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Research

Oncology

Cancer remains a formidable foe — it kills more than 560,000 Americans each year — but ASRI researchers are developing and testing novel therapies that could save more lives and even lead to cures. Of all the newer therapies being developed, stem cell transplantation is creating perhaps the biggest buzz in the scientific community. Using stem cells from a patient’s own body (autologous stem cell transplant) or stem cells from a donor (allogeneic stem cell transplant), oncologists are helping to improve survival rates for cancer patients.

Long renowned as a national leader in the treatment of hematological (blood) cancers, West Penn Allegheny Health System’s Cell Transplantation Program has been on the forefront of stem cell research.

ASRI researchers are conducting a landmark trial to assess the safety and efficacy of a treatment for hematological malignancies, including leukemia and lymphoma, in a global study. The study involves a graft of expanded stem/progenitor cells, derived from a single unit of umbilical cord blood and transplanted in combination with non-expanded cells from the same unit.

“Stem cell transplantation can be a life-saving procedure, but the need for matching donors limits its use,” said Entezam Sahovic, MD, Director of the Cell Transplantation Program at WPAHS. “Umbilical cord blood is a promising alternative but does not always provide enough stem cells for a successful transplant. We are hopeful that this new technology will enable us to help more patients in need of transplants.”

According to Dr. Sahovic, cord blood as a graft source for transplantation requires fewer matching requirements than bone marrow or peripheral blood sources. However, there are a limited number of stem/progenitor cells in cord blood, enabling a quantity sufficient generally only for pediatric treatment. Researchers are employing a technology that expands this small number of cord blood stem/progenitor cells, increasing their therapeutic capacity for transplantation in adolescents and adults.

In conjunction with the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP), ASRI researchers have also been on the leading edge of several other promising research studies. NSABP has a 50-year history of designing and conducting clinical trials that have changed the way breast cancer is treated, and, more recently, prevented. It was the NSABP’s breast cancer studies that led to the establishment of lumpectomy plus radiation over radical mastectomy as the standard surgical treatment for breast cancer. NSABP was also the first to demonstrate that adjuvant therapy could alter the natural history of breast cancer, increasing survival rates, and the first to demonstrate on a large scale the preventive effects of the drug tamoxifen in breast cancer. Currently, researchers at NSABP are using genetic profiling to determine which individuals have the greatest risk of developing cancer. This information could help physicians identify patients who could receive the greatest benefit from a particular intervention. In addition, cancer researchers are involved in a novel study that will determine whether limiting radiation therapy to only the tumor site following lumpectomy is as beneficial as irradiating the whole breast in the local management of early stage breast cancer.

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