Research

Research Highlights: Hematology & Oncology

Our highlights for the month feature research from the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center which is home to a large group of researchers with diverse training, interests and expertise. Division faculty are members of two Centers, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of 49 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers across the nation, and the McAllister Heart Institute, which includes division faculty involved in thrombosis and hemostasis. UNC Lineberger was rated as exceptional - the highest category - following its most recent NCI review. The center brings together some of the most exceptional physicians and scientists in the country to focus on advancing the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer.

With research that spans the spectrum from the laboratory to the bedside to the community, division faculty are involved in research at the genetic and environmental levels, conduct groundbreaking laboratory research, and translate findings into pioneering and innovative clinical trials.

There are several major areas of research particularly important to division faculty, organized thematically around research topics, then by disease section within the Division; each link when clicked will reveal more details on each related project.

Janet Rubin, MD
Vice Chair for Research


Hem/Onc - Breast CancerThe UNC Breast Cancer Research Program, co-led by Division member Carey Anders, MD, and renowned scientist Chuck Perou PhD, has enjoyed exceptional growth with a broad range of studies starting with population-based studies into etiology and breast cancer behavior, molecular biology and genetics, biologically-driven clinical trials, health disparities research, and innovative approaches to bioinformatics, novel therapeutics and imaging. This growth has been permitted by a philosophy of interdisciplinary collaboration, bidirectional translational research, emphasis upon developmental programs, and inter-SPORE and inter-Center partnerships. Our ongoing success depends upon strategic recruitment and engagement of faculty in emerging fields, research that uses cutting-edge technology, and enhanced relationships with other centers and SPORE programs. 

This program is internationally recognized, as exemplified by the longstanding Specialized Program of Research Excellence Award (since 1992). UNC is a founding member of the Translational Breast Cancer Research Consortium (TBCRC), established in 2006 to facilitate bench-to-bedside clinical research with emphasis on tissue-based correlative science explorations of breast cancer behavior and response to therapy.  

Division faculty members in this program include:

  • Carey Anders, MD, is the co-Leader of the Breast Research Program and an international expert in the biology and treatment of brain metastasis. Findings from her laboratory are directly linked to clinical trials that she develops and runs.
  • Lisa Carey, MD, ScM, who is also the Division Chief, is internationally known in the field of translating emerging understanding of the molecular subtypes of breast cancer into the clinical realm by designing trials testing both biomarkers and treatment regimens.
  • Claire Dees, MD, ScM, is the Head of our Experimental Therapeutics group, a joint member of the School of Pharmacy, and develops and leads trials of novel and experimental drugs, particularly Phase I trials of new drugs.
  • Trevor Jolly, MD, is a unique resource having trained in both Geriatrics and Oncology. He studies the impact of physiological age on tolerance of cancer therapy in older patients.
  • Hyman Muss, MD, is a founder of the field of geriatric oncology, and created the Geriatric Program in Oncology focused on training physicians, developing tools for assessing physiologic age in older patients, and performing clinical trials designed to improve outcomes.
  • Kirsten Nyrop, PhD, is an expert in exercise interventions designed to improve tolerance of chemotherapy, reduce toxicity of endocrine therapies, and to augment quality of life in survivors of breast cancer.
  • Katie Reeder-Hayes, MD, MBA, MPH, is an expert in comparative effectiveness and impact research. She is particularly involved in studies designed to improve adherence to prescribed therapy and understanding of real-world patient experience.
More Information:

There is a robust program in Cancer Outcomes Research in the Division and Cancer Center. Clinician-scientists in the Division conducting outcomes research include Dr. Ethan Basch, Dr. Hanna Sanoff, Dr. Katie Reeder-Hayes, Dr. Bill Wood, and Dr. Hy Muss.

  • Ethan Basch, MD, MSc, focuses on the development and use of patient-reported outcomes. His group established that many patient symptoms are missed in cancer drug development and practice. They developed tools for the National Cancer institute to measure these symptoms, and demonstrated that integrating these tools in clinical trials and routine practice yields substantial clinical benefits. He is currently leading national trials assessing patient-reported outcomes in cancer care, and for quality improvement. The program supports the PRO Core resource for supporting patient-centered research.
  • Hanna Sanoff, MD, MPH, has focused on outcomes research in gastrointestinal malignancies, particularly large linked database analyses using the UNC CIPHR resource. Her work has demonstrated that FDA-approved drugs in hepatocellular carcinoma have reduced benefits in real-world populations, compared to highly-selected clinical trial populations. Using data from cancer registries linked to administrative claims data she has extensively evaluated the role of postoperative “adjuvant” chemotherapy in colon and rectal cancers, providing key evidence for attenuation of chemotherapy benefit in patients over the age of 70. She is currently using the Rapid Case Ascertainment system to identify incidence cases of liver cancer in North Carolina in order to identify systematic barriers to cancer treatment in hepatocellular carcinoma in the state.
  • Katie Reeder-Hayes, MD, MBA, MPH, focuses on outcomes work in breast cancer. She has conducted multiple linked claims data analyses demonstrating disparities in care. Most recently, she has linked genomic data to registry and insurance claims data to characterize patterns of care. 
  • Bill Wood, MD, is an expert in exercise and fitness optimization in cancer care. He conducts national trials evaluating methods for quantifying fitness in patients undergoing cancer treatment, and assessing potential benefits of exercise interventions. 
  • Hyman Muss, MD, is an expert in geriatric oncology and leads that program at UNC. He has led numerous trials assessing the benefits of assessing health and functional status among older patients with cancer.

Clinical Research in the division is organized into disease-site groups, with each featuring multidisciplinary care often led by division faculty. Clinical research at UNC includes both bench-to-bedside transfer of novel laboratory findings into the clinic, but bedside-to-bench translational efforts in which blood and cancer tissues from our patients provided to scientists within and outside the division allow greater understanding of the biology of blood-based disorders and cancer. Cancer-related clinical research in oncology is centered at UNC Lineberger, which includes a Centralized Protocol Office and Office of Clinical/Translational Research that provide infrastructure for clinical and translational efforts. Division faculty hold national leadership roles in clinical research in Breast Cancer (Anders), Cancer Outcomes (Basch), Experimental Therapeutics (Dees), Genitourinary Malignancies (Milowsky), Sickle Cell (Ataga), and Thrombosis and Hemostasis (Key). 

Some of the larger programs include:

Hem/Onc - Project Malawi
UNC-Project Malawi staff in front of the project's new annex facility; Photo by Jon Gardiner/UNC
The global oncology program complements the National Cancer Institute’s recently-announced strategic priority: addressing the global problem of cancer. While collaboration with researchers outside of the US was part of the National Cancer Act of 1971, the emergence of genomic technologies and the understanding that cancer is many different diseases makes a global perspective essential to progress. The program's global mission currently includes clinical sites in the United States, Brazil, Malawi, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, India, and China.

The leader of this program is Dr. Satish Gopal, Cancer Program Director for UNC Project Malawi, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member and Associate Professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology.

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The Immunology program is a comprehensive program devoted to studies of the basic mechanisms by which the immune system affects tumor cell growth, translational studies of immune cell/tumor interactions and translation of these findings into clinical trials using vaccine therapy to treat patients with cancer. This program features outstanding junior and senior investigators and projects in all areas of cancer immunology.

The program is led by Jenny Ting, PhD, a leader in innate and molecular immunology and Dr. Jonathan Serody, a leader in cellular immunology, in vivo imaging and vaccine development.

One of the many members of the program is Dr. Ben Vincent, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member and Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology.