SmartPractice Donates $50,000 to TGen Cancer Research

Healthcare consulting firm SmartPractice donates to TGen towards early breast cancer detection

PHOENIX, Ariz. — SmartPractice today donated $50,000 to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to support research for the early detection and more precise treatment of breast cancer.

This year’s gift is double what SmartPractice donated to TGen last year in support of research that could help prevent breast cancer from spreading to other parts of the body.

“After discovering TGen for the first time last year, and seeing the how our donation made a difference in the ability of TGen researchers to further the science of cancer treatment, we decided this year to increase our gift,” said Dr. Charlotte Thrall, Healthcare Director of SmartPractice Wellness Clinic. “We at SmartPractice believe we can help make a difference in the lives of breast cancer patients by supporting the leading-edge research happening at TGen.”

Specifically, today’s SmartPractice donation will go toward TGen’s development of what are known as “liquid biopsies:” simple, non-invasive blood tests that could help detect cancer earlier. They seek to identify “at risk” genetic biomarkers in a patient’s blood circulatory system.

Liquid biopsies are less invasive, less costly and less risky than conventional tissue biopsies, which essentially are minor surgeries.

“We are proud to have merited the support of a health industry leader like SmartPractice,” said TGen Foundation President Michael Bassoff. “Through their very generous contribution, Dr. Curtis Hamann (President and CEO of SmartPractice) and his team will help advance TGen research in the early detection of breast cancer.”

SmartPractice® is a family-owned, Phoenix-based firm that has partnered with dental and healthcare professionals nationwide for more than 45 years to improve the health of both practices and patients. A portion of the proceeds of their innovative line of Pink Ribbon exam gloves and supplies generates a donation to fund breast cancer research and awareness programs. To learn more, please visit smartpractice.com/pinkribbon.

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Golf Classic will Help TGen Cancer Research

14th annual Seena Magowitz Golf Classic, raising research funds for TGen, is planned Aug. 27-29 in Boston

Baseball, gala dinner and golf will accelerate battle against nation’s 3rdleading cause of cancer death

BOSTON — The 14th annual Seena Magowitz Golf Classic — a multi-million-dollar fundraising spectacular supporting pancreatic cancer research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) — is set for Aug. 27-29.

More than 250 golfers and guests are expected at this three-day event, which features a Saturday night baseball game at historic Fenway Park, a Sunday gala dinner at the Boston Harbor Hotel, and Monday morning golf at the Tedesco Country Club in Marblehead, Mass., northeast of Boston.

This is the Golf Classic’s first year in Boston. It previously has been held in Phoenix and Orlando. The event has helped raise more than $7 million over the years.

“Having the Golf Classic based in Boston will provide a new opportunity to raise awareness surrounding this disease throughout New England and across the upper Atlantic seaboard,” said Roger E. Magowitz, founder of the Seena Magowitz Foundation, named for his mother, who passed away from pancreatic cancer.

This year’s Honorary Chairman of the Magowitz Golf Classic is David Dombrowski, Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations. The baseball game during this year’s Classic features the Red Sox vs. the reigning World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. The game’s ceremonial first pitch will be auctioned online in July to raise additional research funds.

Dombrowski is a long-standing member of TGen’s Pancreatic Cancer National Advisory Council, a group of business leaders who assist the TGen Foundation in raising funds to support research and clinical trials for pancreatic cancer. In recent years, their efforts have led to a new treatment regimen that holds the promise of improved patient survival.

“We are extremely pleased to have David Dombrowski as the honorary chair and about moving the Seena Magowitz Golf Classic to Boston,” said Michael Bassoff, President of the TGen Foundation. “We hope to attract a whole new region of participants, as well as showcase a beautiful part of the country and all that the Boston region has to offer.”

Funding raised by the Golf Classic has been directed to research and clinical trials led by Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, TGen’s Distinguished Professor and Physician-in-Chief, who will deliver the gala’s keynote address about the progress being made and his vision for the future — to detect pancreatic cancer early and ultimately find a cure.

This year, pancreatic cancer will claim the lives of nearly 42,000 Americans, surpassing breast cancer as the nation’s third-leading cause of cancer-related death.

