Researchers at UPCI Benefit from Funds Raised at Stand Up to Cancer

By: Jennifer C. Yates

485672541Millions of TV viewers tonight will watch the annual Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) telecast, an effort that brings together celebrities, cancer survivors and their families from all over the world to help raise awareness and funds for collaborative cancer research.  Some of that research funded through the effort is happening right here at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI).

Nancy Davidson, M.D., director of UPCI and the UPMC CancerCenter, received four-year funding in 2009 from SU2C as a member of the Epigenetics Dream Team that studied how to use epigenetic drug therapies to alter gene expression patterns to treat cancer.  The team is one of several SU2C Dream Teams that bring  experts from various disciplines and institutions together in the hopes of getting research out of the laboratory and to the bedside of patients in need – and do it as quickly as possible.


Nancy Davidson, M.D.

“When it was founded, Stand Up to Cancer represented a new way of thinking about funding. We as researchers and clinicians were asked to think about how we could make a difference in treating cancer and to assemble the best team possible regardless of institution or geography,” Dr. Davidson said. “This truly was about putting patients first and doing it with a sense of urgency.”

Through clinical trials conducted by members of the Epigenetics Dream Team, researchers found that a combination of epigenetic drugs showed promise for patients with non-small cell lung cancer and also reported success in testing a new generation of drugs in leukemia patients. The work of the team is continuing as they complete analysis of trials of the approach in patients with advanced breast and colon cancer.

Currently, UPCI researchers led by John Kirkwood, M.D., are involved in the SU2C Melanoma Dream Team. This team has developed a clinical trial in which patients who do not have the BRAF mutation – about half of all melanoma patients  – have advanced molecular testing performed on their tumors to determine the best targeted drug therapy for them. Dr. Kirkwood is the co-principal investigator for the study.

“This is really personalized medicine as its best for patients with melanoma and represents the future of cancer treatment,” said Hussein Tawbi, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s institutional principal investigator.

SU2C was founded in 2008 by several people, including TV personality Katie Couric, who wanted to facilitate discovery in cancer research. All money raised through the live television event and other efforts supports research done by the SU2C Dream Teams.

Friday night’s SU2C event will include appearances by actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Reese Witherspoon, Pierce Brosnan and Jennifer Aniston, among others, and special performances by The Who, Jennifer Hudson, Lupe Fiasco & Common, Ariana Grande and Dave Matthews.