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News Highlights

2018 University of Hawaii Cancer Center Summer Interns

June 4, 2018

High school and undergraduate students conduct innovative cancer research at the UH Cancer Center

HONOLULU –Twenty-three high school and undergraduate students conducted cancer research at the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center over the summer with support from both federal grant funds and generous philanthropic contributions from community groups.

This year’s internship program at the UH Cancer Center is supported by generous contributions from the Friends of the UH Cancer Center, the McInery Foundation, the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation, the Meiji Yasuda Endowment, Dennet and Karen Azuma, the EACH Foundation along with some federal funding through the National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant.

“Community engagement is very important as part of our UH Cancer Center mission. Through this internship program we are able to reach out to young students across the island and help them get exposed to new research advances and innovative biomedical research,” said Randall Holcombe, MD, MBA, UH Cancer Center director.

“The Friends of the UH Cancer Center is honored to support this great local summer internship program where students receive valuable cancer research experience. We believe these eager students are Hawai‘i’s future bright scientists,” said Adelia Dung, Friends of the UH Cancer Center president.

The interns were chosen through a highly competitive process from public and private schools across the state and the nation. Out of 73 total applications 23 students were selected with an average GPA of 3.78. The internship projects include focuses such as cancer prevention and control measures, cancer epidemiology, bioinformatics, and basic cancer biology. The students receive a stipend to support their work, which is conducted over a two-month span. More than half of the Center’s summer interns are minority students who are interested in pursuing careers in science.

“Every summer, it is exciting to see how students with different backgrounds work on various research projects. What is noteworthy about the UH Cancer Center program is the opportunity for students to contribute to population studies that aim to lower cancer rates through improvements in lifestyle factors,” said Gertraud Maskarinec, Summer Internship Program director.

The internship program provides valuable research experience, and exposes young people to possible careers in the life sciences. Past program interns have gone on to earn advanced degrees from top universities before returning to work in Hawai‘i as physicians or scientists.

The Cancer Center’s program places interns under the guidance of faculty mentors, who help them gain research experience and complete an independent project. Past projects have included the study of how e-cigarette advertising affects use among young adults, a sun safety intervention program in an at-risk cohort of high school student athletes and developing a machine-learning pipeline to classify single-cell gene expression in cancer cells. At the end of the summer, Interns will present their research findings to their peers and to Cancer Center faculty at a poster session.

“Educating students is a priority for the UH Cancer Center. Tracking the progress of past student interns shows us that what they learn during the internship helps them pursue degrees and jobs in not only the cancer research field, but the medical and technology field as well,” said Joe W. Ramos, PhD, UH Cancer Center deputy director.


More poster presentation photos


2018 Cancer Center Summer Interns and their respective Mentors
Four High School StudentsMentors
Terric Abella (Kamehameha High School)
Peter Hoffmann, PhD
Aldrich Solomon (Waipahu High School)
Gertraud Maskarinec, MD, PhD
Bernadette Dela Cruz (Farrington High School
Pallav Pokhrel, PhD
Nalani Miller (Kamehameha High School)James Turkson, PhD
Nineteen Undergraduate Students
Mentors
Shaina-Marie Acosta (Waipahu High School) attending Notre Dame De NamurKevin Cassel, DrPH
Rachel Arakawa (Kaiser High School) attending Chaminade UniversityPeter Hoffmann, PhD
Chloe Asato (Mililani High School) attending UH MānoaYurii Shvetsov, PhD
Theodore Huo (Punahou) attending University of California, BerkeleyPeiwen Fei, MD, PhD
Gabriella Jelffs (St. Andrew’s Priory) attending UH MānoaMichele Carbone, MD, PhD
Victor Kilonzo (Vilseck High School) UH MānoaRandall Holcombe, MD
Nina Krupa (Le Jardin) attending UH MānoaErin Bantum, PhD
Ethan Lee (Punahou) attending Cornell UniversityJohn Shephard, PhD
Eileen Liu (Punahou) attending Tufts UniversityPeiwen Fei, MD, PhD
Kevin Liu (Iolani High School) attending Carnegie Mellon UniversityMichelle Matter, PhD
Jhon Michael Malabed (Farrington High School) attending UH MānoaCarol Boushey, PhD
Daniel Ota (Punahou) attending Creighton UniversityMichelle Tallquist, PhD
Emily Rapoza (Punahou) attending Washing University in St. LouisKevin Cassel, DrPH
Richard Rista (Kamehameha High School) attending Creighton UniversityJames Turkson, PhD
Kayzel Tabangcura (Maui High School) attending UH MānoaPallav Pokhrel, PhD
Lindlelyn Tabula (James Campbell High School) attending UH MānoaYouping Deng, PhD
Anna Wen (McKinley High School) attending UH MānoaJoe Ramos, PhD
Lacye Yata attending UH MānoaJoe Ramos, PhD
Melanie Yuen (Iolani High School) attending Washington University of St. LouisHaining Yang, MD, PhD


