May 18, 2021

The spirit of innovation: Tackling cancer from all angles

The UW Carbone Cancer Center doesn’t just treat patients with cancer. We’re also hard at work researching new ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating it.

As the only Comprehensive Cancer Center in the state of Wisconsin, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, UW Carbone is tackling cancer research from all angles. Researchers from across disciplines and departments contribute their specific expertise under a shared purpose.

“Our goal is to rapidly apply our knowledge to our patients,” said UW Carbone director Howard Bailey, MD.

As UW Carbone has grown over the years, so has our membership, or the faculty members who contribute to cancer research. UW Carbone now has over 350 active members from more than 50 departments across campus.

When a UW faculty member joins Carbone as a member, they are assigned to one of six scientific programs. While each has a specific mission and focus, members often collaborate across programs to combine promising approaches.

Here’s more information about the six programs.

Cancer prevention and control

This wide-ranging program brings together a variety of researchers who seek to identify effective approaches to reduce the burden of cancer for patients, their families and communities. Working to improve prevention strategies and early detection methods are two important aspects of this program, but researchers also strive to improve cancer care, as well as support cancer survivors.

In action: Research from Lisa Cadmus-Bertram, PhD, seeks to evaluate the effectiveness of physical activity interventions to reduce sedentary behavior and improve health in patients during and after cancer treatment.

Genetic and epigenetic mechanisms

Cancer is a disease of the genes, and its initiation and progression is often driven by so-called genetic and epigenetic mechanisms. Using mouse models and primary human cancer samples, researchers gain insight about how these mechanisms work – and how they can be exploited to fight cancer.

In action: Beth Weaver, PhD, Mark Burkard, MD, PhD, and Aussie Suzuki, PhD, are leading efforts to better understand chromosome segregation and its contributions to disease, including cancer.

Developmental therapeutics

The mission of this program is simple: identify and develop more effective therapies and strategies for the treatment of patients with advanced cancer. It’s a complex process, but often starts with researchers finding new biomarkers or “targets” for cancer therapies. Once these are identified, researchers translate this work into early-stage clinical trials, ideally leading to future studies and ultimately FDA approval.

In action: In the lab of Douglas McNeel, MD, PhD, researchers explore new targets for anti-tumor vaccines, evaluate the effectiveness of these approaches in rodent models, and translate them into early phase human clinical trials. These studies have the potential to help men with recurrent and metastatic prostate cancer, who often have limited treatment options.

Imaging and radiation sciences

Imaging helps oncologists find cancer. Radiation helps them treat it.

Some researchers in the Imaging and Radiation program work to develop novel imaging agents to improve cancer detection and treatment. Others seek to find new ways to improve therapeutic radiation response. And some are seeking to combine imaging and radiation to create new treatment approaches.

In action: Diego Hernando, PhD, and his team in the Quantitative Imaging Methods Lab are seeking to transform the ways MRI can be used to care for patients, particularly those with liver cancer and other liver diseases.

Tumor microenvironment

Cancer cells have the ability to change things around them, which can result in tumor growth or the spread of cancer cells. A tumor’s ability to change its ‘microenvironment,’ and thus grow and spread, is of significant interest. Research from this program focuses on how the host-tissue environment impacts tumor formation and progression.

In action: Using microscale, microfluidic chips, researchers David J. Beebe, PhD. and Joshua Lang, MD, are able to grow tumor cells from a patient biopsy inside an artificially recreated “tumor microenvironment” from the same patient. This ‘tumor on a chip’ approach creates an individualized model of not just a patient’s tumor but also the surrounding cells that support the tumor.

Human cancer virology

Thanks to research, we now know that viruses cause at least 15%-20% of human tumors. The mission of the Human Cancer Virology Program is to advance the understanding, prevention, and treatment of virus-associated cancers and other cancers through laboratory research. The McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research has a long history of cancer virology, and works in conjunction with UW Carbone to advance this work.

In action: McArdle researcher Paul Lambert, PhD, conducts research focused on understanding the role of human papillomavirus (HPV) in cancer.