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Archive for February, 2015

Cancer center attracting top talent

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public relations

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The Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, which will open in 2017, has added five new translational cancer researchers to its staff in recent months.

The recruits hail from some of the nation’s top scientific and medical institutions. Collectively, they bring more than $5 million in cancer research funding to Nebraska. All have begun their work at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center during the past four months.

“When we launched this ambitious project to build the world’s finest cancer center right here in Omaha, we believed that it would attract the very best minds in cancer research from around the world,” said Ken Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. “These recruits exemplify that vision. We are building a place where pioneering scientific exploration will shape the future of cancer science and medicine — and these recruits are just the start.”

They are:

Michael Green, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from Stanford University. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Nov. 1.
  • $195,000 grant funded by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  • Dr. Green works to identify and understand the genetic alterations that give rise to lymphoma and allow it to evade the immune system. He is interested in the genetics of B-cell lymphoma, with the goal of using genetic profiling to understand disease biology and inform treatment decisions.
  • For more information on Dr. Green, click here.

Nick Woods, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Oct. 1.
  • $400,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant in breast cancer.
  • For more information on Dr. Woods, click here.

Amar Singh, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from Vanderbilt University. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Oct. 1.
  • $1.65 million National Institutes of Health grant in colon cancer
  • Brought one other Ph.D. level researcher with him to Nebraska.
  • For more information on Dr. Singh, click here.

Punita Dhawan, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from Vanderbilt University. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Oct. 1.
  • $950,000 Veteran’s Affairs Health Grant in colon cancer
  • Recruited one additional Ph.D. postdoctoral fellow from Chicago.
  • For more information on Dr. Dhawan, click here.

Rebecca Oberley-Deegan, Ph.D.

  • Recruited from National Jewish Hospital in Denver. Joined the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on Aug. 1.
  • $1.65 million National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute grant in prostate cancer
  • For more information on Dr. Oberly-Deegan, click here.

 

CAR T-Cell Therapy Now Offered at Nebraska Medicine

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After the T cells are collected from the patient, they are sent to a California lab to be restimulated to fight their own lymphoma. They are then returned to Nebraska Medicine to be reintroduced to the patient.

Seeking Patients with Relapsed B-Cell Lymphomas for Clinical Trial

It’s the fifth most common type of cancer for adults in U.S. For years, traditional therapies to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) have included chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell/bone marrow transplant. For the first time, a promising new option will be offered at Nebraska Medicine called Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR T-Cell Therapy). It’s a way of taking the patient’s own immune system and modifying it to attack the cancer.

Dr_-Vose-135x190– Julie Vose, MD

“T cells are white blood cells that help our bodies fight infection and cancer,” explains Julie Vose, MD, chief of Hematology/Oncology. “In lymphoma patients, these cells have gone haywire. They don’t fight the cancer properly. This clinical trial will allow us to take the patient’s own T cells outside the body and restimulate them to be able to fight their own lymphoma.”

From start to finish, the entire process takes about three weeks. During the first phase, the patient’s T cells are collected during an outpatient procedure at the hospital. The cells are then sent to a lab in California for processing. In the meantime, the patient receives several days of intense chemotherapy. When the cells return to Omaha, they’re placed in a specialized processing center here to complete the procedure. The patient then has their own modified T cells given back to them. A specialized team monitors the patient at the hospital for the next 7-10 days, including frequent blood tests and exams.

“It’s a great opportunity for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients who have failed every other therapy,” says Dr. Vose. “So far, this clinical trial has only been done in a few patients, but it looks very promising with high response rates.”

In the past, CAR T-Cell Therapy has only been offered at a few places, including Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Nebraska Medicine is one of the first hospitals in the Midwest to offer the clinical trial.

“This type of treatment can’t be done at just any hospital or center. It’s specialized with respect to what’s needed to collect and process the cells,” explains Dr. Vose. “We have a very large lymphoma program at Nebraska Medicine, which specializes in research and clinical trials. We’re hoping to attract patients from all over the region.”

