Frequently Asked Questions about the Translational Oncology Program

Since the establishment of TOP what have been some of the major milestones?

The Translational Oncology Program (TOP) has brought together the best and brightest cancer researchers to move the translation of basic research more rapidly to patients. The major accomplishments to date are as follows:
Drs. Simeone and Llungman
Diane Simeone, M.D. and Mats Ljungman, PhD. go over research results

A). Establishment of a weekly seminar series and PI meetings for programmatic cohesiveness, as well as the establishment of seminars from world renowned cancer researchers from around the country.

B). Integration of multiple departments/schools into the program (including engineering, pharmacology/med chem, surgery, pediatrics, etc.).

C). Establishment of core-facilities for TOP researchers to utilize more effectively and to enhance their research.

D). Development of philanthropy and sponsored projects (such as the collaborations with the Vada Murray Foundation and the Egyptian Bladder Cancer Project) to generate additional programmatic funding.

E). Creating a collaborative environment that will foster research aimed at revolutionizing cancer research more rapidly than a single lab could accomplish.

How many graduate students are working in your lab? Post-doctoral researchers? Undergrads? Full time staff?, etc.

The Translational Oncology Program (TOP) currently has approximately 100 members including:
Dr. Mark Day with students and lab staff
Dr. Mark Day with students and lab staff

Principle Investigators: 13
Graduate Students 13
Post-Doctoralresearch: 13
Undergraduates: 22
Full time staff: 23
Visiting Scholars: 4
Research Faculty: 5
MD/ PHD: 2
Research/Clinical Fellows: 5

The goal is to expand the program over the next 2 years to hopefully have 30-40 PI's and their labs at NCRC.

Does the program participate in the University of Michigan Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) or the Cancer Center Undergraduate Summer Internship Program? Have you participated in the past?

The majority of the TOP labs have and are currently participating in UROP, as well as the Cancer Center Summer Internship Program. One of the goals for TOP is to help foster young researchers and as such TOP is currently working with the assistant director of UROP to establish a direct collaboration that will increase the number of UROP students working within the TOP program.

How is the program making it more possible to collaborate across boundaries in new ways?

The University of Michigan is already one of the leading institutions in the world in basic cancer research and drug discovery and is world renowned for its expertise in cancer biology. Developing a translational research engine at the NCRC represents a unique opportunity to translate the most important basic science discoveries into clinical advancements that will significantly improve the way cancer is diagnosed and treated. The physical location to other cancer researchers, as well as multidisciplinary investigators, has been an important factor to stimulate these interactions which have significantly expanded the breadth of the research for the program members.

What were the major reasons for establishing the program?

Drs. Simeone and Nagrath
Diane Simeone, M.D. and Sunitha Nagrath, PhD. collaborate
The Translational Oncology Program (TOP) was founded to foster cutting edge science, in a non-traditional atmosphere. The TOP is directed by renowned CSC investigator, Dr. Diane Simeone, whose pancreas research is highly regarded. The TOP seeks to drive innovative science and is uniquely qualified with numerous leading multidisciplinary laboratories in both basic and cancer research. TOP investigators are presently exploring cancers of the breast, lung, pancreas, bladder, head and neck, colon, prostate and thyroid. By working together and sharing the ample scientific resources of the NCRC, TOP scientists can make progress more rapidly than would be possible by working alone. It is hoped this collaborative approach will revolutionize cancer research. In Dr. Wicha's words, "In many ways, the NCRC embodies the very best of Michigan and epitomizes what sets our institution apart - our ability to focus the efforts of the top minds in diverse fields to find answers to society's greatest challenges."

What are some examples of collaborative research across traditional boundaries taking place within TOP?

The establishment of the program has led to numerous collaborations across traditional boundaries. These collaborations have provided researchers with added scope and novel directions that will enhance research. Examples of a few collaborations include:

The lab of Sunitha Nagrath (Engineering) has created a specialized microfluidics chip that can be used to capture circulating tumor cells. She is collaborating with Dr. Simeone (Surgery), as well as Dr. Wicha (Internal Medicine), to test this technique in murine models as well as human samples.

Drs. Mark Day (Urology) and Nouri Neamati (Medicinal Chemistry) are currently collaborating on the creation of small molecule inhibitors for proteins important in cancer.

A number of TOP investigators are working with Biointerfaces to create new technologies for studying the disease.

Are there any interesting facts about the program?

  • The Ljungman lab covers 4 continents (no African or Australian yet). They also brew award-winning beer too!

