SWOG has selected four talented, early-career researchers for its 2011 Young Investigator Training Course. These four will attend a three-day workshop September 19 - 21 in Seattle, Wash., for intensive training in how to design and conduct cancer clinical trials.
To date this nationally acclaimed program has provided mentorship and career support to more than 60 investigators. With detailed instruction in protocol development, trial management, and statistical analysis, the course builds a cohort of trained clinical trial researchers with a thorough understanding of cooperative group procedures and the ability to efficiently plan and execute high-priority studies, which in some cases might enroll thousands of patients at hundreds of treatment sites.
Each Young Investigator presents a research proposal as part of the application process, and that proposal is refined and fleshed out during the workshop. Many of the proposals advanced in previous workshops have since been launched as successful studies with National Cancer Institute funding.
Below are the names and affiliations of the 2011 SWOG Young Investigators and descriptions of their proposals.
Afsaneh Barzi, M.D., M.S., Ph.D., assistant professor, University of Southern California. Barzi earned her M.D. from Tehran University of Medical Sciences, then went on to earn a master's in health informatics and a doctorate in public health management and policy sciences from the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. She recently completed a fellowship in hematology and oncology at the Cleveland Clinic's Taussig Cancer Center.
Her research interests are the development of new cancer therapies as well as healthcare economics and metrics of healthcare quality for improving patient care.
Barzi has proposed a phase II study to investigate the overall survival benefit of adding lapatinib to docetaxel in a second-line setting in patients with trastuzumab-resistant, HER2-positive gastric cancer.
"Delivery of personalized treatment to gastric cancer patients has lagged behind other diseases," Barzi says. "My goal is to establish a second-line treatment for these patients that are HER2-positive and to better understand the mechanisms of resistance to HER2-targeted therapy, paving the way for new therapies that can overcome that resistance."
Mariana Chavez-MacGregor, M.D., M.Sc., assistant professor of medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Chavez-MacGregor earned an M.D. from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and a master's in clinical epidemiology from the Netherlands Institute of Health and Sciences. She completed her internal medicine residency at Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University in St. Louis and her medical oncology training at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she serves as an assistant professor in the Breast Medical Oncology Department.
She has proposed a phase I/II study to test whether giving the drug XL184 to patients with HER2/neu-amplified metastatic breast cancer helps sensitize their tumors to the drug trastuzumab by blocking the c-MET receptor. "c-MET receptor overexpression is common in patients with HER2/neu-amplified breast cancer," says Chavez-MacGregor, "and it's associated with trastuzumab resistance. In-vivo and in-vitro models have demonstrated that inhibiting c-MET can sensitize tumors to trastuzumab treatment." She hypothesizes that the combination of XL184 - a new drug that targets c-MET - with trastuzumab will enhance trastuzumab's benefit in patients whose disease has progressed after earlier treatment with HER2-targeted therapies.
Jennifer R. Klemp, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine, University of Kansas Cancer Center With an M.P.H., M.A., and Ph.D. from the University of Kansas, Klemp has research interests in patient response to cancer genetic testing, quality of life and cognition in young women with breast cancer, "energy balance" for primary and secondary breast cancer prevention, and breast cancer risk biomarkers in women at high risk for the disease.
In addition to serving as a co-investigator on numerous grants, Klemp has been the direct recipient of a pre-doctoral fellowship award from the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, a career development bridge award from the National Institutes of Health, and a project grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
She has proposed a study for SWOG's Survivorship Committee -- "A Randomized Trial of High Dose Vitamin D vs Placebo to Prevent Premature Discontinuation of Aromatase Inhibitors in the Adjuvant Setting."
"Between 30 and 50 percent of women taking adjuvant aromatase inhibitors discontinue their use before the prescribed five years because of side effects, predominantly stiffness and joint pain," says Klemp.
"Finding ways to decrease the rate of discontinuation is a priority in adjuvant breast cancer treatment."
The study would be a phase III double-blind, placebo-controlled trial testing whether 20,000 IU/week of supplementary vitamin D3, initiated at or before a patient's first dose of an aromatase inhibitor (AI), will reduce the rate at which patients stop taking their AIs.
Sumanta K. Pal, M.D., assistant professor, City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center. Pal earned his M.D. from the University of California - Los Angeles, where he also completed his residency. He has had research project support from the Tower Cancer Research Foundation, the City of Hope Cancer Center, and the California Breast Cancer Research Program. He has also received a National Comprehensive Cancer Network Fellowship Award and a K12 training grant from the National Institutes of Health.
Pal has proposed a study that targets the "pre-metastatic niche" in high-risk localized prostate cancer.
"Based on observations in our laboratory at City of Hope," says Pal, "we have found a correlation in high-risk prostate cancer between VEGFR1 expression in benign lymph nodes and time to biochemical recurrence."
He hypothesizes that clusters of VEGFR1-positive cells may represent pre-metastatic niches that ultimately give a foothold to metastases. His proposal would give high-risk prostate cancer patients axitinib - a tyrosine kinase inhibitor with a high affinity for VEGFR1 - prior to surgery.
The primary outcome measured would be a biological endpoint - pre-metastatic niche density in pelvic lymph nodes.
"To my knowledge," adds Pal, "this would be a relatively new foray for the SWOG GU group."
Costs of the Young Investigator program are paid for with a gift from The Hope Foundation, SWOG's philanthropic arm, which raises funds for educational and research efforts.