University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI)


Video Blog Archive


Targeted Radiation, Drug Therapy Combo Less Toxic for Treatment of Recurrent Head,
Neck Cancers
John Vargo, MD — September 2014

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Physician-researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI)/ UPMC CancerCenter report that patients with a recurrence of head and neck cancer who have previously been given radiation can be treated more quickly, safely, and with less side effects with high doses of Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT) in combination with the drug cetuximab.

Between July 2007 and March 2013, doctors treated 48 patients with the combination therapy. All of the patients were able to complete the treatments, which were administered in a span of about two weeks compared to traditional therapies which can take up to nine weeks. Severe toxicity was reported at 12 percent using the combination therapy, compared to upwards of 85 percent using conventional therapies.

The results of this study were presented at the 2014 American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting in San Francisco. Watch John Vargo, MD, a radiation oncology resident at UPCI/ UPMC CancerCenter and one of the lead authors, discuss this study.

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Potential Breast Cancer Drug Performs Well in Early Clinical Trials
Shannon Puhalla, MD — July 2014

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A drug previously studied to improve chemotherapy may be effective in treating patients with cancers related to the BRCA 1 or 2 genetic mutations, as well as patients with BRCA-like breast cancers, according to a UPCI clinical trial. The drug, veliparib (ABT-888), is a PARP inhibitor, which means it lowers the resistance of cancer cells to treatment by targeting the polymerase (PARP) family of enzymes responsible for a wide variety of cellular processes in cancer cells, particularly DNA repair.

Watch medical oncologist Shannon Puhalla, MD discuss results of the phase I study, which were presented at the 50th annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting.

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UPCI Scientists Find Patients With Invasive Lobular Carcinoma May Benefit From Personalized
Drug Therapies
Steffi Oesterreich, PhD and Matthew Sikora, PhD — March 2014

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According to a multidisciplinary team led by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), the second-most common type of breast cancer, appears to be a good candidate for a personalized approach to treatment.

Patients with ILC are typically treated with surgery and chemotherapy or hormone therapy, or both. According to Steffi Oesterreich, PhD, Professor of Pharmacology & Chemical Biology, and Director of Education at the Women's Cancer Research Center, a subset of patients with ILC receive less benefit from this treatment than those with ductal carcinoma. Dr. Oesterreich's team recently described a unique program of estrogen receptor-driven gene expression in ILC cells that may play a role in drug resistance.

These findings were recently published in the March 1 edition of Cancer Research.

Watch Dr. Oesterreich and Matthew Sikora, PhD, a postdoctoral associate at UPCI, discuss this study.


Accurately Identifying Neck Tumors Using Robotics Improves Treatment, Survival
Umamaheswar Duvvuri, MD, PhD — October 2013

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) recently found that by using robotic surgery done through the mouth to identify the cause of lumps in the neck, physicians can better target more personalized therapies for patients and dramatically improve survival.

In the study, researchers examined 206 head and neck robotic cases performed at UPMC between December 2009 and December 2012. Transoral robotic surgery was performed on 22 patients where there was a lump in the neck with unknown origin, also known as occult primary squamous cell carcinoma. Of these 22 patients, the primary tumor was identified in 19 cases.

In order to determine the impact of identifying the unknown primary tumor on overall survival, researchers matched 69 patients with undiscovered carcinoma of unknown primary (following clinical exam, imaging, and surgical evaluation) and 67 patients in which the primary was discovered at the initial surgical evaluation. They found a difference in overall survival between undiscovered (8.83 years) and discovered (10.19 years).

UPCI researchers presented their findings at the ASTRO annual meeting in Atlanta.

Watch Umamaheswar Duvvuri, MD, PhD, discuss the presentation.


The Importance of Personalizing Cancer Medicine to Maximize Patient Benefit
Dr. Nancy E. Davidson, UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter Director — August 2013

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UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter Director Dr. Nancy E. Davidson discusses the importance of personalizing cancer medicine to maximize patient benefit.

For more information please visit the Personalizing Cancer Medicine section of the UPCI website.


The Personalized Cancer Medicine Information Management System (PCMIMS) Offers “Big Data” Technology for Research
Adrian V. Lee, PhD, and Rebecca S. Crowley Jacobson, MD, MS — June 2013

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The Personalized Cancer Medicine Information Management System (PCMIMS) is a joint venture of the UPMC CancerCenter, UPCI, and UPMC Enterprise Analytics that will be the foundation for our evolving efforts in developing and delivering personalized cancer care. This vision includes providing an adequate Information Technology (IT) infrastructure which will enable clinicians and researchers to perform cohort discoveries, manage datasets and perform complex analysis all in a secure and traceable environment.

Watch Adrian V. Lee, PhD, and Rebecca S. Crowley Jacobson, MD, MS, discuss the benefits of this data sharing initiative.

Learn more about PCMIMS.


Combination Vaccine Therapy Appears Effective in Advanced Melanoma
Julien Fourcade, PhD, PharmD — April 2013

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Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute recently presented early findings of cancer studies at this year's American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Watch Julien Fourcade, PhD, PharmD, a research instructor in the laboratory of Hassane Zarour, MD, associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, discuss the clinical trial where different immunization strategies for melanoma were tested.


