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Cancer

Discover what’s possible. Browse these features to find out more about the impact of University of Minnesota research, education, and care—and how you can help.

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In 1964, you could pick up a pack of cigarettes for around 30 cents, stroll into a movie theater, and light up as you watched Mary Poppins. You could blow smoke rings over the produce while you shopped for groceries, chain smoke on planes, even inhale unfiltered Camels in your hospital bed after heart surgery. And you were in good company while you did it: almost 43 percent of Americans were right there smoking with you.

Masonic Cancer Center scientists have genetically modified different versions of the common cold virus to target and destroy different types of cancer cells, such as pancreatic, prostate, esophageal, gastric, lung, and head and neck cancers. (Photo: Scott

We all know that viruses cause illness, from the not-so-serious common cold to the potentially deadly influenza, AIDS, and measles. So it seems counterintuitive that scientists would turn to viruses in their search for cancer treatments, right?

Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building

After a national search, Seanne Falconer, M.B.A., has been appointed associate director of administration for the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

Christopher Weight, M.D.

When kidney cancer can be so deadly, why don’t we hear much about it? Christopher Weight, M.D., a urologic surgeon and an assistant professor with the U’s Institute for Prostate and Urologic Cancers, explains.

Leah Arnold is ever grateful to the care team that aided her long road to recovery after non- Hodgkin lymphoma. (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota Health)

In 2002, Leah Arnold was a newly married college graduate preparing to take the Medical College Admissions Test when she noticed a lump on her neck. Doctors told her it was related to stress, but over the next several months, the lump in her neck grew, and she began having trouble breathing and swallowing. A tumor stretching from her neck to her heart was later discovered. Arnold was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Outside of clinic walls, Jasmine Foo, Ph.D., applies probability theory to create models that predict how cancers will grow, or at what point cancers become resistant to treatment. (Photo: Scott Streble)

"Drug resistance is a primary reason for cancer treatment failure," says mathematician and Masonic Cancer Center member Jasmine Foo, Ph.D., "but what if we dosed differently? If we changed the strategy of delivering the drugs, could we get better results?" Today Foo is trying to answer these questions by creating mathematical models that predict how cancers will grow and when they become resistant to treatment.

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New research from the Masonic Cancer Center has shown evidence of more mothers smoking while pregnant they report on their children's birth certificates.

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On August 1, Minnesotan kids under age 18 were forced to rethink their indoor tanning habits. Backed by Masonic Cancer Center research as evidence, Gov. Mark Dayton in May signed a bill into law that prohibits minors from using indoor tanning beds, making Minnesota the eighth state to pass such a law.

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Masonic Cancer Center leaders unveiled a permanent tribute to the center's founding director, John Kersey, M.D., in the new Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building on May 13. The display is prominently featured in the lobby of the building, which is open to the public--a rarity for research facilities.

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The latest issue of Masonic Cancer Center News is now available in print and online.

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When scientists talk about "environmental" causes of cancer, they don't mean that carcinogens lurk in every tree and stream. They're referring to anything that enters or interacts with the human body--sunshine, food, water, alcohol, radiation, cigarette smoke--and examining them for their potential to cause renegade cell growth. And as they now know, environmental factors are linked to as many as two out of every three cancers diagnosed.

Image courtesy of Canon Design

In December the University of Minnesota Board of Regents approved final agreements among the University, University of Minnesota Physicians (UMP), and Fairview Health Services (now operating together as University of Minnesota Health) for a new academic outpatient clinic.

Jill Siegfried, M.D., is associate director of the Translational Research program for the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

Why does it take so long for promising cancer drugs to move out of the lab and into doctors' offices where patients can benefit? Jill Siegfried, M.D., explains how Masonic Cancer Center scientists are working to speed up research projects showing the most potential.

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Brad Hoyt fell in love with racing as a boy when his father took him to see the movie "Grand Prix." So when he found himself the winner at the finish line of the premier Historic Grand Prix of Monaco in 2008--in a 1969 Formula One Ferrari similar to the one in the movie--he had to pinch himself. After returning home to Minnesota, all Hoyt wanted to do was get back to Monaco and win again. But a diagnosis of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in April 2011 threatened that plan--and his life.

Hinda Litman brings a smile, fresh flowers, and a selection of treats every week to patients visiting the Masonic Cancer Clinic. (Photo: Scott Streble)

At 78, volunteer Hinda Litman now has a shock of snow-white hair but retains the same joyful energy she brought to University of Minnesota hospitals more than 35 years ago, when she first volunteered as a patient visitor. Since then, she's worked in the surgery lounge, with hospice patients, and now in the Masonic Cancer Clinic--wherever there has been a patient in need, Litman has shown up.

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This story is short. Not much is known about metastasis. And that's the point. "Patients don't die from primary tumors," says researcher Akhouri Sinha, Ph.D., of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. "It's the metastases that kill them."

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Since scientists now know that between 5 and 10 percent of all cancers are caused by abnormal genes inherited from a parent--often called hereditary cancers--Masonic Cancer Center researchers and clinicians are increasingly focused on making sure that patients understand their family history to minimize their cancer risk.

