Cancer-CSI had a strong presence at this year AACR (American Association Cancer Research) Annual Meeting 2019 with 15 members, including faculties, staffs, postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students. The team had a total of four poster presentations, two scientific oral presentations, and one opening plenary keynote.

Day 1 (03/30)

Bright and early morning, our team including Carmen, Thuy, Sara, Varsha and Kate attended the 5K Run/Walk for Cancer Research to raise fund for AACR Foundation.

Dr. Jeremy Mason participated in The Scientist↔Survivor Program (SSP) at this year’s annual AACR scientific meeting. The program provides an opportunity for patient advocates to learn about cancer research and to interact with scientists, doctors, health professionals, and other advocates. Groups come together to discuss the latest findings in cancer research, foster collaborative interdisciplinary partnerships, and promote progress in new research in cancer health disparities.

Day 2 (03/31)

In the morning, Professor Peter Kuhn and Doctor Jorge Nieva made a grand entrance with the Plenary Opening Keynote – PHYSICIST VS.Plenary Opening Keynote – PHYSICIST VS. PHYSICIAN: DIGITIZING CLINICAL ASSESSMENT AND USING IT FOR EVIDENCE-BASED PREDICTION OF OUTCOMES. The talks were a huge success and instantly went viral on Twitter with hashtag #aacr19 for one hour after it ends.

Precision Performance Status is a recently launched clinical trial at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and LAC+USC Medical Center. The project aims to identify patients who are at highest risk for serious adverse events (SAEs) while participating in early phase clinical trials. For data collection, patients will be assessed with 3D cameras during their regular in-office visit and followed during the time between visits with wearable devices (Safe Sense Home Kit)  

The first phase of this study, called the Analytical Technologies to Objectively Measure Human Performance (Atom-HP) concluded in 2017 with 37 patients. The research team found that the extracted dynamical features can predict physician, coordinator, and a patient’s Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group status, or ECOG, with an accuracy of approximately 80 percent and can predict unexpected heatlh care encounters (link). Atom-HP was supported jointly by the National Cancer Institute Cancer for Strategic Initiatives and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Rapid Response Technology Office. 

The impact of this trial will the objective assessment of patients’ performance status, which in turn can help distinguish unexpected healthcare events due to performance vs. those due to the therapeutic intervention. If this evidence can be established, it would enable a broader enrollment in clinical trials especially for patients in the community setting

In the afternoon, Paymaneh Malihi impressed the first Clinical Research presentation with her poster about SUBCLONAL INSIGHTS FROM WHOLE-GENOME SEQUENCING OF SINGLE CIRCULATING TUMOR CELLS. The impact of this study suggested that single CTC (circulating tumor cells) genomic analysis may provide clinically relevant insights and point to genomic instability in CTCs as a candidate marker of poor prognosis in advanced prostate cancer.

In the evening, our team had a lab dinner at Tuk Tuk Thai Restaurant with the presence of all faculties Peter Kuhn, Jorge Nieva, James Hicks, and Jeremy Mason.

Day 3 (04/01)

Today is an only non-presentation day for our team; however, everyone is extremely busy catching up with all the new scientific presentations, checking out the exhibits, and meetings.

Day 4 (04/02)

In the morning, Dr. Liya Xu had a fantastic session with her poster about GENOMIC CFDNA ANALYSIS OF AQUEOUS HUMOR (AH) IN RETINOBLASTOMA (RB) PREDICTS EYE SALVAGE. RB is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the developing retina. Despite the fact that RB was the first tumor with a known genetic etiology, children with RB were never benefit from precision diagnosis and therapies because the intraocular space was inviolable and tumor biopsy was not available. The classification models for RB is not based on biopsy and does not consider any tumor-derived genetic markers for diagnosis or prognosis of treatment response. Drs. Xu and Berry’s collaboration bridges this gap by harnessing the power of next-generation sequencing to assay rare tumor-derived nucleic acid fragments in the aqueous fluid. This work is the first genomic analysis in retinoblastoma without tumor biopsy, showing for the first time that this method is feasible in eyes with RB. Furthermore, they confirmed that genomic analysis of the AH samples reproducibly reflects the genomic state of the corresponding tumor and the highly recurrent “RB_somatic copy number alterations” have power to predict rumor response to therapy. This study is a remarkable application of the “liquid biopsy” concept in RB. More broadly, it provides a crucial proof of concept for the feasibility of this approach in ocular oncology.

In the afternoon, Shoujie Chai presented his very first poster at AACR about molecular signature of CTC in de novo metastatic prostate cancer (DNM1PCa). Approximately 5-10% of new prostate cancer patients are diagnosed with DNM1PCa, relying on a variety of sequential life-prolonging treatments to reduce the high risk of disease-specific mortality. However, the therapeutic response and disease progression time varies among DNM1PCa patients due to tumor heterogeneity. Previous studies have indicated that loss of ≥2 of tumor suppressors PTEN, RB1 or TP53 are the key molecular signatures which drives roughly 10% of patients with metastatic castrate resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) evolving into aggressive variant prostate cancer (AVPC), with more aggressive phenotype, less response to androgen deprivation therapy but more benefit from platinum-based chemotherapy. We are investigating molecular characterization of CTCs at single cell level to identity DNM1PCa with worse response and faster progression based on AVPC signatures and new signatures. The impact of this trial, the early identification of DNM1PCa patients harboring key signatures to optimize the treatment strategy and improve the patient survival.

In the same afternoon, our very own Dr. Stephanie Shishido presented the results from a small cohort study from a clinical trial in which metastatic breast cancer patients with a rare form of the disease (ERBB2 mutated, HER2 non-amplified) were treated with the combination of Neratinib and Fulvestrant.  To understand the complexity of cancer, we characterized the heterogenicity associated with specific subsets of breast cancer through the examination of CTCs and cfDNA. By identifying those patients harboring CTCs with a phenotype or genotype associated with poor prognosis, clinicians can more appropriately make treatment decisions. Identifying genomic amplifications or deletions associated with clinical response and subsequent progression after targeted therapy demonstrated the timeframe of tumor evolution in response to therapy while providing a framework for analysis of the liquid biopsy to quantify and monitor disease progression. This work focuses on the use of a blood sample for a comprehensive analysis of the disease state for each individual over the course of treatment to advance personalized oncology.

Day 5 (04/03)

Saved the best for last, Professor James Hicks led a Meet-the-Expert Session in the morning about DECONVOLUTING TUMOR HETEROGENEITY USING SINGLE-CELL GENOMICS. The room was packed with attendees and the talk led to interesting and insightful discussion on how single cell genomics and transcriptomics tools can be applied to specific problems in cancer research. Professor Hicks also discussed the history of evolution of these methods and how they can be extended into new discoveries in the future.


With over 40,000 members worldwide, including scientists, oncologists, patients, and many experts on the cancer researches, AACR Annual Meeting is always one of the most exciting events of the year for cancer scientists where:

  • New ideas and breakthrough announcements will be made
  • Evaluating clinical utility of cancer research – lessons to be learned and shared.
  • Celebrating organizations and individuals who have been contributing for the field
  • Amazing opportunities for scientists, biopharma companies, students, and patients share conversations to accelerating researches

The most important messages have been delivered on the plenary keynote by Professor Peter Kuhn, “We have learned about cancer in the best century, we certainly know more about cancer today than yesterday, and we will definitely know more about cancer tomorrow than today. However, there is one thing will be changed from today onward; that is, instead of putting cancer in the center of our research, it’s time to put the patients in the center of our research – and we’re all looking forward the better outcomes for patients and their families”

Atlanta, Georgia – April 3rd, 2019