Director's Message, Fall 2015

November 19, 2015

Director’s Message, Fall 2015

Summer passed quickly, but before we delve into fall activities, I’d like to highlight some of our summer happenings at Harper Cancer Research Institute (HCRI). Earlier this summer, we welcomed the local community to our first HCRI Open House. Visitors were able to learn about advances in research from our scientists and trainees as well as to participate in a silent auction with proceeds benefiting Notre Dame Coaches vs. Cancer.  It was an informative afternoon and will become annual occasion.  If you missed this one, be sure to keep an eye on our Facebook page for future events:

In July, we had the opportunity to join Notre Dame Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Brey for the American Cancer Society’s Night of the Stars event. This was a celebration of the exceptional individuals from our community who have made a huge impact on the fight against cancer. Honorees included Mary Sue Crimmins, Dr. Bobbie Sutton, and Shane Varga, who won the Dedication, Hope and Inspiration awards, respectively. I was honored to receive the Dr. Juan Garcia Lifetime Achievement Award (and got a selfie with the Coach!).  We are fortunate to be part of a community with such determination and passion for fighting cancer.

We joined our friends and colleagues at RiverBend Cancer Services for their inaugural event, Golf Around the Bend: Swing for a Cause. This event helped raise funds for RiverBend while providing attendees with a pleasant and entertaining escape at Harbor Shores Golf Course. HCRI’s foursome had a challenging test of their skills at this Senior PGA Championship course.  Our team’s score reflects their dedication to long hours at the laboratory bench!

 We are very pleased announce several exciting new grant awards.  We are grateful to the Walther Cancer Foundation for their support of the Interdisciplinary Interface Training Project (IITP), which enables pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellows to obtain joint mentoring from investigators in two different fields, the Seeding Research in Cancer (SRC) pilot grant program, the Simon-Harper Inter-Institutional Research Team (SHIIRT) grants for collaboration with investigators at Indiana University Simon Cancer center, and our flagship interdisciplinary program Advancing Basic Cancer (ABC) research grants.


IITP awardees:

·         Charissa Quinlan and her mentors, Dr. Basar Bilgicer and Dr. Rafat Abonour for “Engineering dual drug loaded liposomal nanoparticles for the treatment of multiple myleoma.”

·         Kevin Rodriguez and his mentors, Dr. Brandon Ashfeld and Jeremy Zartman for, “Phosphorus mediated cyloadditions towards the synthesis of spirooxindole alkoids for the treatment of breast cancer with brain metastasis.”

·         Sindhu Burugupally and mentors Dr. David Hoelzle and Dr. Siyuan Zhang for “Development of a novel microdevice to understand the link between tumor cell mechanical heterogeneity and cancer invasiveness.

·         Zhicong Zeng and mentors Dr. Zac Schultz and Dr. Sharon Stack for “Correlating extra-cellular matrix mechanics in the peritoneum with age-associated onset of ovarian cancer metastasis.” 

SHIIRT awardees: 

·         Dr. Laurie Littlepage, Dr. Glen Niebur, and Dr. Sunil Badve, “A Novel Bone Bioreactor Used to Model Bone Metastasis Ex Vivo.

·         Dr. Laurie Littlepage and Dr. Sunil Badve “Mechanisms of Therapy Resistance in Estrogen Receptor Positive Breast Cancer.”

·         Dr. Jeni Prosperi and Dr. Jian-Ting “STAT3 regulated APC-mediated chemotherapeutic resistance in breast cancer.”

·         Dr. Siyuan Zhang and Dr. Sunil Badve, “Unraveling the Role of Metastasis Associated Neural Stem Cells in Brain Metastasis.”

SRC awardees:

·         Dr. David Boone “ATG16L1 and Colon Cancer.”

·         Dr. Steven Ruggiero “Methodology for Distinguishing Cancer Cells Using Light Transmission Spectroscopy.

·         Dr. Margaret SchwarzCeramide-1-Phosphate, Targeting Pancreatic Cancer Stem Cells.”

·         Dr. Jeremy ZartmanEngineering Approaches to Study Epithelial Cell-Cell Interactions in Cancer Progression.” 

·         Dr. Niranjan AwasthiEnhancing pancreatic cancer chemotherapy response by targeted inhibition of TGFβ induced tumorigenic signaling.”

ABC awardees: 

·         Dr. Amanda Hummon and Dr. Pinar Zorlutuna, “Disabling the Permissive Stromal Microenvironment: Can We Alter Soil to Reject the Seed?”

·         Dr. Ryan Roeder and Dr. Karen Cowden Dahl, “ In Vivo Imaging of Ovarian Cancer Stem Cells Using Targeted Imaging Probes for Spectral CT." 


We have also funded our first round of award from the American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant (ACS IRG) to the HCRI.  This grant provides support for junior investigators to generate key pilot data in support of an extramural grant application.  In addition to the three awards supported by the ACS IRG, generous support from the Notre Dame College of Science and College of Engineering has enabled us to fund a fourth grant.

ACS IRG awardees:

David Hoelzle,  “Prototype Mechanotyping Instrument and Pilot Study: The First Investigation into the Link Between Mechanotype Heterogeneity and Cancer Phenotypes

Jeremiah Zartman, “Functional Target Identification of Novel Candidate Brain Metastasis Drugs by Ultra High-Content Drug Screening

Laurie Littlepage, “Overcoming Resistance to Endocrine Therapy Using ZNF217 as a Predictive Marker and Therapeutic Target of Breast Cancer

Pinar Zorlutuna,“Mammary Gland-on-Chip (MGoC): Unraveling Crosstalk between Tumor and Tumor Microenvironment in Controlled Microsystems


HCRI has entered into an exciting new partnership with the Kelly Cares Foundation, established by the Brian and Paqui Kelly family to support organizations, initiatives and programs that closely align with the goals and values of the Kelly family. A strong emphasis has been made on three main pillars: Health, Education and Community. Kelly Cares, together with St. Joseph Health System (SJHS), will provide two years of funding to Ryan Roeder and Tracy Vargo-Gogola for their project entitled “Improvements in Breast Cancer Screening by Molecular Imaging”.  This project will establish the Paqui and Brian Kelly Comprehensive Breast Center at the forefront of breast cancer detection research and the only site nationally investigating new nanoparticle-based targeted imaging probes that leverage current clinical X-ray imaging modalities.

Stay in touch throughout the year as we highlight the results of these exciting projects!  Up to date information can be found on our website ( and many events are on our Facebook page at


Originally published by Jenna Bilinski at on October 14, 2015.