Colorectal and Gastric Cancers

Current Projects
Piro Lito, MD, PhD

Therapies that directly target cancer-promoting oncoproteins have revolutionized the treatment of cancer. Cancers, however, are primed to adapt and evolve in the presence of treatment, resulting in an ability to resume growth despite the presence of therapy. Utilizing cutting-edge new techniques that allow the determination of genetic alterations in single cancer cells, Piro aims to understand the principles that govern the evolution of resistance during therapy and identify novel therapeutic interventions that halt this process. His specific focus will be on improving the efficacy of KRAS inhibition for treatment of lung and colorectal cancers.

Project title: "Modeling responses to targeted ERK signaling inhibition at the single-cell level"
Institution: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Neal X. Rosen, MD, PhD, and Charles M. Rudin, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Colorectal, Lung
Research Area: Experimental Therapeutics
Abigail E. Overacre-Delgoffe, PhD

Dr. Overacre-Delgoffe is utilizing unique tools to address how the interaction between the host’s immune system and gut microbes affects colon tumor progression and patient responsiveness to current immunotherapies. Currently, colon cancer patients show an extremely limited response to immune-based therapies and have very poor survival rates. The colon is a unique environment that is composed of host cells and numerous bacteria and microbes that have evolved with the host. Dr. Overacre-Delgoffe aims to understand the basic mechanisms of immunotherapy resistance due to microbiome-immune system interactions, which may aid in developing more effective therapeutics for colon cancer.

Project title: "Microbiome control of the tumor microenvironment: harnessing immunosuppression and exhaustion"
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Timothy W. Hand, PhD, and Olivera J. Finn, PhD
Cancer Type: Colorectal
Research Area: Tumor Immunology
Cristina Puchades, PhD

Dr. Puchades studies ion channels – proteins embedded in the membrane surrounding a cell.  They act as molecular gates, opening in response to diverse stimuli to allow ions to flow into cells. The essential ion channel TMEM16A is required for many fundamental physiological processes, including neuronal signaling, muscle contraction, and salivary gland secretion. In cancer cells, increased activity of TMEM16A is closely linked to metastatic progression in esophageal, gastric, and pancreatic cancers. Dr. Puchades aims to understand how TMEM16A functions and how drug molecules hinder its activity. This research has the potential to guide the pharmacological targeting of TMEM16A as a novel approach for the development of anti-cancer therapeutics.

Project title: "Deciphering the molecular basis for modulation of TMEM16A activity"
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Yifan Cheng, PhD, and Lily Jan, PhD
Cancer Type: Gastric, Other Cancer, Pancreatic, All Cancers
Research Area: Biophysics
Deepshika Ramanan, PhD

Dr. Ramanan studies the interplay between commensal microbes and immune cells in the intestine, and how these interactions influence the progression of inflammation and colorectal cancer. Her research particularly focuses on a cell type that dampens inflammatory responses, known as regulatory T cells. In the intestine, these cells can be broadly categorized into two subsets that differ in origin and responsiveness to microbes, but their exact functions remain unclear. She aims to identify the specific functions of these different subsets in intestinal inflammation, tissue repair, and tumor pathogenesis. These studies could provide invaluable information that can be harnessed to improve current cancer immunotherapy options.  

Project title: "Identifying functions of regulatory T cell subsets in intestinal inflammation and colorectal cancer"
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Named Award: National Mah Jongg League Fellow
Award Program: Dale Frey Scientist, Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Christophe Benoist, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Colorectal
Research Area: Tumor Immunology
Esen Sefik, PhD

Dr. Sefik is examining the connection between obesity, cancer and the microbiome. An estimated 600 million people worldwide suffer from obesity, with 15-20% of deaths from cancer in the US alone linked to obesity. Recent studies in mice highlight the importance of intestinal bacteria and immune cells in obesity and colorectal cancer; however, these roles are not yet well characterized in humans. She will   analyze how high fat diet and obesity-associated intestinal bacteria change intestinal immunity in mice that harbor the human immune system and the human microbiota. This will help resolve some of the existing discrepancies and discover new players that are relevant to obesity and cancer in humans and help engineer better-targeted, combined therapies to colorectal cancer, especially in cases where existing immunotherapy fails.

Project title: "The effect of microbes, diet on the intestinal immune system in the context of obesity"
Institution: Yale University
Named Award: HHMI Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Richard A. Flavell, PhD
Cancer Type: Colorectal, All Cancers
Research Area: Basic Immunology
Heather L. Yeo, MD

The cost of gastrointestinal cancer care in older adults is high, and hospital readmission after major GI cancer surgery can be particularly costly. The Center for Medicare Services (CMS) estimates that around 75% of these readmissions are preventable. For these patients, early warning signs for dehydration, infection, or other complications, if noted earlier, would allow physicians to intervene and prevent readmission. Dr. Yeo, a surgeon, has worked with programmers from Cornell Tech Campus to develop a Mobile Application (iPhone or Android compatible) for patients undergoing abdominal cancer surgery. The app tracks patients’ mobility and prompts patients to input quantitative and qualitative data regarding pain, fluid status and dietary factors in order to allow physicians to intervene earlier as needed. She is currently piloting the app for feasibility and usability, and improving the user interface so that physicians can use the app to monitor and improve patient care. The next step is a prospective randomized study to evaluate the utility of this mobile app in the prevention of readmission, thus enhancing physician-patient interactions, decreasing costs and, most importantly, improving patient care.

Project title: "Use of mobile applications to evaluate post surgical recovery in aging patients with GI cancer"
Institution: Weill Cornell Medicine
Award Program: Clinical Investigator
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Manish A. Shah, MD, and Deborah L. Estrin, PhD
Cancer Type: Gastric, Other Cancer, Colorectal, Pancreatic
Research Area: Outcomes Research
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