Residents Receive 2017 Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Merit Awards

November 2016

Emory PGY2 residents Cecilia Ethun, MD, and Alexandra Lopez-Aguiar, MD, have been selected to receive 2017 Conquer Cancer Foundation Merit Awards of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Both residents are engaged in research sabbaticals in the lab of surgical oncologist-scientist Shishir Maithel, MD.

Merit Awards honor early career oncologists' research activities, and are distributed to residents and fellows whose research is addressed in high-quality abstracts that have been recognized for exhibiting cogent science. The awards will assist with funding Ethun and Lopez-Aguiar's attendance of the 2017 Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in San Francisco, January 19-21, 2017, where they will present their abstracts.

Ethun's abstract, "HSP90 expression and early recurrence in gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors: Potential for novel therapeutic targets," examines the role of HSP90 (heat shock protein 90) in primary and metastatic neuroendocrine tumors (NETs). HSP90 promotes tumor growth and is overexpressed in many malignancies, yet its expression profile and potential as a therapeutic target in NETs is unknown. Ethun's team performed blinded pathologic re-review on 278 NETs, and found differential expression of HSP90 in resected primary gastroenteropancreatic NETs and liver metastases. They also observed that high cytoplasmic expression was associated with early recurrence of disease, even after accounting for other adverse pathologic factors, including a high Ki-67 index. Ethun concluded that HSP90 inhibition may be a potential target for novel therapeutic strategies for NETs.

"Effect of perioperative transfusion on recurrence and survival after resection of distal cholangiocarcinoma: A 10-institution study from the U.S. Extrahepatic Biliary Malignancy Consortium," Lopez-Aguiar's abstract, focuses on evaluating the impact of allogeneic red blood cell (pRBC) transfusion on outcomes for patients listed in the consortium's database who underwent curative-intent pancreaticoduodenectomy for distal cholangiocarcinoma between 2000-2015. Twenty-eight percent received perioperative blood transfusions, which the authors identified as an independent factor that preceded earlier disease recurrence and reduced survival, following the clarification of other detrimental pathologic influences. Interestingly, pRBC transfusion was also found to have a dose-dependent effect when the team observed that transfusion of ≥2 pRBC units was linked to lower recurrence free survival (17 vs 32 months; p<0.001) and overall survival (14 vs 29 months; p<0.001), compared to only one or no units transfused. Such findings suggest that the volume of blood transfusion also has an independent effect, and support the judicious use of perioperative transfusions in patients undergoing resection of distal cholangiocarcinoma.

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