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Giving a gift of appreciated stock, bonds, or mutual fund shares that have been held more than one year can provide an immediate benefit to research, education, or care at the University of Minnesota--and it may be more tax-efficient than giving cash.

A research team led by Jeffrey Miller, M.D., builds on more than 20 years of experience to create better cancer therapies using natural killer cells. (Photo: Scott Streble)

All humans, healthy or not, have cells called “natural killers” that help make up our immune systems. When cells become damaged, infected, or cancerous, NK cells recognize changes on those cells and kill them. So, for people with cancer that continues to grow, why don’t NK cells destroy the tumors?

Todd Tuttle, M.D.

Why are more women getting double mastectomies to treat breast cancer when it only affects one breast?

(Photo: Jim Bovin)

A group of 48 teens with the organization PHD Baseball (Pitching, Hitting, Defense) took their bats to cancer in August by attempting to play the world's longest baseball game while raising money for the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.

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Does taconite dust lead to mesothelioma? This was the main question that the Minnesota State Legislature charged University of Minnesota researchers with answering through a $4.9 million study called the Minnesota Taconite Workers Health Study nearly five years ago. So far, they have found that for every year worked in the mines, a person's risk for mesothelioma increased about 3 percent. But the researchers say there's more work to do.

Zach Sobiech (Photo: J Dunn Photography)

Through music, Zach Sobiech said goodbye to his loved ones. And in the process, the Stillwater teenager's YouTube music video for his song "Clouds" touched people around the world. Though Sobiech died of osteosarcoma, an aggressive type of bone cancer, on May 20 at age 18, his legacy extends far past millions of YouTube views. The Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, created by Zach and his family through Children's Cancer Research Fund, exclusively benefits research at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota that is focused on understanding the causes of osteosarcoma and developing new therapies for it.

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With a $13.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, the University of Minnesota and University of Alabama, Birmingham are collaborating to better address health disparities in conditions affecting African American men.

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Even relatively small grants from the BMT Patient Support Fund have made a huge difference for many patients who have undergone blood and marrow transplants at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview and University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital. It's all thanks to a gift of $100,000 per year from the Rising Sun Foundation, run by an anonymous Minnesota couple with firsthand BMT experience.

View a photo slideshow of the opening. (Photo: Scott Streble)

The University of Minnesota revealed another 280,000 square feet of state-of-the-art space on June 14 at a grand opening celebration for its Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building.

Photo: Brady Willette

By midsummer, University of Minnesota scientists engaged in cancer and cardiovascular research will be settling into their new building across from TCF Bank Stadium. Conceived as the gateway to the University's burgeoning Biomedical Discovery District (BDD), the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building will not only house researchers, it will also welcome passersby inside to see firsthand the impact of the research being done throughout the BDD.

Champions for Children Celebrity Golf Classic

Join us for one of these upcoming events.

Joseph Metzger, Ph.D., leads a tour group through the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building.

Construction crews have been hard at work this spring as they put the finishing touches on the newest building in the university of Minnesota’s burgeoning Biomedical Discovery District.

Reuben Harris, Ph.D. (Photo: Scott Streble)

A Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota research team has uncovered a human enzyme responsible for causing DNA mutations found in most breast cancers. The discovery of this enzyme — called APOBEC3B — may change the way breast cancer is diagnosed and treated.

Research led by Ashok Saluja, Ph.D., shows the potential of the new drug Minnelide to treat pancreatic cancer. (Photo: Scott Streble)

A drug created by researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota may hold the answer to defeating pancreatic cancer.

Reuben Harris, Ph.D., identified a protein that appears to be a driver for more than half of breast cancers. Now he's investigating the protein's rol in other types of cancer as well. (Photo: Scott Streble)

"Mutant variants of human cells": the phrase conjures up images of a bad sci-fi movie. But Reuben Harris, Ph.D., has been studying cell mutations for more than 20 years, and his recent finding is more akin to an Oscar-winning blockbuster. So remarkable is his work that the prestigious journal Nature in February published his discovery that a protein that occurs naturally in the body appears to be a driver for more than half of breast cancers he studied. This breakthrough could lead to new diagnostic tools and, potentially, new treatments for breast cancer.

Anne Blaes, M.D.

Pat Rudolph had never pegged herself as the meditation type. Yet here she was in a weekly, two-hour mindfulness meditation course with a dozen strangers.

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Across the street, across the state, across the country, and across the world, members of the Masonic Cancer Center are helping people live healthier lives. Not only does the impact of our research stretch across borders and oceans, but some of our leaders are working directly with leaders in other countries to accomplish a myriad of goals — to share knowledge, to exchange ideas, and even to help meet basic needs.

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Anesthesiologist and Bangalore, India, native Kumar Belani, M.D., has become a matchmaker, cultivating relationships between scientists at the University of Minnesota and in India.