The clinical trial is open to adult patients (19 years and older) with relapsed b-cell lymphomas, which is a subtype of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Because the treatment is extensive, the patient must be in good enough shape. Some of the treatment aspects are paid for by the study. Dr. Vose is looking to attract 5-10 participants over the next year, but will take more if interest is high.

“Clinical trials are very important, especially when it comes to cancer. That’s the way we discover new treatments,” says Dr. Vose. “Everything we have today is because of clinical trials in the past. Without patients on clinical trials, we wouldn’t have any cancer treatments today or tomorrow.”

To sign up for Dr. Vose’s clinical trial, call Nebraska Medicine at 402-559-5600. To learn more about the upcoming clinical trial, watch the video below.

Nebraska ranks as 10th healthiest state

by Elizabeth Kumru, UNMC public relations

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Ali S. Khan, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the College of Public Health, traveled the state in 2014 to talk with stakeholders about how to improve the state’s health indicators. His goal is to have Nebraska rank as the healthiest state in the U.S. by 2020.

Ali S. Khan, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the College of Public Health, traveled the state in 2014 to talk with stakeholders about how to improve the state’s health indicators. His goal is to have Nebraska rank as the healthiest state in the U.S. by 2020.
Nebraska has moved into the top 10 among the healthiest states in the country.

In a report issued by the United Health Foundation earlier this month, Nebraska moved up one notch after ranking No. 11 last year. This marks the 25th year that UHF has issued state rankings.

About the rankings

America’s Health Rankings is the longest-running report of its kind. It provides analysis of national health on a state-by-state basis by evaluating a historical and comprehensive set of health, environmental and socioeconomic data to determine national health benchmarks and state rankings. The rankings employ a unique methodology that is developed and annually reviewed and overseen by a Scientific Advisory Committee of leading public health scholars. It is published by the United Health Foundation in partnership with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.

The data in the report come from well-recognized outside sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Medical Association, FBI, Dartmouth Atlas Project, U.S. Department of Education, and the Census Bureau.

See the rankings in full.

Use dropdown menus to narrow or expand information.
“We are heading in the right direction,” said Ali S. Khan, M.D., M.P.H., dean of UNMC’s College of Public Health. “With a real concerted effort, we can reach No. 1 by 2020.”

Since joining UNMC in July, Dr. Khan has traveled across the state to talk about how to improve the state’s health indicators. He supports UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., and his strategic goal to work with all health systems and private and community partners to help make Nebraska the healthiest state in the union by 2020.

The report, “America’s Health Rankings: A Call to Action for Individuals and their Communities,” analyzed the health of the nation holistically with in-depth data and analysis. Its focus is on behaviors, community and environment, policy and clinical care to provide a comprehensive picture of the nation’s health. Indicators are: low birth weight, smoking, obesity, drug deaths, physical inactivity and adolescent immunizations.

First, the good news – Nebraska ranks:
•First – High rate of high school graduation. In the past two years, high school graduation increased 12 percent from 82.9 percent to 93 percent for incoming ninth graders. Nebraska is tied with Vermont for the highest graduation rate in the nation.
•Second – High immunization coverage among children. In the past year, immunization coverage among children increased by 9 percent from 72.6 percent to 79 percent for children aged 19 to 35 months.
•Third – Low rate of drug deaths.
•10th – In the past year, the number of children in poverty decreased by 27 percent from 19.6 percent to 14.3 percent.
•24th – In the past year, preventable hospitalizations decreased by 13 percent from 63.8 to 55.8 per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries.

Still, it isn’t all good news.

In areas that need work, Nebraska ranks:
•16th – In the past two years, the percentage of adults with diabetes increased 10 percent from 8.4 percent to 9.2 percent.
•21st – Percentage of adults who are smokers (self-report smoking at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and currently smoke).
•23rd – Public health funding.
•27th – Percentage of adults who are obese.
•44th – Percentage of adults who self-report drinking alcoholic beverages on at least one occasion in the last month: women – four or more drinks at one sitting; men – five or more drinks at one sitting.

