Dartmouth orgs. team up for cancer research

by Kristin Yu and Jennifer Dalecki | 11/21/11 11:00pm

The extensive collaborations between undergraduates, Dartmouth Medical School, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center provide scientists with the resources and support they need to conduct cancer research that earns recognition on the national scale. Through parternships between the College and external health care affiliates, Dartmouth contributes to cancer research in a number of ways, according to professors and students interviewed by The Dartmouth.

DMS professor and physician-scientist Ethan Dmitrovsky, whose studies of retinoids in immune response have been published in a number of national medical journals, attributed his team's success to Dartmouth's research-conducive environment. Enabled by "extensive collaborations" between DHMC, the College and various DMS departments, Dartmouth faculty members can produce interdisciplinary cancer studies, Dmitrovsky said.

"Dartmouth has really helped me by providing me with a wonderful collegial, collaborative, academic environment that has no barriers, allow[ing] me to welcome students from the College and perform successful collaborations throughout all of the aspects of Dartmouth College," he said.

Dmitrovsky most recently studied potential ways to use micro-RNA which regulates protein synthesis in lung cancer prevention and treatment. His findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in April 2010, and he has published two other studies pertaining to lung cancer in the past two years. His previous research has focused on leukemia and germ cell tumors, he said.

The Norris Cotton Cancer Center, which coordinates DHMC's care for cancer patients, also provides public education and resources for research, according to center director Mark Israel.

"[Norris Cotton] is rather unique among cancer centers in that two of our six research programs, epidemiology and chemoprevention and cancer control, bring our leading faculty into fields with direct relevance to public health considerations," Israel said. "In addition to their focus on cancer, a number of our population science faculty have particular interest in the role of communications and media coverage in influencing behavior, which has led naturally to development of relationships with medical news services."

Despite the multitude of focuses and resources the center offers, it is "the right size" for a productive research environment, according to Israel.

"We have a broad range of interests and areas of expertise, yet we are a size that makes interdisciplinary collaborations viable," he said. "It's those team science' groups that really can gain traction on research problems by considering different angles and combining skill sets and experience. Without a doubt, the free-flow of ideas among the brightest scientists in a collaborative atmosphere is the basis of our collective success as a research center."

Commercial collaborations and external foundations, such as Friends of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, provide the center with additional funding. Friends of Norris Cotton Cancer Centers hosts the annual Prouty Bike and Run fundraiser, in which 284 Dartmouth students participated and raised over $2.5 million, Israel said. Greek houses contributed over $100,000 to that total, he said.

The Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence, a joint interdisplinary collaboration between Thayer School of Engineering and DMS, was launched in September 2010 after the National Cancer Institute awarded Dartmouth $12.8 million, which will be distributed to the College over the next five years. The Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence one of nine similar programs across the nation is directed by Thayer professor Ian Baker.

Doctors and researchers at the nanotechnology center utilize magnetic hyperthermia technology to treat cancer by introducing magnetic nanoparticles into tumors and then applying an alternating magnetic field to the tumors to heat the nanoparticles and damage the tumor cells, Baker said. This highly-technical treatment made possible through the specializations of Thayer professors and Norris Cotton Cancer Center physicians distinguishes Dartmouth's Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence from centers at other institutions, according to Baker.

"There's a long-standing collaboration between the two," Baker said. "The projects would really be impossible were it not for the collaboration between the cancer center and engineering school personnel."

Student involvement has also contributed to the success of the nanotechnology center, according to Baker.

"There are not only faculty involved in these research projects, but there are also post-doctorate students, PhD students and a number of undergraduate students involved," Baker said.

Several charities in the Upper Valley also partner with DHMC to help families of cancer patients in less scientific ways. David's House an independent charity that offers care for chronically sick children is located on the DHMC campus, allowing families to reach their child's bedside in under five minutes, according to David's House Executive Director Jaye Olmstead. Although it has a close affiliation with DHMC, David's House does not receive DHMC, state or federal funding.

David's House collaborates with DHMC staff to understand families' needs, according to Olmstead.

"We have an extremely close relationship with the pediatric departments at DHMC from a care-management perspective," he said. "We try to work with the nursing staff in particular to compare notes when it's appropriate to wrap around a family and give them all the support that we can."

Students may also participate in special projects at David's House, including the organization's spring or fall cleanup, Olmstead said. Members of fraternities and sororities, as well as College faculty members, regularly visit David's House and cook dinners for the families, according to Olmstead.

Dartmouth Cancer and Patient Services is an on-campus community service program that operates through the Tucker Foundation and works with the Upper Valley Hostel and DHMC to aid patients undergoing chemotherapy at DHMC, former CAPS chair Claudia Cornejo '12 said.

Previously known as the Dartmouth College Cancer Society, CAPS helps patients by traveling to their homes and assisting them with physically taxing chores, such as grocery shopping and shoveling snow, former CAPS chair Snowy Liu '12 said.

CAPS chair Sofia Chernet '13 declined to comment.