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The University of Hawai'i Cancer Center through its various activities, cancer trial patients and their guests, and other visitors adds more than $54 million to the O'ahu economy. It is one of only 70 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute. Affiliated with the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, the Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawai'i and the Pacific. Learn more at www.uhcancercenter.org. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter. Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.

News Highlights

June 7, 2018

UH Cancer Center partners with nation's top cancer centers to endorse goal of eliminating HPV-related cancers in the U.S.

Joint statement empowers parents, young adults and physicians to act to increase vaccination rates and screenings to eliminate HPV-related cancers, starting with cervical cancer.


Eighty percent of people will get an HPV infection in their lifetime.


Nearly 80 million Americans – one out of every four people – are infected with human papillomavirus (HPV). And of those millions, more than 31,000 will be diagnosed with an HPV-related cancer this year. Despite those staggering figures and the availability of a vaccine to prevent the infections that cause these cancers, HPV vaccination remains low in the U.S.

University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center has partnered with 69 other National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer centers to issue a statement urging for increased HPV vaccination and screening to eliminate HPV-related cancers, starting with cervical cancer. These institutions collectively recognize insufficient vaccination as a public health threat and call upon the nations’ physicians, parents and young adults to take advantage of this rare opportunity to eliminate several different types of cancer in men and women.

As a part of this initiative, the UH Cancer conducted a statewide survey of primary care physicians who identified specific barriers to adolescent HPV vaccine uptake. The barriers identified were related to logistics, attitudes and perceptions, as well as the absence of school-based HPV vaccine requirements.

“HPV vaccination remains a powerful tool in the effort to prevent cancers caused by the human papillomavirus in Hawai‘i. The need for HPV vaccination is underscored by the steady increase in certain HPV-associated cancers including anal cancers in Hawai‘i and the U.S. overall,” said Brenda Hernandez, PhD, UH Cancer Center epidemiologist and senior author of the Hawai‘i study published in the Journal of Community Health.

"Preventing cancer is a central mission of the UH Cancer Center. We are honored to join our other National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center colleagues and cancer prevention organizations in recommending this Call to Action to reduce the burden of HPV-related cancers," said Randall Holcombe, MD, MBA, UH Cancer Center director.

“We have the opportunity to eliminate multiple HPV-related cancers beginning with cervical cancer. To accomplish this goal, we need to utilize our most important tool – HPV vaccination,” said Anna R. Giuliano, PhD, director of the Center for Infection Research in Cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center. “We are asking health care providers to stand with us and recommend the HPV vaccine. Parents can join with us by asking their doctors about vaccination.”

Vaccination rates remain significantly lower than other recommended adolescent vaccines in the U.S. According 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), less than 50 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys completed the recommended vaccine series. Research shows there are a number of barriers to overcome to improve vaccination rates, including a lack of strong recommendations from physicians and parents not understanding that this vaccine protects against several types of cancer in men and women. HPV causes multiple cancers including cervical, anal, oropharyngeal (middle throat) and other genital cancers.