  • Dr. Ron Rubin was a structural biologist and crystallographer with Pfizer who worked on Lipitor and has now returned to his old facility as a member of TOP.

  • The main fruit from the Physalis longifolia plant is the wild tomatillo which is edible and contains a large portion of the plant's potent anti-cancer withanolides (which are somewhat orally-bioavailable).

  • Hyaluronic acid (the main nanoparticle backbone of cancer-drug conjugates used for loco regional drug delivery in the lab) is a natural ligand for the CD44 receptor and as such allows these drug conjugates to actively target cancer cells over-expressing this receptor, which include cancer progenitor (stem) cells.

  • Locally advanced cancers (especially with lymph node metastases) are very difficult to treat with systemic drugs including targeted agents, allowing a loco regional delivery method using HA-chemotherapy conjugates to demonstrate lower systemic toxicity and better loco-regional efficacy in multiple cancer types in mouse and large animal series.
Dr. Lawlor at podium
Elizabeth R. Lawlor, M.D., PhD. presents at a recent TOP seminar series

Can you tell us about the TOP seminar series? What are the benefits of this series and who are the attendees?

The weekly TOP seminar series provides a mechanism to showcase the exciting research taking place in each of the TOP laboratories, as well as guest speakers in translational oncology who have stimulated collaboration and further development of research within the program. Each seminar includes a discussion section meant to stimulate new ideas and foster new insights. The seminar is open to all and includes not only TOP members, but individuals from other departments (such as Biointerfaces and Pathology) and some of the startup companies at NCRC (located in B520). The seminars have led to several new collaborations across the institution, and showcases our active program and research.

Do you have any links to press releases, interviews, or articles regarding your research?


Diane Simeone, MD, Lazar J. Greenfield Professor of Surgery and Professor of Molecular & Integrative Physiology and Chief, Division of Hepatopancreatobiliary and Advanced Gastrointestinal Surgery at the University of Michigan gives an overview of pancreatic cancergoing to a new website including treatment research in the area of stem cells, presented at the AACR 2012 Annual Meeting in Chicago.

This video presentation is also available thanks to§ion=view&vid_id=102669

Cancer Stem Cells - Max Wicha, MDgoing to a new website
Max Wicha, MD, Director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center discusses cancer stem cell research

The Future of Pancreatic Cancer Treatmentgoing to a new website
Dr. Simeone's appearance on the Dr. Oz show (article with video).

Cancer stem cells: New frontier in cancer researchgoing to a new website
Taubman Institute Health Science Lecture Series. March 2013.

Cancer Stem Cell Research Introduction
from, cancer stem cell tutorial with video.

Innovative Researcher Profile: Dr. Elizabeth R. Lawlorgoing to a new website
Elizabeth R. Lawlor, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Pathology and Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases is profiled on the Stand Up to Cancer YouTube channel.


Curelaunchers and Meals to Healgoing to a new website
Stupid Cancer Show: The voice of young adult cancer. 21 January 2013.

An article with radio interview featuring the work of Mark S. Cohen, M.D., Associate Professor of Surgery and Director of Endocrine Surgery Research: Plant-Based Molecules Show Cancer-Fighting Potentialgoing to a new website

Rob Stein. Lab Findings Support Provocative Theory On Cancer 'Enemy' Withingoing to a new website
All Things Considered, National Public Radio. 01 August 2012 (article and radio interview).

News Articles

Tomatillo plant shows promise in cancer treatment

Researchers hope prairie's wild tomatillo may provide medical breakthrough in cancer fightgoing to a new website
Witchita Eagle

Tomatillo: Cancer-fighting potential?going to a new website
Topeka Capital-Journal

Compounds in the Wild Tomatillo Weed May Combat Cancergoing to a new website
Indian Country Today Media Network

Dr. Elizabeth Lawlor, M.D. Ph.D. � University of Michigangoing to a new website

Grant Awarded to Scientist Investigating Cancerous Cell Survival in Childrengoing to a new website

News Articles from University of Michigan publications

U-M Cancer Center gets $28.4 million grant from NCI website. 31 October, 2012.

NCRC Momentum Website Octobergoing to a new website

Diane Simeone to head translational oncology program at NCRCgoing to a new website

Speeding Promising Discoveries to Clinical Trialsgoing to a new website

Inflammatory pathway spurs cancer stem cells to resist HER2-targeted breast cancer treatment

Translational oncology establishes presence at NCRC: Dr. Max Wicha and researchers move their labsgoing to a new website

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