The Seena Magowitz Foundation, previous Golf Classic Honorary Chairman Gary Fazio, Mattress Firm executives and employees, and Leggett & Platt President Karl Glassman, have provided the foundational support for an ongoing series of revolutionary clinical trials that build on TGen’s previous success in setting the nation’s standard for treating this formidable disease.

One of these, called the TGen Triple, has showed amazing progress. More than half of the patients in this clinical trial saw their pancreas tumors shrink by more than 30 percent. An additional 20 percent – 1 in 5 patients – saw their tumors dissolve completely; complete remission of an advanced cancer.

A new clinical trial, called the Grand Slam, which began in April, takes the treatments successful in the TGen Triple, and adds two key therapeutic agents that will push towards the goal of attaining remission in 100 percent of patients.

Pancreatic cancer’s lethal nature stems from its propensity to rapidly spread to other organs, especially the liver and lungs. Because no early screening test exists, the disease often goes undiagnosed until its late stages, when surgery is often no longer an option, making it difficult to treat.

Importantly, as a result of TGen clinical research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2013 approved the use of albumin-bound paclitaxel in combination with gemcitabine as a front-line therapy for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. The Seena Magowitz Foundation helped fund the Abraxane clinical trials.

In addition to engaging New England area supporters, event organizers expect to continue attracting major support from the home furnishings and bedding industries.

For more information about the Golf Classic, visit www.seenamagowitzfoundation.org. Prospective sponsors, participants and dinner attendees may contact: Roger Magowitz at 602-524-7636 or roger@seenamagowitzfoundation.org; or Liz McBeth, event director, at 757-773-3622 or liz@seenamagowitzfoundation.org.

Lizard Tails Point Way to Human Regeneration

TGen-ASU researchers find tiny genetic switches in lizard tail regeneration

Findings from lizards may impact future therapies to regrow organs in humans

PHOENIX, Ariz. —Any kid who pulls on a lizard tail knows it can drop off to avoid capture, but how they regrow a new tail remains a mystery.  Now, researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and Arizona State University (ASU) have identified tiny RNA switches, known as microRNAs, which may hold the keys to regenerating muscles, cartilage and spinal columns.

In a study published today in the scientific journal BMC Genomics, ASU and TGen scientists for the first time identified three microRNA’s — a which turn genes on and off — that are associated with the regeneration of tails in the green anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis.

Using next-generation genomic and computer analysis, this interdisciplinary team of scientists hope their findings, following nearly 6 years of research, will help lead to discoveries of new therapeutic approaches to switch on regeneration genes in humans.

“Since microRNAs are able to control a large number of genes at the same time, like an orchestra conductor leading the musicians, we hypothesized that they had to play a role in regeneration,” said senior author Dr. Kenro Kusumi, a Professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and an adjunct faculty member at TGen. “Our earlier work found that hundreds of genes are involved in regeneration, and we are very excited to study these three new microRNAs.”

Dr. Elizabeth Hutchins, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in TGen’s Neurogenomics Division, and co-lead author of the study, said she hopes this investigation eventually enables such things as regenerating cartilage in knees, repairing spinal cords in accident victims, and reproducing the muscles of injured war veterans.

“It is the translational nature of this work — how it could eventually be applied to people — that led to my interest in this study,” said Dr. Hutchins, who graduated from ASU’s Molecular and Cellular Biology Program. “For example, we currently don’t have the ability to regrow knee cartilage, which would really help someone like my grandmother.”

“This work highlights the importance of tiny RNA molecules in the tissue regeneration process, and showed for the first time an asymmetric microRNA distribution in different portions of the regenerating lizard tails,” said Dr. Marco Mangone, a co-author and Assistant Professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and Biodesign Institute. “It seems like microRNAs may play an active role in this process, and are potentially able to shape the regenerating lizard tail like playdough.”

The research team also included: Dr. Justin Wolter of ASU’s Biodesign Institute and School of Life Sciences; and Dr. Walter Eckalbar at the University of California, San Francisco.

This research was funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission.

SU2C Awards $200,000 to TGen Cancer Research

TGen SU2C Melanoma Dream Team member receives $200,000 Sharp Award

Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award recognizes teamwork and development of new ideas among SU2C researchers

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) has selected Dr. Muhammed Murtaza of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), paired with Dr. Antoni Ribas of UCLA, as recipients of a $200,000 SU2C Phillip A. Sharp Innovation in Collaboration Award, named for the Nobel Laureate and Chair of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

The award, first established in 2014, supports opportunities for SU2C scientists from different teams to explore innovative collaborations to accelerate the development of new cancer treatments.