Dr. Smith attends State of the Union

Smith1118Philip Smith, M.D.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse hosted Philip Smith, M.D., medical director of the Nebraska Medicine Biocontainment Unit, as his guest at Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address. Dr. Smith, a professor of internal medicine-infectious diseases at UNMC, leads the specialized Nebraska team that treated three Ebola patients last year.

“By risking their lives for strangers, Nebraska’s biocontainment team inspired us to service above ourselves,” said Sen. Sasse. “The courage, precision, and hard work of these doctors, nurses, and medical professionals saved lives, educated health providers, and calmed public fears. Nebraskans are tremendously grateful for Dr. Smith’s team, and it is an honor to welcome him to Washington as a representative of Nebraska Medicine and UNMC’s dedicated staff.”

“I am deeply honored to have been invited by Sen. Sasse to attend the State of the Union Address. This is a tribute to all of our dedicated and skilled staff who make it possible for us to care for Ebola patients at the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit,” Dr. Smith said.

Nebraska Medicine’s Biocontainment Patient Care ‎Unit is the largest in the country and one of just three facilities in the United States equipped and trained to handle Ebola patients. Between September and November of last year, the world-class Biocontainment Unit successfully treated Dr. Rick Sacra and freelance journalist Ashoka Mukpo.

Nebraska Medicine and UNMC have established the gold standard in treatment of Ebola, Sen. Sasse said. Since the fight against Ebola began, the Biocontainment Unit staff has trained the staffs of more than 40 hospitals across the United States in how to safely handle and treat Ebola patients.

UNMC trial explores injectable HIV medications

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations

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Study coordinator Angela Felton-Coleman performs an injection as study coordinator Frances Van Meter looks on.

Study coordinator Angela Felton-Coleman performs an injection as study coordinator Frances Van Meter looks on.
A potential new drug-delivery system, being tested in UNMC’s HIV Clinic as part of a clinical trial, might not only treat the condition, but offer additional peace of mind.

In a few decades, HIV has gone from being a death sentence to a chronic condition. These days, many of us who don’t have it think about it infrequently, if at all. But, those who have HIV have to think about it every time they swallow another pill.

But UNMC’s clinic is one of a handful of sites nationwide taking part in a clinical trial that tests the efficacy of getting periodic injections rather than taking pills.

“This is something that’s never been done before,” said Uriel Sandkovsky, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine. “Injectable medicine is something we’ve been waiting for years.”

These injections, theoretically, last for long periods of time. So, you’re good for a good while. That way, there’s no forgetting to take your pills.

But, you can forget that you have to.

“It allows me to put that to the back of my mind,” said a clinical trial participant, who asked to remain anonymous. “I have had a lot of anxiety finding out that I was HIV-positive.”

And he would be reminded of that anxiety every time he took a pill.

But, getting two shots every four weeks? “For lack of a better term, I feel normal,” he said.

Susan Swindells, M.B.B.S., professor of internal medicine and the clinic’s medical director, is not surprised. A 2012 UNMC study told her much the same thing. Given a choice, many HIV-infected patients would prefer periodic injections instead of daily pills.

And, for many, it goes beyond convenience, or even peace of mind.

“Some have competing subsistence demands,” Dr. Swindells said. “They need a roof over their head and food. They’re worried about the security of themselves and their children, keeping the electricity on. Medicine-taking is down the list. It gets forgotten and left off.

“Although this is in the early stages of development, this option, where you’d come here for an injection every other month or so, would be fantastic.”

The drugs were developed by the pharmaceutical company ViiV, which wanted to work with UNMC on this project due to the medical center’s longstanding role as a leader in HIV-drug research. Howard Gendelman, M.D., chair of pharmacology and experimental neuroscience, also is studying the ViiV drugs in his lab.

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