Max S. Wicha, M.D., who founded the Cancer Center 27 years ago.  Wicha also is a Founding Taubman Scholar and current deputy director of the Taubman Institute.

“This is a tremendous program with talented and dedicated faculty and staff, a terrific research infrastructure and superb core facilities,” says Lawrence, who will assume the title of Max S. Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology. He is also chair of radiation oncology in the University of Michigan Medical School.

Lawrence cites the Cancer Center’s strength in precision medicine, drug discovery and health policy research as well as opportunities to deepen clinical and translational research efforts.

The center’s “comprehensive” status is designated by the National Cancer Institute and reflects participation in cancer basic, clinical, and population sciences research, with strong interactions among those areas. A center must also provide public information, education and outreach programs. U-M is one of two comprehensive cancer centers in Michigan and one of 41 across the country.

“Michigan has been the epicenter of many global advances in cancer research and care. As patients, families and the scientific community look to us for the next breakthroughs, we are fortunate to have the expertise of an established leader of Dr. Lawrence’s caliber to guide the Cancer Center into a very promising future,” says James O. Woolliscroft, M.D., dean of the U-M Medical School and Lyle C. Roll Professor of Medicine.

In addition to continuing to advance the Cancer Center’s research excellence, Lawrence plans to grow the center’s statewide presence as part of an effort to bring cancer care closer to home.

“The vast majority of cancer care can be done in the community with strong partnerships. We want to create more of those partnerships to allow more patients in our state to receive the right care in the right place,” Lawrence says.

Lawrence’s laboratory interests are focused on chemotherapeutic and molecularly targeted radiosensitizers. His clinical research combines these laboratory studies with conformal radiation guided by metabolic and functional imaging to treat patients with pancreatic and other gastrointestinal cancers. Lawrence expects to continue patient care and research activities as Cancer Center director. He will continue to serve as chair of radiation oncology as well.

In addition, Lawrence has served in leadership positions in many of the most prestigious oncology societies, including the American Society of Radiation Oncology, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the Radiation Oncology Institute, the Society of Chairs of Radiation Oncology, and both the Board of Scientific Councilors and the Board of Scientific Advisors of the National Cancer Institute. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. He has received the ASTRO Gold Medal, the highest award conferred by the society, an ASCO Statesman Award, and the 2014 Outstanding Investigator Award from the Radiological Society of North America.

Lawrence joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1987, following a fellowship in medical oncology and a residency in radiation oncology at the National Cancer Institute. He received his research degree in cell biology from the Rockefeller University in New York, followed by his medical degree from Cornell University and an internal medicine residency at Stanford University.

Institute to host Nobel Laureate for April 15 lecture

Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech, Ph.D., the author of paradigm-shifting research into the nature of RNA and other biological building blocks, will speak in Ann Arbor at 4 p.m. on April 15 as a guest of the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute.

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel, M.D., Ph.D., will introduce Dr. Cech, whose lecture is titled "A Brief History of Noncoding RNAs: from Ribozymes to Epigenetic lncRNAs."  All are welcome to attend the lecture; no registration is required.  The lecture also will be live-streamed at www.TaubmanInstitute.org

Dr. Cech, currently a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, was only 41 when he received the coveted international science award in 1989.  The Nobel Prize rewarded his finding that ribonucleic acid (RNA), one of the basic molecules of any life form, is not merely a passive carrier of genetic information but can be a catalyst for cellular change as well. 

"We are so honored to host Dr. Cech and greatly looking forward to his talk," said Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Taubman Institute.  "His discoveries continue to influence the course of scientific thinking and have implications for investigators across the spectrum of bioscience." 

Dr. Cech currently serves as Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry and director of the University of Colorado BioFrontiers Institute.  He is the recipient of numerous scientific honors and is a past president of the Howard Hughes Medical Insitutute. 

His laboratory also is renowned for its more recent research into telomerase, an enzyme which helps protect chromosomes when cells replicate.  Such protection is a positive factor in the proliferation of normal cells and is thought to also contribute to the survival of cancer tumor cells, making the study of telomerase extremely important in terms of potential therapies for a variety of diseases. 

Click here for more about Dr. Cech.

Click here for directions to the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building.

Emerging Scholar Dr. Erika Newman discovers new treatment target for childhood cancer

Research by Taubman Institute Emerging Scholar Erika Newman, M.D. has uncovered a new characteristic of a deadly childhood cancer that may give doctors a new way to treat the disease.

