Newswise — Huntsman Cancer Institute research highlights shine the spotlight on new discoveries and cutting-edge research. Recently, investigators found a new genetic biomarker in pancreatic cancer patients that creates a resistance to treatment and genetic mutations that increase risks for sarcoma. Additionally, researchers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to help predict prostate cancer treatment outcomes. Then, a new clinical trial for breast cancer patients may have found a less-invasive replacement for lumpectomies and finally, Lindsey Fitzgerald, MD, has received a grant to investigate the care gap for veterans who face disparities based on their location and race.

Newfound genetic markers create resistance to treatment in pancreatic cancer

In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers found a gene in pancreatic cancer patients that is resistant to treatment. Mark Silvis, PhD and Dilru Silva, BS, researchers in the McMahon and Kinsey labs at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U), found that the gene MYC is resistant to trametinib and hydroxychloroquine but a specific combination of medicines can overcome the resistance.

Discovering genetic mutations that increase sarcoma risk

Huntsman Cancer Institute patients participated in an international study published in the journal Science, to find the genetic risks of sarcoma. Sarcoma is a soft tissue cancer of the muscle, bone, and connective tissues. Researchers collected DNA from almost 5,000 patients and discovered gene mutations that increase cancer risk. In the future, researchers hope genetic testing can help screen for sarcoma.

Artificial intelligence helps predict treatment outcomes for patients with prostate cancer

Jonathan Tward, MD, PhD, FASTRO, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute and professor of radiation oncology at the U, presented a new way to predict the future of prostate cancer patients.  Researchers are using AI and digitizing biopsy slides from prostate cancer patients to find patterns. Tward notes that using AI is beneficial because there are no human biases and it can find patterns that people might dismiss as irrelevant. The AI finds biomarkers that help predict the risk of prostate cancer recurring or spreading, which allows doctors to deliver more personalized and effective treatments. The findings were presented during the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s Annual Meeting in October 2022.

Paving the way for future breast cancer treatments

Researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute used a magnetic resonance-guided focused ultrasound device for the first time to treat a patient with breast cancer in a clinical trial. This device uses magnetic resonance imaging to locate and target the tumor, then sound waves heat the tissue and kill the cancer. Cindy Matsen, MD, breast surgeon at Huntsman Cancer Institute and associate professor in the department of surgery at the U, is the principal investigator for this clinical trial and Allison Payne, PhD, associate professor of radiology and imaging sciences at the U, invented the device and developed the procedure. The clinical trial is analyzing the procedure’s effectiveness. Eventually, researchers hope this treatment will replace surgery for some breast cancer patients.

Physician-scientist receives grant to help veterans with geographic and racial disparities

Lindsey Fitzgerald, MD, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, received the 2022-23 Association of Veterans Affairs Hematology/Oncology (AVAHO) Cancer Research Catalyst Grant. The grant is for young researchers working at a VA medical center in healthcare who completed training in the last 10 years. Working with Ahmad Halwani, MD, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, and the IDEAS center of excellence at the Salt Lake City VA, Fitzgerald will study geographic and racial disparities in elderly veterans who have diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DBCL), the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma affecting older patients. Little is known about how to manage DLBCL, so these findings will be used to address potential disparities in survival rate.

About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the U is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. It is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. Huntsman Cancer Institute is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.