Excellence in Cancer Research
The University of Maryland’s Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) is a nationally respected cancer center with high caliber scientific leadership and robust programs in basic, clinical and population science research.
Last year, the center added the prestigious “comprehensive” title to its already prominent stature, making it one of only 46 programs in the United States so designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The new designation means that the UMGCCC has met NCI’s maximum standards for ranking among the most exceptional cancer programs in the country.
In addition to its science research programs, the center has multidisciplinary clinical programs for all major cancers (breast, brain, cutaneous, head and neck, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, gynecological, hematologic malignancies, and thoracic cancer).
The goal of the UMGCC’s interactive, multidisciplinary research program—consisting of both clinical and basic researchers—is to take advantage of discoveries in basic cancer biology and in specialty research programs in order to develop and apply innovative cancer treatment and prevention strategies.
Extensive programs in five strategic areas probe both cause and cure of some of the world’s deadliest malignancies: hormone responsive cancers, tumor immunology and immunotherapy, molecular and structural biology, and population science.
The Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy program seeks to develop and implement immune-based strategies to prevent, treat, and/or monitor malignant diseases. The program’s research and clinical endeavors fall under three themes: cell-based cancer immunotherapies designed to elicit active tumor immunity; inhibition of immunosuppression; and investigating the roles of infection and inflammatory responses in cancer development.
The Experimental Therapeutics program’s ultimate goal is building translational clinical trials based on innovative laboratory research projects. These projects focus on developing new drugs based on novel molecular targets and creating new strategies for delivering treatments and utilizing radiation.
The Molecular and Structural Biology program focuses on elucidating molecular mechanisms and cellular processes that are altered in cancer and using that knowledge to improve both diagnostic and therapeutic efforts against cancer.
The Hormone Responsive Cancers program centers on efforts toward reducing morbidity and mortality from these cancers and better understanding the pathophysiological processes that determine the behavior of malignancies of hormone responsive tissue, particularly the breast and prostate.
The Population Science program, a relatively recent and important arm of scientific investigation, focuses on epidemiology of infection and hormone-related cancers, tobacco and nicotine, cancer prevention, early detection, cancer survivorship and health disparities. Program researchers use their epidemiological studies to guide the development and evaluation of behavioral interventions to improve cancer-related health.
Impactful Discoveries and Therapies
Basic and clinical research at UMGCCC has resulted in numerous advances in cancer therapy as well as deepened our understanding of the processes of cancer development and progression.
Among the most prominent outputs of the center’s research efforts has been the development of inhibitors of aromatase, an enzyme that makes estrogen, a growth factor in breast cancer. These compounds, pioneered by Angela Brodie, PhD, have saved countless lives worldwide.
Interdisciplinary collaboration among physicists, engineers, radiation biologists and clinical investigators has led to the creation of the GammaPod, a system capable of effectively treating early stage breast cancer, while reducing the degree of radiation exposure to the heart and lungs. Phase 1 clinical trials of the novel device have begun and several patients have undergone therapy.
Work by radiation oncologists has led to the development of a novel compound, AEOL 10150, to mitigate lung injury incurred by cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy. Currently in national trials, the compound has been shown to significantly reduce pulmonary toxicity.
Other new treatments currently under development by UMGCCC scientists include a drug that shows promise for advanced prostate cancer; ways to harness patients’ own immune systems to eradicate blood, lung and breast cancers; and many, many more.
Local Focus, Global Reach
UMGCCC serves an inner city population with significant minority representation. In its emphasis on health disparities, the center seeks to understand the basis for differences in cancer incidence, response, and survival in different populations. In addition to these studies of health disparities, another priority is increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in clinical trials, achieving a current participation rate of 30 percent.
Epidemiologists in the Population Science program strive to identify molecular, environmental and lifestyle determinants of viral and hormone-related cancers in the U.S. and around the world. Behavioral scientists in the program work on issues of tobacco control and early detection and prevention among vulnerable and underserved populations. Other program researchers partner with local African-American faith communities, training lay community advisors to educate peers about cancer screening. The program is also the lead on an international study aimed at identifying determinants of ovarian and endometrial cancers.
Training tomorrow’s oncologists
The center integrates its discovery and translational research programs with an ambitious training and education initiative that spans the continuum from middle school to undergraduates, graduates, post graduates and residents, as well as continuing education for practicing health care professionals.
Many of the center’s education and research programs are aimed at attracting deserving students from diverse racial, ethnic, geographical, and socio-economic backgrounds to careers in cancer research and clinical care. Among these programs are the CURE Scholars program—a biomedical research training program for middle and high school students from underrepresented and underserved minority populations—and the Science Training for Advancing Biomedical Research Post-baccalaureate Research Education Program (STAR-PREP)—a 1-year mentored research training program designed to encourage and prepare recent baccalaureate graduates coming from underrepresented groups in the biomedical sciences.