Newman and colleagues at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital have identified a promising new target for developing new therapies for kids with high-risk neuroblastoma, according to a new study published in Molecular Cancer Research.

The research found for the first time that components of an alternative DNA repair pathway are highly expressed in neuroblastoma tumors.

“We discovered that high-risk neuroblastoma cells preferentially use an efficient but erroneous DNA repair pathway that gives these cells survival advantage. Importantly, children with neuroblastoma tumors harboring these alternative repair factors have worse overall survival than children with tumors that have low expression,” says Newman, who is assistant professor of pediatric surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School and surgical director of the Mott Solid Tumor Oncology Program (MSTOP).

Erika Newman
Newman

Newman says this information could provide a promising treatment option for neuroblastoma patients, by developing new therapies that disrupt the ability of cancer cells to repair DNA damage.

“There is an urgent need to develop new therapies for children with high-risk neuroblastoma,” Newman says.

“Nearly half of patients present with tumors that have already spread. Despite current treatment, most with high-risk neuroblastoma don't survive. The primary focus of our lab is to develop new treatment approaches for children with high-risk disease.”

Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer infants and the most common solid tumor outside of the brain in all children, in which malignant cancer cells form in primitive nerve tissue called “ganglions” or in the adrenal glands.

“We are very excited that these findings have provided insight into the mechanism by which neuroblastoma tumors overcome DNA damage.  This study provides evidence that an alternative repair mechanism is functional in neuroblastoma and offers experimental support for further preclinical investigation of DNA repair pathways as new therapeutic targets in high-risk neuroblastoma,” says Newman.

Taubman-funded research offers breast tumor insights

Research assisted with a grant from the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute has led to new insights into a rare form of breast tumor.

A new study from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center characterizes the genetic underpinnings of a type of breast tumor called phyllodes tumors, offering the first comprehensive analysis of the molecular alterations at work in these tumors.

Scott Tomlins, M.D., Ph.D.The analysis uses next-generation sequencing with a novel panel developed by ThermoFisher Scientific, called the Oncomine Cancer Research Panel, that allows researchers to identify alterations in more than 100 genes from archived tissue samples.

“We know little about the biology of phyllodes tumors. In part, they have not been studied much because it's difficult to accumulate a large number of samples. Using these new sequencing techniques, we were able to study archived tissue samples, which allowed us to identify enough samples to perform a meaningful analysis,” says study author Scott A. Tomlins, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology and urology at the University of Michigan Medical School

Tomlins was appointed the A. Alfred Taubman Emerging Scholar in 2014.  The institute's Emerging Scholars Program supports the laboratory work of junior faculty at the U-M medical school, to help them establsih themselves in the dual role of clincian-scientist.

Phyllodes tumors represent about 1 percent of all types of breast tumors. Most are benign but they do have the potential to become metastatic. Currently, there are no good ways to reliably predict which tumors are likely to recur or spread after initial treatment. Once phyllodes tumors become metastatic, there are few effective treatments.

Researchers looked at 15 samples of phyllodes tumors, pulled from archived tissue samples at the University of Michigan. The samples were equally divided according to their classification, with five considered benign, five borderline and five malignant. While still a small sample, it can be sufficient with a rare tumor to identify genetic clues to the tumor’s biology. The researchers sequenced the samples against a panel of genes known to have some function or role in cancer.

They found two genes, EGFR and IGF1R, that were amplified in multiple malignant phyllodes tumors. Therapies have already been developed against EGFR and IGF1R proteins and tested in other cancers. Results from this study support evaluating these therapies in phyllodes tumors as well.

In addition, the researchers found the gene MED12 was frequently mutated in all classifications of phyllodes tumors. This gene also plays a role in some rare gynecological tumors that are related to phyllodes tumors. The researchers believe MED12 could be involved with tumor initiation.

Results of the study appear in Molecular Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

“Even though phyllodes tumors are rare, it’s important to have good treatment options for the aggressive cases. The first step is understanding the underlying biology of these tumors,” Tomlins says. “Further study and validation is needed, but our work has identified several promising targets involved in phyllodes tumors.”


