Celebration of Team Science Highlights New Research Funding

February 2016

On the evening of Friday, February 26, approximately 40 Emory Urology faculty, staff, collaborators, and other guests gathered at the home of Emory Urology Chair Martin Sanda, MD, to celebrate an auspicious beginning to the department's 2016 research endeavors, signified by over $5 million in new federal research grants awarded to three research efforts in the areas of prostate cancer and genitourinary oncology.

Haydn Kissick, PhD, senior associate in tumor immunology of both Emory Urology and the Emory Vaccine Center, received a National Cancer Institute (NCI) K99/R00 award as Principal Investigator to study the CD8 T-cells that are responsible for killing tumor cells and the mechanisms that prevent them from destroying these cells in prostate cancer. This highly competitive NCI award is given to outstanding young researchers in the early stages of independent research careers, and encompasses two-years of mentored support followed by three years of independent research. The study will primarily rely on the analysis of T-cells from patients undergoing prostatectomy at Emory hospitals, and the results could reveal new ways to harness the immune system to treat patients with prostate cancer. Dr. Sanda and Rafi Ahmed, PhD, director of the Emory Vaccine Center, will mentor the study for the first two years.

The Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs office of the Department of Defense is funding a study of the genetics of prostate cancer bone metastasis led by John Petros, MD, an Emory pioneer in the field of mitochondrial DNA mutations in prostate cancer. His collaborators on the project are Rebecca Arnold, MS, MD, also of Emory Urology; Carlos Moreno, PhD, of the Emory departments of pathology and laboratory medicine and biomedical informatics; research urologist Colm Morrissey, PhD, and surgical pathologist Lawrence True, MD, of the University of Washington, Seattle; and Lloyd Trotman, PhD, of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Long Island, NY. The team will expand on Dr. Petros' earlier discovery of a single DNA base that was altered in prostate cancer bone metastasis by studying the effects of this mutation in patients as well as the mechanisms of the disease. The goal is to identify clinically useful markers of disease progression and novel targets for future therapies.

The third project that inspired the celebration was the Emory, Harvard, and University of Washington Prostate Cancer Biomarker Center, which received an Early Detection Research Network U01 grant from the NCI to develop multiplex tests for detecting prostate cancer. Dr. Sanda is the Principal Investigator of the multi-center collaboration, and is joined at Emory by Eugene Huang, PhD, professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics at Rollins School of Public Health; David Schuster, MD, director of the Emory Division of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging; and Carlos Moreno, PhD, associate professor of the Emory departments of pathology and laboratory medicine and biomedical informatics. This Emory team will partner with Daniel Lin, MD, chief of urologic oncology at the University of Washington, and Lorelei Mucci, MPH, ScD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, both of whom lead national prospective biomarker cohorts involving prostate cancer survivors.

The combined group of esteemed researchers will work to confirm the ability of novel, Emory-developed detection tools to predict aggressive prostate cancer early on, thereby enhancing survival benefits of treatment and reducing the harm of over-treatment for indolent disease. The tools include a urine test that assays over 200 prostate cancer associated genes, and FACBC positron emission tomography for identifying unknown primary tumors in high risk, localized prostate cancers. Michael Zwick, PhD, director of the Emory Integrated Genomics Core, and Madhuri Hegde, PhD, executive director of the Emory Genetics Laboratory, will participate in the urinary genomic evaluation.

"The mood at the celebration event was simultaneously relaxed and excited," says Dr. Kissick. "Emory Urology has always had a strong research tradition, and everyone present understood that we're operating from a foundation of excellence. But, we also know that we have to keep moving forward to maintain that type of status, and that these grants represent a thoroughly contemporary embrace of working towards solutions to problems through the collegial collaboration of multiple disciplines and specialties."

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