UPCI Researchers Reveal Mechanism to Halt Cancer Cell Growth
Bennett Van Houten, PhD — February 2013

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Watch Bennett Van Houten, PhD, the Richard M. Cyert Professor of Molecular Pharmacology at UPCI, discuss the progress of this study.

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Cancer Specialty Care Centers of UPMC CancerCenter Provide Streamlined and Efficient
Care Using Cutting-Edge Treatments
David Bartlett, MD — January 2013

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Cancer Specialty Care Centers of UPMC CancerCenter provide a seamless, coordinated care approach that focuses on getting patients examined, tested, diagnosed or confirmed, and treated in the quickest time possible.

Specialty Care Centers are organized by disease sites and offer efficient care by a multidisciplinary team of specialists, allowing experts to offer leading cancer treatments and therapies. The centers are for patients who:

  • Have advanced or rare forms of cancer.
  • Have metastatic disease.
  • Seek a second opinion on their diagnosis.
Watch David Bartlett, MD, Director, Cancer Specialty Care Centers, discuss how the centers work.


Interim Findings of the Role of Neoadjuvant Chemotherapy and Stereotactic Body
Radiotherapy for Pancreatic Cancer
Dwight Heron, MD, FACRO — November 2012

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UPCI researchers evaluated the role of neoadjuvant chemotherapy and stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) for borderline resectable and locally-advanced pancreatic cancer, and presented their interim findings at the ASTRO annual meeting in Boston.

Watch Dwight Heron, MD, FACRO, Vice Chairman for Clinical Affairs in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Director of Radiation Services at UPMC CancerCenter, discuss the presentation.


First-in-Human Trial of a STAT-3 Selective Inhibitor for Cancer Therapy
Jennifer Grandis, MD, FACS — July 2012

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There has been evidence that signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 (STAT-3) is increased in cancers, where it drives cell transformation, tumor progression, and resistance to therapy. While STAT-3 is therefore considered a highly attractive therapeutic target, it has long been regarded as "undruggable."

Recently published in the new AACR journal Cancer Discovery, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and collaborators have developed a new strategy to block STAT-3 in cancers. Specifically, they developed a STAT-3 decoy oligonucleotide that effectively decreased levels of STAT-3 target genes in head and neck tumors in a phase 0 trial. Through chemical modification, the team enhanced the stability of this molecule to enable systemic delivery of the drug in patients.

Watch Jennifer Grandis, MD, FACS, Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Leader of the Head and Neck Cancer Program at UPCI, discuss the study and its results.


Flexible Sigmoidoscopy Screening Reduces Colorectal Cancer Incidence and Mortality
Robert Schoen, MD, MPH — July 2012

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A new study of the multicenter Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial evaluated the effect of colorectal cancer screening by flexible sigmoidoscopy in comparison with usual care. Results of this large randomized trial indicate that screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy was associated with a 26% reduction in overall colorectal cancer mortality and a 21% reduction in the incidence of colorectal cancer.

Watch Robert Schoen, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, and lead author of the study, discuss these results that were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.


Chemoprevention Studies Uncover Cancer-Inhibitory Mechanisms of Dietary Constituents
Shivendra Singh, PhD — April 2012

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While population-based studies have demonstrated that people who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables have a lower risk of developing cancer, scientists are now beginning to uncover the specific dietary components responsible and their mechanisms of action. Recently, UPCI researchers discovered that the broccoli constituent analogue D,L-sulforaphane (SFN), a promising cancer chemopreventive agent, can induce cell death through a mechanism involving PKCβ-mediated phosphorylation of the p66Shc adaptor protein. In addition, the research team demonstrated that benzyl isothiocynate (BITC), a constituent of edible cruciferous vegetables, can induce breast cancer and colon cancer cell death through a PUMA-dependent mechanism.

These studies were recently published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry and PLoS One.

Watch Shivendra Singh, PhD, Associate Director of Basic Research at UPCI and Professor of Pharmacology & Chemical Biology at the University of Pittsburgh, discuss his recent findings:


Genomic Analysis of Kidney Cancers Reveal Shared Tumor Type-Specific Copy
Number Variations
William LaFramboise, PhD and Rajiv Dhir, MD — April 2012

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In a collaborative research study, investigators at UPCI characterized several diagnostic subtypes of renal cell cancers based on the distribution of copy number variants (CNV) both within and across tumors spanning the entire genome. They found that despite immense genomic heterogeneity, distinct CNV segments were common within each of 4 tumor subclassifications. The subset of shared genomic amplifications or deletions that were identified for each subclassification could provide critical diagnostic or prognostic biomarkers of renal cell cancers.

This study was recently published in the American Journal of Pathology.

Watch William LaFramboise, PhD, Director of the UPCI Cancer Genomics Facility and Associate Professor of Pathology; and Rajiv Dhir, MD, Medical Director of UPCI Tissue and Research Pathology Services and Chief of Pathology at UPMC Shadyside Hospital, discuss their collaborative work.


UPCI Researchers Gain Better Understanding of Radiation-Mitigator Drug
Joel Greenberger, MD — April 2012

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According to a UPCI/University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study, researchers may have a better way of understanding how a drug used to protect against and mitigate irradiation damage interacts inside human cells. The study involved the successful labeling and tracking of JP4-039, a drug that combats irradiation-induced cell death by assisting the mitochondria.

Results of the study will be presented at the AACR Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Watch Joel Greenberger, MD, Chairman of Radiation Oncology at UPCI and Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, discuss the study findings.

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