Familial ALS strikes generations of Metro Detroit kin

A Dec.19 column by Detroit News writer Marney Rich Keenan explores the toll of a familial form of  ALS on multiple generations of one Metro Detroit family.  Taubman Institute Director Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D. is physician to some of the individuals and is quoted in the front-page story. 

Sallie Gutherie saw her 26-year-old son's leg twitching and felt she'd been hit by a wrecking ball. Ever the strong matriarch, she said nothing. Even when Lucas pressed her, she shooed away his fears. She assured him: there was no way it was happening again.

Gutherie, 62, who was losing her husband of 29 years, Chuck, to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Diagnosed in May 2012, his decline was rapid and unforgiving. Charles "Chuck" Gutherie died less than a year later on April 12, 2013, at age 60, leaving behind five children and one grandchild.

The topic — Lucas' leg twitching months before his father died — came up at a recent Gutherie family Sunday dinner, a tradition they started when Chuck got sick. Upward of three-dozen relations (the immediate family numbers 15) gather in Sallie and Chuck's trailer in Addison Township where the kids were raised. They feast on potluck dishes in aluminum trays amid hearty laughter, a gaggle of little kids and an uncommon devotion to each other.

"You mean you knew back then?" asked Sallie's daughter and Lucas' stepsister April Thiel, 39.

"Yes," Sallie said quietly, "but I didn't want Dad to know."

"Why didn't you tell us?"

"Well," she answered quietly, wistfully. "I kept thinking there was a chance I was wrong."

The family's worst fears were confirmed on April 28: Lucas is the third generation to test positive for familial ALS, which means the disease is inherited. It was confirmed in a phone call from Dr. Eva Feldman, one of the nation's leading ALS researchers. She is director of the Program for Neurology Research & Discovery at the University of Michigan Health System. Her clinic also treated Lucas' father, Chuck, and several others in the extended family.

In families with genetic or inherited ALS, there is a 50-percent chance each offspring will inherit the gene. With the Gutheries, ALS has run rampant, toppling family members like dominoes. Seven family members, including a grandmother and her son, four siblings and a cousin — ranging in age from 46-61 — all died.

And the hits just keep coming. At least two dozen other Gutherie descendants — including Lucas' younger sister, his aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews — also are at risk of carrying the gene mutation. Layla Gutherie, the 20-month-old daughter of Lucas and his wife Shawna, is the fourth generation to possibly face the ALS scourge.

Click here to read the entire Detroit News article.

 

 

 

Visiting professor lecture set for Jan. 15

M. Geoffrey Rosenfeld, M.D. will visit Ann Arbor on Jan. 15, 2015 as a Taubman Institute Visiting Professor.

Dr. Rosenfeld, a renowned investigator in the field of gene expression, will present at Ophthalmology Grand Rounds at 7:30 a.m. at the Kellogg Eye Center.

He also is the featured speaker at the Vision Research Seminar at noon the same day; the lecture will take place in the Kahn Auditorium of the A.Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building.  All are welcome to attend, no registration required.

The title of his talk is "Regulatory Strategies of Enhancers and Chromosomal Boundaries in Learning/ Memory and Neurodegenerative Disease."

Dr. Rosenfeld is Distinguished Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine; an adjunct professor of biology in the Division of Biological Sciences at UCSD; and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He also is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Click here to read more about his research. 

 

Detroit News: Dr. Feldman's stem cell tests show promise in mice with Alzheimer's disease

As reported in the Nov. 11 edition of the Detroit News, Taubman Institute Director Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., is testing a stem cell treatment in laboratory mice with Alzheimer's disease.

Results of one recent experiment show that the animals engineered to have the disease performed as well as normal mice in memory tests, following the injection of stem cells to the brains of the diseased mice. 

"Those animals retained their ability to think, as a mouse does, to recognize objects so they looked just like an animal that doesn't have Alzheimer's disease," Feldman said. "It's really remarkable."

Click here to read the complete Detroit News article. 

Institute welcomes Dr. Robin Ali as Nov. 5 visiting professor

Robin Ali, Ph.D., a pioneer in the use of gene therapy and stem cells to restore damaged retinas, will speak in Ann Arbor on Nov. 5 as part of the Taubman Institute's Visiting Professor program.

Dr. Ali, professor of human molecular genetics and head of the Department of Genetics at University College London, is a leader in the study of experimental techniques to address conditions like macular degeneration and inherited retinal degeneration. He recently has initiated a human clinical trial, among the first of its kind, of a gene therapy for a severe childhood-onset form of retinal disease.

