Connections - January 2014

Tue, 01/28/2014
Roswellness Connections
A Message from the President
Dr. Donald Trump

Another Boost for Burgeoning Genomics Program

You’ve probably been seeing and hearing the word “genomics” a lot in local and statewide media reports lately, and that’s definitely good news.

Genomics is the science that makes personalized medicine possible. It involves analyzing tiny tissue samples using high-powered gene sequencers to produce a road map of a single person’s genetic coding.

All of us have gene mutations — some inherited, some acquired over the course of our lives. By mapping out those mutations and, using bioinformatics, looking at patterns in how certain mutations are associated with particular diseases and disorders, we open up whole new avenues for understanding diseases like cancer and how best to treat them.  

In recent weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to provide $105 million for genomics activity and infrastructure in New York, $50 million of it for projects in Buffalo Niagara. We’re very pleased that our Center for Personalized Medicine, launched in 2012 with $5.1 million in state funds, is slated to receive another $2.5 million as part of this latest round of allocations.

We’ve made tremendous progress since we started building the Center just two years ago. A few highlights:

  • We completed the pilot phase of a joint effort with Western New York Urology Associates to collect tumor samples from consenting patients with superficial bladder cancer so that we can better understand how these tumors progress
  • By spring, we’ll have completed three significant sequencing projects: a target-validation effort involving several different types of solid tumors; a project to identify biomarkers for different types of breast cancers so we can determine which type of therapy is most appropriate for a particular patient; and an exome sequencing project — analysis of only a small part of the genome — to help us understand why we get such different results when we sequence different parts of a tumor
  • In an effort to address health disparities, we’ve collected more than 100 DNA samples from consenting volunteers through a series of education/outreach events in disparate and underserved communities
  • We joined the New York Genome Center, a consortium that itself was awarded $55 million as part of the state’s recent genomics allocations

We reached an important milestone just this week with the publication of results of our first Center for Personalized Medicine research study, an analysis of invasive bladder cancers, in a prestigious journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To support this work, the Institute has dedicated $16 million of its own funds to develop the Center for Personalized Medicine.

In less than two years, that early investment of state resources has paid off nearly fourfold and spurred job creation to the tune of 30 new-economy jobs.

The momentum behind RPCI’s Center for Personalized Medicine is as strong as I’ve seen with any emerging scientific program. We’re excited about the next steps as we proceed on both the research front and in bringing genomics to clinical care, at Roswell Park and elsewhere.

– Donald L. Trump, MD, FACP
President & CEO


Institute News

RPCI Team Publishes Results of Genomic Study in Prestigious Journal

A team led by Dr. Carl Morrison and Dr. Donald Trump has published results from the first research project conducted at the RPCI Center for Personalized Medicine. Published this week in the prominent journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study used a cutting-edge technology called next-generation sequencing to look at the entire genome of muscle-invasive bladder cancer.     

Combination Immunotherapy Approach Shows Benefit for Women With Ovarian Cancer

Dr. Kunle Odunsi and colleagues found that treatment with the drug decitabine, followed by chemotherapy and a cancer vaccine, yielded benefit for women with recurrent ovarian cancer, suggesting that this combination chemoimmunotherapy may provide a new treatment option for patients with the disease.

Researchers Advance Findings About Novel Therapy, Promising Treatment Target

In other research news this month, a team led by Dr. Fengzhi Li of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics published its third paper on a promising anticancer agent, FL118, that has been shown in preclinical testing to effectively control several types of solid tumors. And in a separate study, medical oncologist Dr. Wen Wee Ma and colleagues identified characteristics of fibroblast growth factor receptors (FGFRs), proteins that may aid in development of personalized treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Guest Message

It’s Time to Make Cancer Funding a National Priority
By Congressman Brian Higgins

A budget is more than a document –it should represent a nation’s principles and values.  Regrettably the recently passed fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill falls woefully short when it comes to support for cancer research. Although repairing some of the cuts made by the budget sequester, it still funds the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at $714 million less than the 2013 enacted level.

Unfortunately, this is another data point in a trend that has been occurring since Congress took its foot off the gas in 2004 and dramatically slowed investment in NIH. Since then, investment levels have been disappointing, worsened by the effects of the economic recession.

But it is time to reverse this trend. Declining medical research funding costs America promising research and promising researchers. In fact, according to NIH, the proportion of young scientists with NIH grants is half of what was in 1998. Today, total NIH funding represents less than 1 percent of the nation’s total budget. In 21st century America, this is abysmally weak.

