The magazine of UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Fall/Winter 2016

K12 Scholars:
A focus on translational research

Six UC Davis junior research and faculty members have been selected this year for a Paul Calabresi Career Development Award for Clinical Oncology (K12).

Funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, the awards support the research career development of young clinically focused scientists. The grants provide up to three years of protected time for research, as well as intensive training in the design and testing of clinical cancer research protocols. Each scholar works closely with both a senior basic scientist mentor and a clinician researcher mentor.

During training, scholars aim to develop a Phase I, Phase II or Phase III clinical trial and secure funding to support it.

“The research funded by the K12 program is predicted to have imminent human applications,” says Primo “Lucky” Lara, Jr., principal investigator of the grant and acting director of the UC Davis Comprehensive Center. “I have no doubt that the results of our scholars’ research will someday touch a cancer patient.”

Luís Carvajal-Carmona | Single-cell sequencing of bladder cancer

Luís Carvajal-Carmona

Carvajal-Carmona, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine, is at the forefront of the emerging field of single-cell genome sequencing. His research takes advantage of recent advances in high-throughput technology, allowing characterization of the heterogeneous genomic content of bladder tumors. Preliminary data enabled him to obtain a grant from the National Cancer Institute to apply his approach to gastric cancer. Mentors: Ralph de Vere White and Wolf Heyer

Megan Daly | Combining radiation with immune checkpoint inhibition

Megan Daly

Daly, assistant professor of clinical radiation oncology, studies the use of radiation for patients with metastatic non-small lung cancer being treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors — drugs that activate the immune system to fight cancer. Used alone, the effects of these drugs are often short-lived. But radiation aimed at a tumor can pump up the immune response and may work synergistically with checkpoint inhibitors to shrink distant metastases. Mentors: Karen Kelly and Joseph Tuscano

Gustavo Barisone | Evaluating wheat germ extract to fight cancer

Gustavo Barisone

Barisone, an assistant researcher in the Department of Internal Medicine, is studying a fermented wheat germ powder as an adjunct to standard therapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Early research indicates that it is highly active against cancer cells. In his second year as a K12 scholar, Barisone collaborates with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine to study its effect on dogs with cancer in anticipation of human clinical trials. Mentors: Joseph Tuscano and William Murphy

Jenna Burton | Developing a nanoparticle for cancer drug delivery

Jenna Burton

Doxorubicin is effective against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but its use can be limited by toxic side effects. Burton, assistant professor of clinical oncology in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, aims to increase its efficacy and reduce its toxicity by delivering tiny amounts of it directly to the tumor with a novel nanomicelle delivery system. Burton will offer therapy to canine cancer patients, the results of which will provide valuable information for eventual human use. Mentors: Kathy Ferrara and Primo Lara, Jr.

Brian Jonas | Predicting treatment response in acute myeloid leukemia

Brian Jonas

Treating patients with standard drugs for the aggressive bone marrow cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, may help them, or harm them. Jonas, assistant professor of internal medicine, is exposing leukemia cells from patient blood samples to radioactive-labeled cancer drugs. If a drug binds well to the cancer’s DNA, it may be effective. Jonas hopes his research will lead to a biomarker assay to help doctors make better prescription decisions. Mentors: Chong-xian Pan and Paul Henderson

Maija Kiuru | Defining markers of melanoma

Maija Kiuru

How do you know when a mole is deadly? According to Kiuru, assistant professor of clinical dermatology, diagnosing malignant melanoma is not always clear-cut, even when looking at biopsy samples under a microscope. Her research compares genetic mutations found in cancer cells to those in benign cells to identify objective cancer markers and make diagnosis more reliable. Mentors: William Murphy and Maxwell Fung