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The first time Linda Carson, M.D., visited Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Poriya, Israel, she found a “very barebones” setup. The hospital environment was a reflection of the region in general, says Carson, who is head of the University’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health. “People live much more simply,” she says.

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The first time pediatric blood and marrow transplant physician Troy Lund, M.D., Ph.D., visited Uganda, he discovered a surprising number of well-funded labs and research initiatives dedicated to infectious diseases like HIV, AIDS, and malaria. But he also saw a severe lack of resources for some of the most significant causes of childhood mortality there: pneumonia, diarrhea, and dehydration.

John Kersey, M.D., will retire from his research position in June.

The Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota lost one of its most prominent and influential physician-scientists March 10 with the sudden death of John Kersey, M.D. He was 74 years old.

Michael Verneris, M.D.

Michael Verneris, M.D., senses an urgent need every time he looks into the faces of his young patients who have acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the Journey Clinic at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital. "The need to develop new treatments, less toxic and more effective than chemotherapy, is huge," he says, "and I feel that sense of urgency every week when I sit next to a patient and have to explain that the options are slim."

John Ohlfest, Ph.D.

Groundbreaking cancer researcher John Ohlfest, Ph.D., died on January 21 of malignant melanoma. He was 35 years old.

Kathy Heins relishes time with her kids, Megan (12) and Jacob (9).

When a new scanning technology revealed a second tiny new breast cancer—so small it could not be detected by a mammogram—Kathy Heins, a mother of two young children, felt an even stronger resolve to overcome breast cancer. Again.

Brian Pietsch

When he gives, Brian Pietsch strives to maximize the impact of his money and accomplish the greatest amount of good possible. And as head of state government relations and community relations for a major corporation, he understands the tremendous power philanthropy has for advancing causes that need funding. So when Pietsch wanted to personally support ovarian cancer research, the physicians and philanthropic leaders he consulted kept pointing him in the same direction: to the University of Minnesota—or as he says, "right in my own backyard."

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Thanks to recent legislation, you can again benefit from a popular tax-advantaged giving option.

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Pediatric blood and marrow transplant physician Jakub Tolar, M.D., Ph.D., has been named director of the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute.

Lynn and Roger Headrick want to support innovative and promising cancer research that's not happening anywhere else. (Photo: Tim Rummelhoff)

Cancer was a topic of immediate concern to Roger and Lynn Headrick in the 1990s when John Kersey, M.D., asked them to help fund a new cancer research center at the University of Minnesota. A former executive with Exxon, Pillsbury, and the Minnesota Vikings, Roger Headrick had recently joined the boards of two California biotech companies that were examining the links between genetics and cancer.

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Your annual gifts supporting research at the University of Minnesota have a real impact on treatments for patients living with disease.

Did you know that you can leave a legacy that will make a difference after your lifetime?

David Potter, M.D., Ph.D., is exploring whether a drug used to treat diabetes can also help prevent breast tumors from forming. (Photo: Scott Streble)

It has been more than a decade since evidence first emerged linking diabetes to cancer, and what doctors have learned so far is grim: Diabetics are twice as likely to get cancer of the liver, uterus, and pancreas, and they are 20 to 50 percent more likely to develop colon and breast cancer. Women who have breast cancer are almost 50 percent more likely to die if they also have diabetes.

"There's definitely a proven connection between diabetes and cancer," says David Potter, M.D., Ph.D., a breast cancer physician and member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. "But even though we've learned a lot, there's much more work to be done to get us to workable solutions to reduce cancer risk for diabetic patients."

Cancer epidemiologist Julie Ross, Ph.D., finds energy in collaborating with others. (Photo courtesy of Children's Cancer Research Fund)

By the time she became a graduate student in epidemiology, Julie Ross, Ph.D., already knew she loved the lab. But a chance visit to an infant's hospital room helped put her on her life's path: researching the genetic and environmental causes of cancer, primarily pediatric cancers.

Team Judy, standing (left to right): Tammy Magney, Judy Erdahl, Peggy Stefan, Marcia Mayo, Becky Thompson, Joan Glennon, and Kate Bryant; kneeling: Cathy Maes, Karen Morgan, and Sue Kephart. (Photo: Marlee Mayo)

Armed with nothing more than Dixie cups, a few cases of wine, and a battalion of Internet-savvy college kids, a group of Minnetonka-area women have stepped up to take their places in the fight against breast cancer.

"If you're in my age group," says spokesperson Kate Bryant, "you've probably lost friends to breast cancer. We're mad, sad, and frustrated. We don't want any more of our wonderful friends and sisters to die from this disease."

Fekadu Kassie, D.V.M., Ph.D., hopes to find ways to prevent lung cancer.

The frustration in his voice is obvious when Fekadu Kassie, D.V.M., Ph.D., explains the problem: "Lung cancer is the most fatal of all malignancies, mainly because it's usually detected after the tumor has spread to other body parts. There are no dependable markers that can be used to detect the disease at early stages."

Kassie's goal? Develop biomarkers for lung cancer and identify effective tools for preventing it.


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