Western New Yorkers, having become accustomed to the great work being performed at local institutions such as Roswell Park and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, are no stranger to the wide-ranging benefits of a thriving medical research community. According to a report from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, $23.6 billion in NIH-supported medical research generates $69 billion in other new economic activity, creating and supporting nearly 433,000 jobs. While, most importantly, groundbreaking research happening at Roswell Park is turning cancer patients into cancer survivors, it is undeniable that beyond this life-saving work, the Western New York economy as a whole benefits from Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Medical Campus.

I am proud to be a voice for Roswell Park in Washington, D.C., advocating for a strong federal investment in medical research. It is time for the federal budget to match our doctors’ and scientists’ commitment to saving lives and finding cures
Donor Dollars at Work

The Role of Sox4 in Muscle Invasive Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer is the sixth most common malignancy in the United States, accounting for 72,570 new cases and 15,210 deaths in 2013. Tumor metastasis (the spread of cancer to other parts of the body) is the leading cause of mortality associated with cancer, including bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer originates from cells on the inner lining of the bladder wall. One of the distinguishing features of bladder cancer is that it progresses along two pathways that appear to be genetically different from one another: superficial (non-invasive) and muscle invasive.

Muscle-invasive bladder cancers, which make up 20 percent of bladder tumors, are more aggressive. Approximately half the patients with this type of cancer will progress to metastatic disease. The five-year survival rate for patients who progress is only five percent.

RPCI Researcher Jianmin Zhang, PhD, and his team have identified a gene called Sox4 that is highly expressed in muscle invasive bladder cancer cells and believe that this gene could play an important role in tumor metastasis. It has been recently demonstrated that Sox4 is critical for the growth of breast cancer tumors and that Sox4 correlates with poor prognosis in cancer patients.

Thanks to generous donations to RPCI, Dr. Zhang and his team have recently launched a study to further explore the role of Sox4 in bladder cancer, an important first step in obtaining support for a later, larger study to fully tackle this research question.

“We are so grateful for the opportunity to launch this important research study,” said Dr. Zhang. “Our findings will allow us to answer important questions about the role of this gene in the spread of bladder cancer and may ultimately lead to more effective diagnosis and treatment.”

Dr. Zhang is an Assistant Professor in RPCI’s Department of Genetics.  To learn more about him, view his biography here:

The Cancer Experts

Roswell Park faculty members regularly share their expertise with major national media outlets and oncology publications. Some recent examples:

Dr. Maciej Goniewicz to Reuters: “E-cigarettes contain variable amounts of nicotine and some traces of toxicants. But very little is known to what extent non-users can be exposed to nicotine and other chemicals in situations when they are present in the same room with users of e-cigarettes.”

Dr. Martin Mahoney to MedPage Today: “With individuals with a diagnosis of a mental health disorder, with or without treatment, I think they require a little more behavioral support in terms of understanding when, why and where they’re smoking.”

Dr. Mateusz Opyrchal to Chemotherapy Advisor: “It is imperative that more research is done to study the efficacy and toxicity of treatments in older populations to allow oncologists to be able to offer the most appropriate treatments to their patients.”

Sponsor Spotlight

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards Winery

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards Winery began with a family’s passion for making wine. It grew from a dream into a winery on the Niagara Wine Trail (USA) with a focus on quality fruits and quality wines. Today, the winery crafts their own wines by hand in small lots to ensure the best wine is made. Arrowhead Spring Vineyards has also been generous supporter of Roswell Park. 

In both 2012 and 2013, the winery donated all of the wine for All Star Night, Roswell Park’s premiere gala.  In the fall of 2013, Arrowhead also donated 100 percent of the tasting fees over Veteran’s Day weekend, more than $1,000 in two days, to support the cutting-edge research and patient care programs at RPCI. They believe that true success comes from giving back to the community.

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards is committed to clean, sustainable farming done with respect for the environment. Part of being sustainable is helping to sustain a healthy community – and that is what Roswell Park has been doing since its inception," said Robin Ross, Co-owner. "We are proud to support Roswell Park Alliance Foundation as it strives to provide the research for a cure and the care of people in our community whose lives have been touched by cancer."

Most recently, Arrowhead has pledged to donate $1 from all sales of Reserve Meritage and Reserve Syrah to Roswell through November 2014 to Roswell Park.  This includes all sales in the winery tasting room, in stores and in restaurants.  The proceeds will be donated to Roswell Park’s new Pediatric Unit.