HPV experts from the nation’s top cancer centers, along with partners from the NCI, CDC, and the American Cancer Society, are meeting June 7-8 in Salt Lake City to discuss a path forward to eliminating cancers caused by HPV, including ways to reduce barriers to vaccination, as well as share education, training and intervention strategies to improve vaccination rates.

“The United States has an unprecedented opportunity to not just prevent cancers caused by HPV but to eliminate them. This means getting to a point in time when cancers such as cervical cancer are no longer diagnosed in our country,” said Giuliano.

This is the third year that all NCI-designated cancer centers have come together to issue a national call to action. All 70 cancer centers unanimously share the goal of sending a powerful message to parents, adolescents and health care providers about the importance of HPV vaccination for the elimination of HPV-related cancers.

HPV Cancer Elimination Joint Statement

HPV Facts & Figures



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The University of Hawai'i Cancer Center through its various activities, cancer trial patients and their guests, and other visitors adds more than $54 million to the O'ahu economy. It is one of only 69 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute. Affiliated with the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, the Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawai'i and the Pacific.
Learn more at www.uhcancercenter.org. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter. Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.


News Highlights

July 3, 2018

UH CANCER CENTER RENEWS NCI DESIGNATION

HONOLULU - The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center successfully competed for renewal of National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation, and has been awarded a $6 million Cancer Center Support Grant to fund research at the Center.

“I am extremely pleased that the National Cancer Institute has recognized the unique contributions of the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center, and rewarded the efforts of the incredible faculty by continuing the NCI designation,” said Randall Holcombe, MD, MBA, UH Cancer Center director. “For Hawai‘i, this means that our family and friends have access to cutting-edge cancer treatments and the highest quality of cancer care.”

“The people of Hawaiʻi are the greatest beneficiaries of NCI designation, which brings research directed toward the cancer problems specific for our diverse ethnic population and access to the most up-to-date approaches for cancer prevention and treatment. The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is a great resource for the State of Hawai‘i. Its discoveries will help improve patient outcomes for people faced with a cancer diagnosis not just in our state, but across the nation,” said Governor David Y. Ige.


Dr. Randall Holcombe, UH Cancer Center Director
Dr. Randall Holcombe,
UH Cancer Center director

The new Cancer Center Support Grant from the NCI begins on July 1, 2018. Of more than 1,000 cancer centers across the country, the UH Cancer Center is one of only 70 NCI-Designated Cancer Centers in the nation.

The UH Cancer Center was established by the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa in 1981 and achieved NCI designation and funding in 1996, an honor it has held continuously since that time. NCI-Designated Cancer Centers must go through rigorous and competitive renewal of their status every three to five years.

The designation provides opportunities for the UH Cancer Center to continue its mission to reduce the burden of cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural and environmental characteristics of Hawai‘i and the Pacific.

“The UH Cancer Center keeps treatment in reach for many people in our state. It is also the only institution in the country researching cancer health disparities in the Native Hawaiian and Asian American communities,” said Senator Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “With this designation, our state will have the resources we need to research, help patients, and fight for a cure.”

“The UH Cancer Center continues to serve as a national leader in research, prevention, and education efforts, especially on how cancer affects Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander populations. As one of only 70 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the country, the renewal of the NCI designation will enable researchers to continue their important work that will benefit cancer patients in Hawai‘i and across the country,” said Senator Mazie K. Hirono.

The designation has helped Cancer Center researchers make seminal advances into the understanding of the molecular basis for cancer, the identification of disparities in cancer incidence and mortality within our diverse population, engagement of the community in cancer prevention initiatives and coordination of clinical trials for cancer patients through the UH Cancer Center clinical trials network that includes the Hawai‘i Cancer Consortium.

