New Lecture Celebrates Partnership

The Inaugural Einstein-Montefiore Presidential Lecture

John Condeelis, Ph.D., professor and chair of anatomy and structural biology at Einstein, and Joseph Sparano, M.D., vice chair of medical oncology at Montefiore and associate director of clinical research at Albert Einstein Cancer Center, were the honored speakers on June 8 at the inaugural Einstein-Montefiore Presidential Lecture.

The idea for the lecture originated in the Einstein Senate’s faculty interactions committee, chaired by Pamela Stanley, Ph.D., professor of cell biology. She also led the selection process for the lecturers, known for “their high-quality research in basic science and in the clinical arena”—a point she emphasized in her opening remarks to a full Robbins Auditorium.

The event was hosted by Steven M. Safyer, M.D., president and chief executive officer of Montefiore Medicine, and Allen M. Spiegel, M.D., Einstein’s Marilyn and Stanley M. Katz Dean. In his introductory remarks, Dr. Safyer emphasized that the presidential lecture was a direct result of the successful Einstein-Montefiore partnership and he praised Einstein leadership in helping make that partnership a success.

The Tumor Microenvironment

The research collaboration between Drs. Condeelis and Sparano centers on breast cancer metastasis, the spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor through the bloodstream to distant organs. “Metastasis is what kills the patient,” said Dr. Condeelis, who also is co-director of the Gruss Lipper Biophotonics Center and the Integrated Imaging Program (IPP) at Einstein.

Dr. Condeelis and collaborators in the IPP have developed multiphoton imaging that “can look inside a single cell as if it were glass” and see metastasis in action. They have identified three elements of a cancer-spawning “tumor microenvironment of metastasis” (TMEM): endothelial cells (a type of cell that lines the blood vessel); macrophages (a type of immune cell); and a tumor cell that produces high levels of the Mena protein that enhances a cancer cell’s ability to invade. “TMEM is the doorway for tumor cells to enter the blood,” he said. His team has developed an “invasion signature” test that predicts metastasis based on the number and density of TMEMs in a patient’s tumor biopsy specimen.

Early in his lecture, Dr. Condeelis described the “translational story” behind the center’s work and how his research has been strengthened by the Einstein-Montefiore partnership.

Dr. Condeelis, whose roles include serving as director of the Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program of the NCI-designated Albert Einstein Cancer Center; scientific director of the Analytical Imaging Facility; and the Judith and Burton P. Resnick Chair in Translational Research, has advanced this research to show that targeting microenvironmental components with drugs may halt metastasis or even prevent it. (See writeup on Dr. Condeelis’ recent paper published in Science Translational Medicine.)

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Racial Gaps and Research Disparities

In addition to his clinical work at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care, Dr. Sparano’s research centers on developing and evaluating diagnostic tests for breast and other cancers. Although cancer death rates are dropping, “cancer is still the leading cause of death in the United States and globally, and the cancer burden remains enormous,” said Dr. Sparano, who is also professor of medicine and of obstetrics & gynecology and women’s health at Einstein.

Racial gaps are a special concern in cancer care. A principal investigator in the NCI-funded Minority Underserved National Community Oncology Research Program at Montefiore-Einstein, Dr. Sparano cautions against applying conclusions from studies with mostly non-minority subjects to diverse populations such as Montefiore’s. In addition to a 21-gene assay that generates a “recurrence score” for Montefiore patients with breast cancer, Dr. Sparano now uses Dr. Condeelis’ invasion signature test. Dr. Sparano and his collaborators are also investigating rebastinib, a kinase inhibitor that turned off TMEM in experiments conducted with industry partner Deciphera Pharmaceuticals, the maker of the drug. “It’s an exquisitely potent inhibitor,” said Dr. Sparano.

Dr. Sparano began his remarks by discussing what he described as the “cancer burden” and how it is unequally shared by people of color in the U.S.

Dr. Sparano is a national leader in breast cancer clinical trials and champions enrollment of people of color. He uses a genetic assay and Dr. Condeelis’ invasion signature test to predict whether participants’ tumors will metastasize—the rate of which is higher in women of color—and to adjust treatment accordingly.

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Posted on: Wednesday, June 21, 2017