John Theurer Cancer Center
at Hackensack University Medical Center
Year after year, the John Theurer Cancer Center (JTCC) harnesses the newest technologies and retains world-class oncologists, nurses, and scientists to fulfill its mission of delivering extraordinary care to patients in the community. In January 2011, the cancer center opened a new patient-centric facility in northern New Jersey that provides personalized, innovative, and multidisciplinary care across 14 specialized cancer divisions. JTCC, part of Hackensack University Medical Center, had 87,200 outpatient visits and 5400 new patients in 2011. The volume and diversity of this patient population provides a unique opportunity for JTCC to enroll participants in the 200 clinical trials being conducted at any given time at the cancer center.
In the past year, JTCC has been a part of cutting-edge clinical research that has helped to establish its national reputation as one of the largest and most comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. JTCC was one of the institutions involved in determining the complete genomic portrait of multiple myeloma, which was subsequently published in the journal Nature. In September 2011, JTCC became one of the first hospital sites in the country to enroll patients in the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation’s personalized medicine initiative, which includes studies on biomarkers and targeted drug development. Research like this helped JTCC to earn the distinction of being ranked among the top 50 cancer centers in the country by US News & World Report—the only cancer center in New Jersey with this designation.
Robert Korngold, PhD
In 1978, Robert Korngold, PhD, demonstrated that mature T cells in donor bone marrow were responsible for causing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after bone marrow transplantation. GVHD is a disorder in which newly transplanted cells attack the recipient’s body from within. This landmark study had a significant impact on the future of clinical treatment for patients undergoing transplantation.
Today, Korngold is the chief of the Division of Research at JTCC, where that translational research has led to remarkable discoveries that are nearing the clinical trial stage. Along with his colleague, Thea Friedman, PhD, Korngold’s lab is focusing on research that examines the role of T cells in GVHD. By studying a potential donor’s T cells and distinguishing between which cells could cause GVHD and which ones have antitumor activity, researchers can determine which donors would be suitable matches for blood cancer patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. In addition, “that would allow us to also guide therapy where we could eliminate those T cells that might cause GVHD, give the remaining cells back to the patient, and hopefully have a safer result as an end product,” Korngold said. “This would theoretically eliminate GVHD as a complication.”
In October of last year, JTCC also began enrolling patients in a clinical trial designed to promote regulatory T cells by treatment with cyclophosphamide and sirolimus in patients with steroid-refractory GVHD. The immune suppression that follows salvage treatment for GVHD leads to very poor outcomes because of high infection rates. The goal of the trial is to find a more targeted approach based on the promotion and stabilization of regulatory T cells to control GVHD without the high level of immunosuppression usually seen in these patients.
By working closely with the transplantation team at JTCC, Korngold has had the support and resources needed to transform his research from something observed in a lab to something that will have the potential to end GVHD and save lives.
“In order to do this research, we needed patient samples that we couldn’t get elsewhere,” Korngold said. “It would have been difficult to do this [research] at other institutions.”