June 29, 2016

Astronaut David Wolf speaks at Purdue Cancer Moonshot event

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University - alma mater of the first man to set foot on the moon - is playing a role in another national moonshot initiative; this one seeking not to land on the moon but to double the rate of progress in cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care over the next five years.

In January, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum establishing a first-of-its-kind federal task force to end cancer as we know it and announced a new $1 billion initiative to jumpstart the Cancer Moonshot.

As part of this initiative, the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research hosted a Cancer Moonshot Summit Wednesday (June 29) in the Herman and Heddy Kurz Atrium of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. Purdue's summit was one of hundreds held across the nation that day, including one in Washington, D.C., convened by Vice President Joe Biden. 

Astronaut and Purdue alumnus David Wolf will speak at the event, which will include a program and reception. A native of Indianapolis, Wolf earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at Purdue in 1978. He also has a medical degree from Indiana University.

"Just as we did with the space race, Purdue has the right people, the right minds to fight this war on cancer," Wolf said. "It will take a collaborative effort and Purdue is bringing researchers from different fields together to come up with the right answers."

In addition to Wolf, speakers included Timothy Ratliff, distinguished professor of comparative pathobiology and the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research; Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; Debbie Knapp, the Dolores L. McCall Professor of Comparative Oncology; Ji-Xin Cheng, professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry; and Terry Kix and Mary Beth Gadus, cancer survivors.

Cooks discussed his research into guided brain cancer surgery and the ongoing clinical trials. Knapp, a veterinary oncologist, discussed her bladder cancer research and the similarities between cancer in dogs and humans. Chen discussed his pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer research, as well as the potential of spectroscopic imaging for early diagnosis of disease.

Kix and Gadus discussed their personal battles with cancer and how research saved their lives.

Additional research from faculty affiliated with Purdue's Center for Cancer Research was presented on posters and through informal discussions during the reception.

The goal of the event is to spur conversations that include participants with different perspectives and insights relevant to cancer research and its advocacy, Ratliff said.

"We hope new research collaborations will develop, as well as new inspiration from conversations between researchers, cancer survivors and members of the Purdue or Greater Lafayette community," he said. "Most of us will be impacted by cancer in our lifetimes, whether we are diagnosed or someone we love is. It is a reality we face together, and we need to work together to overcome it. Together we can again cement Purdue's place in a historic moonshot initiative and help end cancer as we know it."  

Ratliff Wolf Mike Pigott, director of community relations for Purdue University, listens as astronaut and Purdue alumnus Dr. David Wolf speaks at the Cancer Moonshot Summit hosted by the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research. (Purdue University photo/Charles Jischke) Download image

The Purdue University Center for Cancer Research has 95 members working together to conquer cancer. The center is one of seven National Cancer Institute-designated basic-research facilities in the United States, and builds on Purdue's strengths in structural biology, engineering, veterinary medicine, chemistry, pharmaceutical sciences, nutrition science and biological sciences to establish multidisciplinary collaborations.

The center also has established partnerships with Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis, IU Health Arnett in Lafayette, Indiana, and is a member of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium.

Recent research successes include improving targeted cancer treatments through bio-dynamic imaging technology, a potential new treatment of pancreatic cancer, targeting cancer cells through immunotherapy and success in surgical imaging allowing surgeons to visualize solid tumor cancers to aid in the removal of the cancerous tissue.

In addition, the center is a part of Purdue's drug discovery initiative. More than 30 compounds at various stages of preclinical development and 13 cancer drugs in human clinical trials came from research affiliated with the center. Cancers the potential drugs could treat include prostate, ovarian, lung, endometrial, colon and leukemia.

The Cancer Moonshot Summit national event is aimed at creating action and fostering collaborations around the goals of the Cancer Moonshot. It will be the first time that stakeholders representing all types of cancers will convene under one national charge. Attendees at summits across the nation include leaders representing the entire cancer community – including researchers, doctors, scientists, philanthropists, community oncologists, advocates, patients and survivors, according to a statement from the Cancer Moonshot initiative.

"The Moonshot cannot be achieved by one person, one organization, one discipline, or even one collective approach," Biden said in a statement. "Solving the complexities of cancer will require the formation of new alliances to defy the bounds of innovation and accelerate the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and — ultimately — a cure. It's going to require millions of Americans speaking up and contributing what they're able. That's what the Cancer Moonshot Summit is all about."

More information about the Cancer Moonshot is available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/cancermoonshot

A short biography for Wolf is available at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2014/Q2/HonDocs-bios/david-wolf---doctor-of-engineering.html 

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu 

Sources: Timothy Ratliff, 765-494-9129, tlratliff@purdue.edu

Tim Bobillo, Director of Development for the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, 765-496-6374, tjbobillo@prf.org

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