“The University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center is a life-changing resource for the people of Hawai‘i and the Pacific, conducting cutting edge research that is furthering our knowledge and understanding of cancer in our region, and improving patient care, treatment, education, and community outreach. The renewal of the Center’s NCI designation provides recognition of the Center’s exceptional advances that will continue to serve the people of Hawai‘i,” said U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02).

In the last five years, more than 1,600 people have participated in UH Cancer Center sponsored clinical research studies, ranging from studies on how diet and the environment may influence the development of cancer to novel treatment interventions for patients with advanced cancer.

“The University of Hawai‘i is delighted to have the National Cancer Institute renew our designation as an NCI Cancer Center. This provides well-deserved external validation and national recognition of the important work we are doing and our path forward,” said UH President and UH Mānoa Interim Chancellor, David Lassner, PhD. “Over the past two years, the Cancer Center has excelled in particular in novel discovery and in translating these discoveries into advances that will help cancer patients and those at risk for this debilitating disease, and we are the only Center with the will and capacity to focus on Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. Kudos to our new Cancer Center Director, Dr. Randall Holcombe, and to all of the Center’s faculty and staff who pulled together as a team to make this recognition possible.”

The designation helps Cancer Center members bring in around $40 million per year in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other agencies to support research activities. This funding provides nearly $90 million in economic impact for the Island of Oahu every year.

According to the NCI many cancer centers are located in communities with special needs and specific populations. As a result, these centers not only disseminate evidence-based findings into communities that can benefit from these findings, but the centers can also, through the experience of working with those patients, help inform national research and treatment priorities.

“The UH Cancer Center is an invaluable asset to the people of Hawai‘i. The research and work being done to improve diagnoses and treatments for Native Hawaiians and Asian Americans is leading edge innovation that will benefit patients around the world. The NCI designation ensures that the UH Cancer Center will continue to be able to fulfill its mission to reduce the burden of cancer through research, education, and patient care. I am committed to supporting the UH Cancer Center’s efforts and look forward to its continued community investment,” said U.S. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa.

“During the grant review process, the NCI noted that the community outreach and engagement by the UH Cancer Center was exceptional, with profound impact on the populations in Hawai‘i and across the Pacific,” said Dr. Holcombe.

The grant award is supported by the National Institutes of Health under award number P30CA071789.

  • Key UH Cancer Center studies and discoveries:

  • The UH Cancer Center conducts the most ethnically diverse lifestyle and cancer prevention study in the world. The Multiethnic Cohort study conducted in conjunction with the University of Southern California involves 215,000 Hawai‘i and Los Angeles residents.
  • UH Cancer Center researchers found that Japanese, Chinese and Koreans tend to have high amounts of abdominal fat, and this type of fat is more dangerous than others in terms of certain diseases and cancers. UH Cancer Center researchers are looking for ways to help prevent abdominal fat build up.
  • UH Cancer Center researchers are studying ways to improve colon cancer screening and prevention for Native Hawaiian Men. Native Hawaiian men have one of the highest death rates from colon cancer of any ethnic group.
  • UH Cancer Center researchers are studying the risks of e-cigarettes on teens and young adults.
  • UH Cancer Center researchers study plants and other natural resources native to Hawai‘i to see if there are natural compounds that can be used to treat cancers. UH Cancer Center researchers discovered that the ironweed plant found mostly on the Hawai‘i Island may help fight aggressive types of breast and brain cancers.
  • Seminal advances about genes that cause cancer syndromes, such as BAP1, and genes that drive metastases, such as RSK2, have been made by UH Cancer Center researchers.
  • The UH Cancer Center’s Hawai‘i Tumor Registry has provided incidence and survival data on all cases of cancer in Hawai‘i since 1973, and is a part of the national Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.
  • Key Hawai`i Cancer Statistics:

  • More than 6,500 people are diagnosed with cancer in Hawai‘i each year.
  • In Hawai‘i about 2,000 people die from the disease each year.
  • Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death (after cardiovascular disease) in Hawai‘i.
  • Mortality and incidence rates vary substantially across Hawai‘i’s racial and ethnic groups.

