U C   C A N C E R   C E N T E R   N E W S L E T T E R
Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Welcome to our July Newsletter. We are glad to have you. These are exciting times for the UC Cancer Center, the College of Medicine, UC Health, our city, our nation and our world. Together, we have come through one of the strangest years in history with resilience and renewed energy. Our clinical, research and educational programs are thriving. We are particularly excited about the recruitment of Dr. John Byrd as Chair of Internal Medicine and for the positive impact that he is having already on the cancer program. Recruitment of outstanding personnel has had a great boost and our malignant hematology program is poised to become nationally prominent, for the good of the patients of our region and the clinicians and researchers involved in the program.

On August 27th we will host our 8th annual Charge Against Cancer. The focus this year will be to begin the planning process for opening, approximately one year later, a comprehensive, state of the art and futuristic cancer detection clinic. This will be of great service to our community with the ability to detect occult cancers in their earliest, most treatable phase. The science in this area is evolving quickly and we strive to be leaders in the field.

On Saturday, September 18 we will host the 15th annual Ride Cincinnati. This family-oriented bicycle event covers a beautiful course along the Ohio River with great festivities and fundraising that is vital to the research mission of the UC Cancer Center. Please join us for this fantastic event that represents the ultimate in team.

Happy Fourth of July and thank you for being such an important part of our cancer program and our great nation.


Syed A. Ahmad, MD, FACS
Professor of Surgery
The Hayden Family Endowed Chair for Cancer Research
Co-Director, UC Cancer Center
William Barrett, MD
Professor & Chairman of Radiation Oncology
Co-Director, UC Cancer Center

There are approximately 85,000 new cases of bladder cancer every year in the United States. It affects males more frequently and is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in men. The treatment of bladder cancer is dependent on the aggressiveness of the cancer cells and depth of invasion into the bladder wall. While for non-muscle invasive cancers, transurethral resection of the bladder cancer is usually sufficient, for muscle invasive cancer the standard of care is radical surgery (cystectomy) involving removal of entire bladder and prostate in males (bladder, uterus and part of vagina in females) with or without chemotherapy.

Historically, a radical cystectomy was a big open procedure that had high risks of complication. More recently, we have made advances by doing the procedure robotically which has led to less blood loss, lower risk of complications, shorter hospital stays, and a quicker recovery. Dr Sidana and Dr Kamel are our urooncologists offering advanced robotic surgery for bladder cancer in the region. In addition, there are multiple studies underway at the University of Cincinnati attempting to improve the outcomes, care, and quality of life of patients with bladder cancer.  Studies range from utilizaton of new immunotherapy drugs to cutting edge technology for diagnosis and treatment.


Senu Apewokin, MD dedicates the majority of his focus on the gut microbiome and how it may be impacting cancer treatment responses and recovery. This involves studying the basic mechanisms of interactions between the microbiota and common pathogens, host tissues, host immune system, and drug therapies. 

In the last two decades, access to genomic sequencing as well as highly sophisticated computerized data analysis has become increasingly widespread and financially feasible. This has culminated in the development of tools better assess the microbiome thus our understanding of the microbiome has exponentially skyrocketed. Using next generation sequencing, microbes living on and in human bodies that have never been grown in culture are now being identified and studied.  

The consequence of these advancements is that, in recent years copious amounts of data has been generated and trends identified that correlate some cancer treatment outcomes with particular microbiome profiles.  Unfortunately, the mechanisms underlying some of these correlations remain poorly elucidated and are speculative at best because the resources needed to explore such correlations in depth is lacking. Dr. Apewokin is working with the help of grants from NCI to advance these speculations into more than just that. As this field remains largely underexplored, there are a number of avenues available for novel research.  

Dr. Apewokin is working to improve the understanding of C. difficile infections in patients undergoing chemotherapy. This is being done by collecting stool from patients before, during, and after receiving chemotherapy and then tracking changes in the relative abundance of gut microbial species. In addition, antibody titers for C. difficile are tracked to detect any decreases that may arise after receipt of myeloablative chemotherapy. For patients who have C. difficile present in their stool, regardless of symptoms, the stool is tested for the presence of toxins.  

Cumulatively, the next generation sequencing, antibody testing, and toxin antigen testing together can help better determine if some C. difficile infections in patients undergoing chemotherapy are ultimately chemotherapy induced and thus requiring unique considerations. These studies are also expanded to stem cell derived enteroid tissue cultures, in which Apewokin studies the mechanisms of the epithelial barrier in the presence of chemotherapy and C. difficile.  

