Partners HealthCare’s second annual World Medical Innovation Forum brought together cancer experts from around the world – and from here in Boston — to discuss the future of cancer research and treatment. The three-day forum offered compelling events for attendees with diverse backgrounds, ranging from clinical to pharmaceutical areas. The speakers communicated a resounding message of hope throughout their discussions of innovations in prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.
“The issue before us is how to improve access to treatment for all of our patients: How do we get the right treatment to the right patient at the right time, knowing that there’s now a combination of precision medicine, immunotherapies and cancer vaccines to amplify that response to treatment,” said BWHC President Betsy Nabel, MD who spoke on a panel titled Curative Therapies: The Economics of Game Changing Science.
Many of the events centered on fostering collaboration as part of innovation. During the Discovery Cafe, attendees and renowned leaders in the field interacted in smaller groups over lunch. Nearly 30 experts from BWH and elsewhere covered topics such as immunotherapy, diagnostics, therapy resistance, pathology and more. Fireside chats and panel discussions gave attendees an opportunity to hear from leaders in industry, academia and governmental organizations. Panelists shared personal struggles with cancer as well as optimism about the future of the field. For the “grand finale” of the forum, 12 leading experts took the stage to present the “Disruptive Dozen,” 12 technologies predicted to have the greatest impact on cancer care in the next decade.
Monica Bertagnolli, MD, chief of BWH’s Division of Surgical Oncology and co-chair of this year’s forum, emphasized the importance of multidisciplinary partnerships in order to draw knowledge from other fields and move forward with cancer research.
“We think of multidisciplinary cancer research as coming from basic biologists, cancer surgeons, medical oncologists, and so on, but to be truly innovative, we’re also looking to better engage researchers in fields like pathology, psychiatry and imaging: people who are invested in cancer but knowledgeable in many other areas, which is the beauty of a multidisciplinary approach,” said Bertagnolli.
First Look: Next Wave of Cancer Breakthroughs
The forum opened with the brand-new First Look session, which featured rapid-fire presentations by early career researchers and clinicians about their cutting-edge innovations and discoveries. BWH’s expertise in cancer research and treatment was well-represented by researchers in multiple disciplines. Read on to find out more about each BWH speaker’s innovative research and areas of focus.
Daniela Dinulescu, PhD – Motivated by a personal connection to ovarian cancer, Dinulescu, a principal investigator in the Department of Pathology, is working to develop prognostic tools with reliable and sensitive methods for detecting global epigenetic patterns in chemotherapy-resistant cells. Her team has identified targetable pathways that reverse the epigenetic changes seen in chemoresistant tumor cells and restore sensitivity to existing chemotherapy regimens.
Aditi Hazra, PhD, MPH – Hazra, an associate epidemiologist, and her colleagues study how changes in the ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) transcriptome affect a patient’s risk of developing subsequent invasive breast cancer. With this knowledge, Hazra hopes to better predict risk and prevent progression to invasive breast cancer through precision treatment.
“Integrative modeling of genomic and epidemiological risk factors in a racially inclusive study population will lead to better stratification of DCIS progression.” – Aditi Hazra
Jayender Jagadeesan, PhD – Jagadeesan, a research associate and technical lead for the Advanced Multimodality Image-Guided Operating (AMIGO) suite at BWH, is developing image-guided surgery technologies to provide context-specific information and detailed anatomical visualization while the procedure is still ongoing in BWH’s AMIGO suite. Surgeons can accurately localize and confirm in real time whether a tumor has been fully removed, which can prevent patients undergoing surgeries like lung tumor resection, breast-conserving surgery and parathyroidectomy from having to endure repeat procedures.
Alexander Lin, PhD – Lin, director of the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy at BWH, is also the co-founder of BrainSpec, an innovative software package, that makes virtual biopsy technology accessible in the clinic. BrainSpec automates MR spectroscopy – brain chemistry measurements – data processing to provide quantitative feedback for treating conditions like brain tumors, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.
Sandra McAllister, PhD – The vast majority of cancer-related deaths occur due to metastatic disease, but often by the time metastases are detected, treatment options for patients are limited and ineffective. McAllister, an associate scientist in BWH’s Hematology Division, and her lab are is developing novel clinical models for metastatic diseases that have enabled them to study rare events in metastatic outgrowth in vivo in order to identify life-threatening human cancer cells before they become malignant. They are using what they’ve learned to uncover new ways to predict response to therapy and to test new types of therapies for metastasis.
Chandrajit Raut, MD – Retroperitoneal sarcomas, a form of connective tissue cancer arising in the space behind the peritoneal lining of the abdomen, have a high risk of local recurrence. Raut, an associate surgeon at BWH, and his colleagues are developing a biocompatible, biodegradable polymer film that can be loaded with a slowly released chemotherapy drug and applied locally to prevent recurrence and improve survival outcomes for patients.
Sandro Santagata, MD, PhD – Santagata, an associate pathologist in Neuropathology, and colleagues Nathalie Agar, PhD, and Alexandra Golby, MD, are developing tools to provide pathologists and surgeons with the ability to visualize molecules within surgical biopsies and resection specimens while patients are in the operating room. Santagata and his colleagues hope that this kind of tissue molecular imaging, performed in BWH’s AMIGO suite, will help improve patient diagnosis, surgical resection and development of therapeutics.
“Our goal is to develop & implement tools to allow pathologists and surgeons to visualize molecules within tissues.” -Dr. Santagata
Shiladitya Sengupta, PhD – Sengupta, an associate bioengineer, is designing supramolecular therapeutics for cancer treatment. In mouse models, supramolecular therapeutics, which click together like Lego blocks, can home in on tumors and have a sustained inhibitory effect. Because of the Lego-like assembly of these molecules, targeting antibodies and drugs or immunotherapies and targeted therapeutics can be combined.
Paul Shyn, MD – Shyn, an associate radiologist, is investigating ways to make image-guided biopsies safer. Current practices of testing patients for bleeding risk and managing risk using blood product transfusions have a minimal impact on bleeding complications, yet add costs and risks of their own. An additional hazard of needle biopsies is seeding malignant tumors along the biopsy track. Shyn proposed a novel low-cost needle track cautery device that has the potential to address both concerns. The device could lower healthcare costs by obviating the need for pre-procedure testing and transfusions and by reducing hospital costs associated with managing complications.
Matthew Steinhauser, MD – Steinhauser, an associate physician, studies the metabolic adaptation of cancer cells to promote survival and growth, and hypothesizes that this adaptation is an indicator of cancer cell function. Steinhauser proposes that a novel imaging technology, Multi-isotope Imagine Mass Spectrometry (MIMS), could be used to measure metabolism and improve pathologic diagnosis to help enhance precision cancer therapy.
The collaborative spirit of the World Medical Innovation Forum will return next year with a focus on cardiovascular innovation.