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The University of Hawai'i Cancer Center through its various activities, cancer trial patients and their guests, and other visitors adds more than $54 million to the O'ahu economy. It is one of only 70 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute. Affiliated with the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, the Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawai'i and the Pacific. Learn more at www.uhcancercenter.org. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter. Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.


News Highlights

May 22, 2018

Graduate student wins multiple awards for sepsis research

Natalija Glibetic, a Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering graduate student has won multiple awards for sepsis research conducted at the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center in Michelle L. Matter’s lab of the Cancer Biology Program.

“I am incredibly grateful for all the support and attention my work has received. Sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals and accounts for 8.5 percent of cancer patient deaths each year, yet there are no sepsis-specific therapies. Native Hawaiians are particularly susceptible to cancer-associated sepsis, so it is crucial to develop these therapies for Hawai‘I,” said Glibetic. “Presenting at these symposiums, I was hoping that I could bring more attention to sepsis and the exciting work we are doing in Michelle L. Matter's lab at the UH Cancer Center. Hopefully, with my contribution we will be a step closer to stopping sepsis.”

  • 1st Place Best Poster - Graduate Division
    2018 JABSOM Biomedical & Health Disparities Symposium
    Poster: R-Ras: a key regulator of sepsis-mediated vascular permeability.
  • 30-year Anniversary Overall Best Master’s Poster
    2018 CTAHR's Student Research Symposium
    Poster: R-Ras: a key regulator of sepsis-mediated vascular permeability.
  • 1st Place Master’s 3-Minute Elevator Pitch
    2018 CTAHR’s 3-Minute Elevator Pitch Competition
    Going with the flow to stop sepsis
  • Runner-up 3 Minute Thesis Award
    2018 Graduate Division 3-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition
    Going with the flow to stop sepsis

Natalia Glibetic at the Graduate Division 3-Minute Thesis Competition
Natalia Glibetic at the Graduate Division 3-Minute Thesis Competition

Natalia Glibetic at the Graduate Division 3-Minute Thesis Competition
From left, Michelle L. Matter and Natalija Glibetic at the Master's 3-minute Elevator Pitch Competition


Research: Stopping sepsis-mediated blood vessel leakage
Glibetic’s research focuses on the regulation of vascular leakage in sepsis and cancer-associated sepsis. Glibetic found a protein that is crucial in maintaining blood vessel integrity that blocks sepsis-induced vascular leakage. The protein acts as a key switch from an unhealthy leaky vessel to a healthy blood vessel.

Blood vessels are lined by endothelial cells that act as gatekeepers for the movement of fluids and nutrients from the bloodstream into the underlying tissue. In sepsis these cells dysfunction leading to increased vascular leakage that can induce tissue swelling, multiple organ failure and death.

People with cancer are particularly susceptible to developing sepsis due to suppression of the immune system that can occur from the cancer itself or from surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy used to treat the disease. 8.5 percent of cancer patients die from cancer-associated sepsis each year, with Native Hawaiians being particularly susceptible. Currently there are no treatments for sepsis, and all therapies are supportive.

“We are now focused on moving our work into pre-clinical models as the protein is an exciting target for developing sepsis-specific therapies, and could lead to the development of treatments for other diseases such as atherosclerosis and diabetes,” said Glibetic.


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The University of Hawai'i Cancer Center through its various activities, cancer trial patients and their guests, and other visitors adds more than $54 million to the O'ahu economy. It is one of only 69 research institutions designated by the National Cancer Institute. Affiliated with the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, the Center is dedicated to eliminating cancer through research, education, patient care and community outreach with an emphasis on the unique ethnic, cultural, and environmental characteristics of Hawai'i and the Pacific.
Learn more at www.uhcancercenter.org. Like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/UHCancerCenter. Follow us on Twitter @UHCancerCenter.