This lecture, "Gene and cell therapy for retinal degeneration: a vision for the future," is presented jointly by the Taubman Institute and the Departments of Neurology and Ophthalmology.

No registration is required to attend the talk, which will take place from 9:30-10:30 a.m. in the Danto Auditorium of the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.  One CME credit is available for physicians. 

 

 

Dr. Eva Feldman elected to prestigious Institute of Medicine

Taubman Institute Director Eva L. Feldman, M.D., Ph.D. is among six University of Michigan faculty members to be elected this year to the he Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

The new IOM members were elected in recognition of their major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health.

Dr. Feldmanis an internationally renowned expert in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.  She has devoted her career to finding new therapies and treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, and is at the forefront of applying stem cell research to human disease.

“This is truly an incredible honor,” Dr. Feldman said. “But more than anything it validates the hard work and dedication of our research and clinic teams at the University of Michigan. They are second to none, and I am fortunate to work with each end every one of them in our quest to understand and treat these confounding neurological disorders.”

As a clinician-scientist, Dr. Feldman treats patients and also directs the Program for Neurology Research and Discovery (www.pnrdfeldman.org), a laboratory staffed by some 30 scientists who are deciphering the mysteries of conditions ranging from diabetic nerve damage to Alzheimer's disease. She is director of research for the U-M ALS clinic and is the principal investigator of the first-ever FDA-approved human clinical trial of a stem cell therapy for ALS. The second phase of the trial is complete and Dr. Feldman anticipates moving to a broader test of the therapy in 2015. She has more than 23 years of continuous NIH funding and is currently the principal or co-investigator of five major National Institutes of Health research grants and three private foundation grants as well as the author of more than 300 original peer-reviewed articles, 59 book chapters and three books.

Dr. Feldman is one of six University of Michigan experts elected to the IOM this year, bringing to 59 the total of U-M faculty members who have been elected to the IOM. Also elected this year:

  • Gonçalo R. Abecasis, the Felix E. Moore Collegiate Professor of Biostatistics and chair of the Department of Biostatistics at the School of Public Health.
  • Carol R. Bradford, M.D., chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Medical School.
  • Charles J. Krause, M.D., Collegiate Professor of Otolaryngology.
  • Mark Fendrick, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the Medical School and a professor of health management and policy at the School of Public Health.
  • Susan A. Murphy, the H.E. Robbins Distinguished University Professor of Statistics, professor of psychiatry and research professor at the Institute for Social Research.
  • Kathleen M. Potempa, dean and professor at the School of Nursing.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public.  Established in 1970, the IOM is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.

New members are elected by current active members through a selective process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.  A diversity of talent among IOM's membership is assured by the Institute's charter, which stipulates that at least one-quarter of the membership is selected from outside the health professions, for example, from such fields as the law, engineering, social sciences, and the humanities.  The newly elected members raise IOM's total active membership to 1,798 and the number of foreign associates to 128.  With an additional 86 members holding emeritus status, IOM's total membership is 2,012.

Taubman Institute to host renowned RNA researcher for Oct. 1 lecture

One of the world's foremost molecular biologists will speak Oct. 1 in Ann Arbor as part of the A.Alfred Taubman Institute's Visiting Professor Lecture Series.

Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D., of Yale University will deliver her talk "Noncoding RNAs: with a Viral Twist" at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 4 p.m. in the Danto Auditorium of the University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center. 

Dr. Steitz is best known for her pioneering work in RNA. She and her student Michael Lerner discovered and defined the function of small ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) in pre-messenger RNA — the earliest product of DNA transcription — and was the first to learn that these cellular complexes (snRNPs) play a key role in processing messenger RNA by excising noncoding regions and splicing together the resulting segments.

Her breakthroughs into the previously mysterious splicing process have clarified the science behind the formation of proteins and other biological processes, including the intricate changes that occur as the immune system and brain develop.

Dr. Steitz earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1967. After completing postdoctoral work in Cambridge, England, she joined the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale as an assistant professor and later became an associate and full professor, as well as chair of the department. Her current appointment at Yale is Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.  She also is a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator.

All are welcome to attend the one-hour lecture; no registration is required. 

The University of Michigan Medical School designates this live activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit (tm).

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