Remembering Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, and more

Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, MD (1926–2016)

Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette, MD, a pioneer in treating children with sickle cell anemia, died on March 28, 2016, at the age of 89.

Dr. Francis and her family emigrated from Jamaica to Harlem, New York, where she enrolled at Hunter College when she was just 14. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree from Columbia University and became the second black woman to enroll at Yale School of Medicine when she was 19.

During her time directing a clinic at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, New York, Dr. Francis was credited with successfully using antibiotics to treat children with sickle cell anemia 15 years prior to the confirmation of the drug’s effectiveness.

She also co-founded the Foundation for Research and Education in Sickle Cell Disease.

She was named to a White House advisory committee under President Richard Nixon, and later influenced the passing of the 1972 National Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act, which granted federal funding for screening, counseling, health education, and research for the disease.

Dr. Francis made many meaningful changes for a patient population where many, at the time, did not survive into adolescence.

She is survived by her husband Olvin R. McBarnette, and five children (Bruce, Camilla, Yvette, Ellen, and Andrea), as well as three grandchildren and a brother. Dr. Francis had another daughter, Elayne, who passed away.

Vice President Biden Names Cancer Moonshot Leader, Scientific Panel Members

Vice President Joe Biden has named Greg Simon as the executive director of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. Mr. Simon, who was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2014, was the founding president of FasterCures, a non-profit organization with the goal of speeding up the translation between basic research and critical medicines.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also announced a Blue Ribbon Panel of scientific experts, hematologists and oncologists, and patient advocates that will inform the NCI’s scientific direction and goals as part of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative. “This Blue Ribbon Panel will ensure that, as the National Institutes of Health allocates new resources through the Moonshot, decisions will be grounded in the best science,” the Vice President said in a statement. “I look forward to working with this panel and many others involved with the Moonshot to make unprecedented improvements in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.”

The Blue Ribbon Panel members represent a spectrum of scientific areas, including biology, immunology, genomics, diagnostics, bioinformatics, and cancer prevention and treatment. Scientific members also include investigators with expertise in clinical trials and cancer health disparities. Members of cancer advocacy groups and pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are also represented.

Sources: FasterCures press release, March 18, 2016; National Institutes of Health press release, April 4, 2016.

American Cancer Society Awards New Research and Training Grants

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has announced funding for more than 100 grants, totaling nearly $44 million, in the first of two funding cycles for 2016. The grants will fund investigators at 74 institutions across the United States; 95 are new grants, while eight are renewals of previous grants. The grants go into effect on July 1, 2016.

Thomas Gajewski, MD, PhD, of the University of Chicago, is the first recipient of the ACS–Jules L. Plangere Jr., Family Foundation Professor in Cancer Immunotherapy award. His laboratory will receive $80,000 per year for five years to study the use of integrative genomics to identify resistance in immunotherapy.

Other highlights of the current cycle include:

Sarah Deng, PhD, of the New York University School of Medicine, will study a DNA repair pathway called alt-NHEJ that may be involved in the progression of cancer and in shaping the mutational landscape that causes chemotherapy drug resistance.

Eric Hastie, PhD, of Duke University, will study finger-like structures called invadopodia that extend from cells and appear to contribute to metastasis, the process by which cancer spreads throughout the body.

Kimberly Pyke-Grimm, MN, of the University of California, San Francisco, will receive the Scholarship Grant to support the development of a research program focusing on treatment decision-making by adolescents and young adults with cancer.

Source: American Cancer Society press release, April 1, 2016.

CDC Announces Winners of Its Blood Clot Prevention Challenge

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recognized eight hospitals and health-care systems as winners of its Healthcare-Associated Venous Thromboembolism (HA-VTE) Prevention Challenge. The HA-VTE Champions range from a small community hospital to larger health systems, and winners were chosen for their success in implementing innovative and effective ways to prevent VTE. The CDC also recognized four organizations that received Honorable Mentions for their innovative and unique approaches to prevention in special populations and settings.

