Top Stories of 2023
The entire HICCC community made incredible strides in cancer research, care, education, outreach, and more this year. Take a look at some of our top stories of 2023, which share messages of hope from patients, the latest advances in understanding cancer and finding new ways to a cure, expanding our work in cancer outreach and education, and more.
Four Columbia University faculty members, including Jordan S. Orange, MD, PhD; Michael M. Shen, PhD; Peter D. Canoll, MD, PhD; and Swarnali Acharyya, PhD, have been honored with the inaugural 2023 Irving Cancer Drug Discovery Program (ICDDP) Award. This prestigious award, part of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, grants each recipient $100,000 to $200,000 annually for 1 to 2 years, starting July 2023, to support their groundbreaking cancer research projects, spanning cell therapy optimization, small molecule inhibitors for prostate cancer, ferroptosis-inducing drugs for glioblastoma, and targeted therapy against cancer cachexia.
Phoenix Matthews, PhD, MS, BS, LCP, a scholar-activist and Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Columbia University School of Nursing, integrates academic research with on-the-ground advocacy for social justice and racial equity. With roots in addressing health disparities, particularly in tobacco control, their current focus at Columbia involves lung cancer screening interventions, supported by recent funding from the National Cancer Institute, emphasizing a commitment to scholar-activism and leveraging privilege for positive impact.
Oriana Parsa, a high school student and passionate health advocate, found her calling in cancer research after losing a loved one to the disease in 2020. Through the CURE program at Columbia, now renamed YES! in THE HEIGHTS, Parsa co-founded EndHPVNYC, an initiative dedicated to HPV prevention and education, leading to her becoming an intern for the cancer center. Her dedication culminated in a presentation at a national pediatric research conference, and she now aspires to pursue a career in pediatric oncology.
Yvon Woappi, PhD, a Herbert and Florence Irving Assistant Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University, developed a passion for life science and engineering in Cameroon, later immigrating to the U.S. His journey, influenced by his father's emphasis on education, led him to cancer biology after losing his father to colorectal cancer. Now, as a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dr. Woappi focuses on tissue regeneration, utilizing single cell RNA sequencing and CRISPR gene-editing techniques to uncover pathways for safely repurposing cancer-associated mechanisms in normal tissue repair.
Columbia University researchers have developed a groundbreaking anti-cancer strategy by engineering a probiotic strain of E. coli, forming a "bacterial suicide squad" that, when triggered inside tumors, attracts the host's immune cells to destroy cancer. This innovative approach, published in Science Advances, utilizes genetic engineering to enhance bacterial targeting of tumors and has shown promising results in mouse models, paving the way for potential clinical trials through the collaboration with GenCirq, Inc.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread disruptions in healthcare, with many individuals pausing or discontinuing cancer treatments and routine screenings. A recent study published in JAMA Network Open reveals that Black and Hispanic patients, already facing disproportionate challenges in cancer outcomes, are experiencing greater treatment delays, potentially exacerbating existing inequities in cancer care. The study's lead author Adana Llanos, PhD, MPH, emphasizes the need to understand the broad impact of pandemic-related delays and the role of social determinants of health in developing strategies to improve outcomes, as detailed in the study using data from the ASCO Registry.
Mary Ann Conk, a professional actress since 1981, faced challenges when the COVID-19 pandemic halted her career. Diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2001 and later with lung cancer in 2018, she navigated the complexities of managing both diseases, overcoming stigma, and receiving compassionate care from her dedicated medical team at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. Despite the setbacks, Mary Ann is grateful to be back enjoying her craft, participating in virtual productions, and landing voiceover work, supported by her Earth angels in the medical community.
Alfredia Taylor, after 43 years at Chase Bank, planned to retire and celebrate with family in South Carolina, but a routine mammogram led to an early-stage, HER2-positive breast cancer diagnosis. Despite unexpected challenges, Alfredia joined a clinical trial at Columbia University seeking innovative approaches, such as compression techniques, to reduce chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and improve long-term outcomes for breast cancer patients.
Scientists at Columbia University's Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center have used a combination of computer algorithms and cell culture techniques to investigate why cancer cells often lose portions of their DNA, discovering that these losses confer survival advantages to the cells and suggesting potential strategies for tumor detection and treatment, as reported in the journal Nature. Alison Taylor, PhD, and a multidisciplinary team of collaborators used an innovative approach that involved developing a computational biology algorithm to analyze genome breaks in aneuploid cells, revealing distinct patterns and providing insights into the selective advantages of retaining specific chromosomal segments in cancer cells.
Shunichi Nakagawa, MD, a palliative care physician, emphasizes the importance of advance care planning (ACP) to facilitate end-of-life decisions. He suggests a positive approach focusing on values and priorities rather than specific treatment preferences, providing practical tips for initiating and navigating these conversations to ensure that patients' wishes are known and respected by their families.