Arrowhead Spring Vineyards Winery is located in the Niagara Escarpment American Viticultural Area (AVA) wine-growing region. They have 65 rows of grapes planted, divided amongst the varietals of Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Arrowhead strives to create wines from the best fruit with the best taste. The winery and tasting room is open daily from 12pm to 6pm and located at 4746 Town Line Road (route 93) in the town of Cambria. Find stores and restaurants that carry their wines here.

Events and Promotions

Applause for Hope

The Theatre Alliance of Buffalo is supporting Roswell Park's goal to find cancer cures and save lives with the "Applause for Hope" promotion. All throughout the month of February, participating theaters will take collections at the end of each performance to support the new pediatric unit at RPCI.

To learn more about the promotion and participating theaters, please visit

Paint Box Wedding

The Paint Box Project wedding line for 2014 is now available. Browse the 19 new designs for save-the-dates, invitations, thank you cards, cocktail napkins and accessories.

All cards and products are customizable, one-of-a-kind creations. For each Paint Box Project item purchased on and, a portion of the product sales will support the cutting-edge research and patient care programs at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The line can be purchased at

Register Now for The Ride 2014

Registration for The Ride For Roswell 2014 is open. Reserve your spot now to be part of The Ride 2014 before routes sell out and help accelerate Roswell Park’s ability to find cancer cures and save lives.

Your participation in The Ride For Roswell makes sure that those we’ve lost to cancer will never be forgotten, and those who are currently in the battle will one day be cancer-free. In honor of them all, be a part of The Ride so that one day we can find a cure.

Register to ride or volunteer today.

Amazon Smile

Shop with Amazon Smile and Amazon will donate a percentage of the price of your eligible purchases to the cutting-edge research and patient care programs at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

When you shop at Amazon Smile, you’ll find the same low prices, vast selection and convenient shopping experience as, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to Roswell Park. Start shopping now.


RPCI in the News
See more RPCI headlines at
Health Hints

What you Need to Know About E-cigarettes

The increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes is raising many questions and concerns about their safety. As experts continue to study their impact on health, you should know these facts:

  • E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that heat nicotine, flavorings and other chemicals into a vapor, which is then inhaled by the user, a process called “vaping” rather than “smoking.”
  • Most of the nicotine gets into the bloodstream through the soft tissues of the cheeks, rather than the lungs, making a slower trip to the brain.
  • Secondhand nicotine exposure is on average 10 times less than from tobacco smoke, according to research conducted at RPCI
  • E-cigarettes expose users to other chemicals such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein.

“E-cigarettes likely pose less hazard to the individual smoker than tobacco cigarettes and might help smokers quit smoking or reduce harm by smoking fewer tobacco cigarettes,” says RPCI tobacco researcher Maciej Goniewicz, PhD, PharmD, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Department of Health Behavior.

“On the other hand, we still don’t know their long-term impact, such as promoting and renormalizing cigarette smoking behaviors. Many scientists and public health advocates believe there is urgent need for product regulation. This regulation requires scientific-based evidence and subsequent weighing of individual benefit vs. population risk.”


Legislative Update

The Word of the Month is Budget 

Washington has experienced years of gridlock but finally agreed and compromised on a spending plan for the remainder of this fiscal year and an outline for next year. In Albany, three straight budgets have been approved on time; the last time that happened was the 80’s.

In Washington the budget sets out spending limits and is a blueprint for appropriation bills, which actually authorize the government to spend money. This month a bipartisan-bicameral budget outlining spending targets for the next two years and authorizations for the remainder of the fiscal year ending September 30 was ratified. The approved plan eliminated many of the automatic sequester cuts, did not alter entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and increased defense spending and some discretionary spending. Most importantly for research centers such as Roswell Park, the budget adds $1 billion dollars to the National Institutes of Health budget but that brings the agency to 2011 levels.

Meanwhile in Albany, the fiscal year runs from April 1 to March 30 and the FY14-15 budget process was kicked off with the introduction of Governor Cuomo’s budget on January 21. In New York State, the process is executive driven, that is, most of the control over the content in the budget rests with the executive branch. The proposal maintains level funding for Roswell Park. Although the process is just beginning, RPCI is well positioned. The Legislature will conduct hearings to receive input from state officials, advocates and the public. Each house will pass what is referred to as “one house” budget bills in March and then the Governor and the Legislature will negotiate a final deal and bills will be voted on prior to April 1.