  • Health-Care Network or Multi-Hospital System (Large Reach)
    Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
    University of California Health, Center for Health Quality and Innovation, Oakland, CA
  • Health-Care Network or Multi-Hospital System (Medium Reach):
    University of Wisconsin Health, Madison, WI
    Intermountain Healthcare, Murray, UT
  • Large Single Hospital (Large Reach)
    Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, IL
    The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD
  • Single Hospital (Small to Medium Reach)
    Harborview Medical Center, Seattle, WA
    Hutchinson Regional Medical Center, Hutchinson, KS
  • Honorable Mention for Unique Populations and Interventions
    Michigan Hospital Medicine Safety Consortium, Ann Arbor, MI
    Sheppard Pratt Health System, Baltimore, MD
    Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Ireland
    University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH

Source: CDC press release, March 31, 2016.

Richard Aplenc Receives $1 Million Grant to Study Immunotherapy in Pediatric Leukemia

Richard Aplenc, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has received a $1 million grant from the Hyundai Hope on Wheels organization to support research in immunotherapy for the treatment of children with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The grant, which will be administered over four years, will enable Dr. Aplenc’s team to identify specific proteins on the surface of AML cells that could be the most appropriate targets for immune cells programmed to attack cancers.

Source: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia press release, March 30, 2016.

CRISPR Scientists Named 2016 Canada Gairdner Award Winners

The Canada Gairdner Awards are presented annually to five biomedical scientists from around the world whose significant contributions to medicine have increased the understanding of human biology and disease. More than 320 scientists have received Canada Gairdner International Awards since their inception in 1959, and 82 of them have gone on to win the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

For only the second time in Gairdner’s history, all five of the Canada Gairdner International Awards are being given to one topic: CRISPR-Cas technology. This year’s award recipients are:

Rodolphe Barrangou, a researcher at North Carolina State University, and Philippe Horvath, a DuPont Senior Scientist, for establishing and characterizing the CRISPR-Cas bacterial immune defense system

Emmanuelle Charpentier, PhD, of Umea University in Sweden, and Jennifer Doudna, PhD, of University of California, Berkeley, for publishing the description of new genome editing technology dubbed CRISPR-Cas9

Feng Zhang, PhD, of the Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, for developing a number of applications for studying biology and disease based on the CRISPR-Cas technology

Source: Gairdner Foundation press release, March 23, 2016.

Susan Block Receives Palliative Care Lifetime Achievement Award

Susan D. Block, MD, a physician in the Department of Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Dr. Block is also director of the Serious Illness Care Program at Ariadne Labs and professor at Harvard Medical School, where she established the Center for Palliative Care. She was honored for her career-long devotion to providing both physical and psycho-emotional care to patients and understanding the psychological struggles of cancer patients.

Source: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute press release, March 14, 2016.

Said Sebti Receives NCI Outstanding Investigator Award

Said M. Sebti, PhD, chair of the Drug Discovery Department and co-leader of the Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, has been awarded an Outstanding Investigator Award from the NCI. The award provides grant funding over a seven-year term to encourage long-term projects with potential in cancer research. Dr. Sebti’s total funding will top $6 million. Dr. Sebti will use the funds to further his research on novel drug therapies for KRAS-mutated cancers.

Source: Moffitt Cancer Center press release, March 1, 2016.

Penn Medicine Opens New Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics

The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, with support from Novartis, has opened a new research and development facility for personalized cancer treatments, the Novartis-Penn Center for Advanced Cellular Therapeutics (CACT). The CACT will expand the university’s capacity for conducting clinical trials and focus on advancing chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy. Bruce L. Levine, PhD, will act as director of the new center.

Source: Penn Medicine press release, February 16, 2016.

Suresh Ramalingam Named Deputy Director of Winship Cancer Institute

Suresh S. Ramalingam, MD, has been named deputy director of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. He will also serve as assistant dean for cancer research in the Emory School of Medicine. Dr. Ramalingam joined Winship and the faculty of Emory School of Medicine in 2007 and is currently a professor in Emory’s Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and co-leader of the Discovery and Developmental Therapeutics Program.

Source: Emory University press release, February 8, 2016.

Marc Ernstoff Assumes Leadership Role at Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Marc S. Ernstoff, MD, has been appointed chair of the Department of Medicine and senior vice president of Clinical Investigation at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, as well as professor and chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo. Prior to joining Roswell Park, Dr. Ernstoff served as director of the Melanoma Program at Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute.

Source: Roswell Park Cancer Institute press release, February 4, 2016.