Behind the Scences

Lab Tours Reveal Latest in Cancer Discoveries

The latest cancer treatments and discoveries, from innovative immunotherapy clinical trials to earlier cancer detection methods, can all be traced back to one origin: the lab.

This fall, friends and supporters of UVA Cancer Center gathered for a series of behind-the-scenes lab tours and presentations at the Carter-Harrison Research Building. Attendees heard about the latest advances in cancer research at UVA, and were able to see firsthand the technology and techniques that make life-changing breakthroughs possible.

Several researchers at UVA are at the forefront of immunotherapy research, which uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer and is revolutionizing the way doctors approach cancer treatment.

Drs. David Brenin and Patrick Dillon are partnering with biomedical engineer Richard Price, PhD, and pathologist Timothy Bullock, PhD, to use focused ultrasound technology to target breast cancer. For more on their lab, see cover story.

Craig Slingluff, MD, and his team, are conducting clinical trials that utilize immunotherapy through vaccination to combat melanoma and other cancers. Meanwhile, Daniel “Trey” Lee, MD, the head of UVA’s pediatric transplant program, and his team are developing immunotherapies that drastically improve transplant outcomes. Lawrence Lum, MD, shared the latest details of his immunotherapy methods and research, which spotlight infusions as having the potential to destroy cancer cells in various parts of the body, and possibly even target immune-related diseases beyond cancer—all on an outpatient basis.

The lab of Chip Landen, MD, is pioneering a two-pronged approach to combat ovarian cancer. Their strategy includes the development of a non-invasive, early detection test that can be performed as part of a woman’s regular annual exam, and increasing sensitivity to chemotherapy to prevent recurrence caused by cells becoming chemoresistant.

Todd Bauer, MD, and Kim Kelly, PhD, both are researching new tools that can identify cancer earlier. Bauer studies the fundamental processes that cause pancreatic cancer, allowing his team to focus on personalized, combination patient therapies. In a separate lab, Kelly uses functional proteomics to detect novel markers of disease for early detection and targeted therapies.

Karen Ballen, MD, oversees UVA’s adult bone marrow transplant program, and both she and UVA Cancer Center Director Tom Loughran, MD, are doing leukemia-specific research. Ballen and her team offer advanced care for leukemia patients, while Loughran and his team are examining why normally dormant LGL leukemia cells can abruptly become active and multiply, causing life-threatening symptoms in patients.

“As both a physician and a researcher, I have really become humbled seeing my own research directly impact our patients,” Loughran says. “Our researchers focus on the patient and patient outcomes, and being able to share that insight as well as the latest discoveries taking place in our labs with an incredible group of supporters—many of whom are cancer survivors—was nothing short of inspiring.”