One of five awards totaling $1 million, the award to Dr. Murtaza, an Assistant Professor at TGen, and Dr. Ribas, supports a collaboration to investigate whether it’s possible to predict patient response to immunotherapy by studying the makeup of their microbiomes in blood samples.

Dr. Murtaza is a member of the SU2C-Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) Melanoma Dream Team. Dr. Ribas is a leader of the SU2C-Cancer Research Institute (CRI) Immunology Dream Team. The selections were made Jan. 29 at the SU2C Scientific Summit in Santa Moncia, Calif.

“The selection of Dr. Murtaza for a Sharp award recognizes his knowledge in the field of liquid biopsies and the potential benefits this technique may offer cancer patients, particularly those with metastatic melanoma, as our Dream Team works to accelerate treatment breakthroughs to improve the survival outcomes against this deadly cancer,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director, and leader of the SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team.

While immunotherapy has improved outcomes in metastatic melanoma for a number of patients, for some it remains ineffective and carries toxic side effects. The study by Drs. Murtaza and Ribas is titled: “Fingerprinting the systemic microbiome in plasma to predict immunotherapy outcomes in melanoma.” It will analyze an extensive set of clinically annotated longitudinal blood samples available from the SU2C-CRI Immunology Dream Team to predict immunotherapy response and adverse effects. Recent results show that the gut’s microbial composition may, in part, affect response to immunotherapy. If successful, Drs. Murtaza and Ribas will pursue additional funding to validate their findings.

There also is a prospective study of circulating tumor DNA planned with colleagues at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, where Dr. Murtaza holds a joint appointment an Assistant Professor of Medicine.

Dr. Murtaza joined the Melanoma Dream Team upon his arrival at TGen in 2014 from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, where he began his work on circulating tumor DNA analysis.

“It’s an honor to receive this award, but more importantly the recognition brings further attention to the work of the entire Melanoma Dream Team and the collective efforts of all SU2C Dream Teams to defeat cancer,” said Dr. Murtaza. “Our goal is to investigate if we can predict how patients with melanoma respond to immunotherapy by looking at evidence of the makeup of their microbiomes in blood samples.”

SU2C and MRA established the Melanoma Dream Team — led by Drs. Trent and Patricia M. LoRusso, D.O., of Yale University — to explore the use of genomic sequencing to examine both the normal and cancer genomes of patients with metastatic melanoma. The study leverages advances in genomics, informatics, and health information technology with hopes of yielding more precise medical treatments for patients with this devastating disease.

In June 2015, clinical trials based on the Dream Team’s research findings began enrolling patients lacking a particular genetic mutation in the BRAF gene, and whose treatment for cancer with immune therapy had failed. Trial results will evaluate if using this precision therapy approach improves outcomes over current treatments.

Patients whose melanoma tumors do not have BRAF alterations will have other specific genetic alterations identified, and investigators will match these changes to an appropriate therapy that directly targets those alterations. The hope is that this “precision medicine” approach will lead to more effective and lasting treatments and potentially spare patients from unnecessary treatments that all too often offer little or no benefit.

In addition to Mayo Clinic in Arizona, the initial clinical trial site in Arizona, other locations include Yale Cancer Center, New Haven, Conn.; the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, Wayne State University, Detroit; Biometrics Research Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, Md.; University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMCCC), Ann Arbor, Mich.; Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center/Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas; Indiana University, Indianapolis, Ind.; Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

“From the beginning, Stand Up To Cancer has striven to break down silos, encourage collaboration, and bring together the best research that will benefit cancer patients,” said Phillip A. Sharp, PhD, Chair of SU2C’s Scientific Advisory Committee and a Nobel Prize winner for his research in genetics. “These awards will help bring us closer to the day we defeat cancer.”

Gateway for Cancer Research Foundation provided additional support for the SU2C-MRA Melanoma Dream Team. AACR, SU2C’s Scientific Partner, provides expert peer review and grants administration, as well as ongoing scientific oversight.

For more information about this clinical trial, please call the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center Clinical Trials Referral Office at (855) 776-0015.