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Release: Sept. 18, 2002

Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic receive NCI lymphoma SPORE grant

The Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, has received one of only two Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grants from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for lymphoma research. This is the first time the NCI has given a lymphoma SPORE grant, and it is also the first time the Holden Cancer Center has received a SPORE grant.

Effective immediately, the Holden Cancer Center's SPORE grant (under the direction of George Weiner, M.D., director of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center) will provide more than $2 million per year to both Holden and Mayo over a five-year period for five projects geared toward developing new approaches to the therapy of lymphoma. Lymphoma is a cancer of the cells of the immune system and is classified as Hodgkin's or non-Hodgkin's disease.

Only two lymphoma SPORE grants were given nationally, one to the Holden Cancer Center and Mayo Clinic (Holden is the primary site and Mayo is the collaborating site), and the other to Johns Hopkins University.

"The collaboration with Mayo Clinic on the SPORE grant was established because we had complementary strengths," Weiner said. "Mayo has particular expertise in the storing and evaluation of lymphoma tissue samples. The University of Iowa has a track record of using research laboratory advances to develop new treatments for cancers, including lymphoma.

"Both the Mayo Clinic and the University of Iowa have excellent teams of clinical researchers with national reputations as lymphoma physicians. This combination of shared and individual strengths between the two Comprehensive Cancer Centers is a powerful one, as demonstrated by our receipt of the NCI lymphoma SPORE grant."

"Our collaborative research will concentrate on advancing patient treatment by developing new therapies and studying how they work," said Thomas Witzig, M.D., a hematology/oncology physician-researcher at Mayo Clinic.

There are five projects in the lymphoma SPORE, all involving contributions from both the Holden Cancer Center and the Mayo Clinic. Three of the projects are based mainly at the UI and two at the Mayo Clinic:

* Project 1 will explore a new monoclonal antibody that was originally produced, developed and evaluated at the UI and is now being evaluated in cancer patients in five clinical trials in the United States and Europe.

* Project 2 will explore how to make antibodies more effective through the use of the various agents that gear up the immune system.

* Project 3 will involve use of nuclear medicine imaging techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET), to determine how antibodies work. This project will be led by nuclear medicine physicians with expertise in exploring how treatments can modify the function of immune system cells.

* Project 4 is designed to explore how to enhance the anti-lymphoma effect of radioimmunoconjugates (monoclonal antibodies to which tiny molecules of radioactivity have been added).

* Project 5 will explore how the common genetic makeup related to immune function and regulation impacts on survival from lymphoma.

In addition to these research projects, the SPORE grant includes a developmental research program, which allows for the development of new research ideas, and a career development program to bring in the next generation of cancer researchers.

"Overall, the SPORE will allow us to coordinate and strengthen research activities that are designed to apply advances in our understanding of cancer and the immune system to the development of new approaches to the immunotherapy of cancer," Weiner said. "It clearly demonstrates that the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of the premiere translational cancer research centers in the country."

The following UI faculty/staff are involved in SPORE leadership roles: George Weiner, M.D. (overall SPORE director and principal investigator, director Project 1, co-director Project 2); Brian Link, M.D. (SPORE co-principal investigator, director Project 2, co-director Project 1, director of Clinical Trials Core); Malik Juweid, M.D. (director Project 3); Charles Lynch, M.D., Ph.D. (co-director Project 5); Zuhair Ballas, M.D. (director, Immunology Core); Justine Ritchie, Ph.D. (co-director, Biostatistics Core); John Turner, M.D. (co-director, Tissue Core); Jan Spielman (administrator); Mary Hendrix, Ph.D. (director, Developmental Research); and Raymond Hohl, M.D., Ph.D. (director, Career Development).

The NCI established the SPORE program in 1992 to promote interdisciplinary research and to speed the bidirectional exchange between basic and clinical science to move basic research findings from the laboratory to applied settings involving patients and populations. The goal of the program is to bring novel ideas to the clinical care setting that have the potential to reduce cancer incidence and mortality, improve survival, and improve patients’ quality of life. Laboratory and clinical scientists work collaboratively to plan, design and implement research programs that impact cancer prevention and control, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and survival.

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