Dr. Apewokin’s greatest goal is to first identify trends or obstacles and complications seen by clinicians at bedside, and then to study the exact mechanisms of these problems at the cellular level to hopefully lead to improved specificity of guidelines. Patients undergoing intensive inpatient chemotherapy are a special set of patients within the healthcare system, and Apewokin strives to facilitate research that promotes guidelines tailored to this populations and ultimately provide them with the best chances of successful treatment and survival.  



WCPO Health Innovations segments featured the Head & Neck Cancer Center at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center. The video aims to educate viewers on the treatment and care the Head & Neck Cancer team provides. Featuring Dr. Zender, Dr. Wise-Draper, Dr. Tang, Dr. Cervenka and Dr. Takiar, the video ran the entire month of June on WCPO various days of the week and various times of day. It aired between the local news and national news in the evening. The longer form will ran on The Cincy Lifestyle show on June 18th. 

UC Health is sharing the segment on several social channels and will feature a written article on the web.  

Immunogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 messenger RNA Vaccines in Patients with Cancer

We would like to draw your attention to the following manuscript titled:” Immunogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 messenger RNA Vaccines in Patients with Cancer” published on June 18, 2021 in Cancer Cell by a group of investigators based at UT Health San Antonio and at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. 

SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccines are highly effective in the general population; however, few data are available on their efficacy in patients with cancer. This group addressed this question assessing with a prospective cohort the seroconversion rates in patients with cancer in U.S. and Europe from January to April 2021. Among 131 patients, most (94%) achieved seroconversion after receipt of 2 vaccine doses. Overall, seroconversion rates and antibody titers in patients with hematological malignancy were 72% and 83% with patients with solid tumors. However, patients receiving cytotoxic therapy had a significantly lower seroconversion rate (69%). Notably, none of the patients with history of anti-CD-20 antibody in the 6 months prior to vaccination developed antibody response. Antibody titers were highest for clinical surveillance or endocrine therapy groups and lowest for cytotoxic chemotherapy or monoclonal antibody groups.

Key takeaway points:

• mRNA vaccination produces high seroconversion in patients with cancer

• 2nd vaccine dose is important to boost antibody levels in these patients

• Non-response to vaccine was more likely in patients with hematological malignancy and in patients with solid tumors undergoing cytotoxic chemotherapy

•None of patients on Rituximab developed antibodies even after full vaccination

The complete article is available for download.


Dr. Yuhang Zhang has been awarded a NCI R01 for a project titled: Reprogramming of the stromal microenvironment in melanoma progression and therapeutic escape.

Dr. Zhang's research in the lab focuses on exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying tumor-stroma interactions in malignant melanoma.  The goal of his research is to discover and develop novel and effective therapeutic approaches that target the tumor microenvironment for melanoma treatment.

The start date is 6/15/2021 and the direct costs are $235,606. Review the NIH RePorter for additional information.


Dr. Shuchi Gulati, assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology Oncology, has received the ASCO Career Development Award supported by the Conquer Cancer Foundation and the Brandon C. Gromada Head and Neck Cancer Foundation. 
The three-year grant totaling $200,000 will fund Dr. Gulati’s study “Combining Anti-PD1 and Cesium-131 Intraoperative Brachytherapy with Salvage Surgery to Enhance Immunogenicity and Improve Local Control in Head and Neck Cancer.” This phase-1b/2 clinical trial will allow Gulati to capitalize on synergy between radiation therapy and immunotherapy to improve outcomes in patients with locally recurrent head and neck cancer and who have dismal prognosis when treated with surgery alone, which is the current standard of care. 
The Career Development Award funds clinical investigators who have received their initial faculty appointment and are working to establish an independent, patient-focused, clinical cancer research program. Conquer Cancer, an affiliate organization to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, announced the awards May 28 at the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting. 

Funding Creates Opportunity for
Cancer-Focused Community Programming

In March, the Urban Health Pathway of Next Lives Here and UCCC’s Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) Working Group announced that they would collaboratively fund two cancer-focused outreach and engagement pilot grants – both having PIs in UC’s College of Allied Health Sciences (CAHS).

Seung-Yeon Lee, PhD, an Associate Professor in Nutritional Sciences, will use her funds to co-create an online, nutrition and food literacy education program for minority breast cancer survivors.  Once created, she plans to examine its effectiveness and feasibility through pilot testing.  As a part of her program, Dr. Lee will use the power of comic-style stories to engage her program participants and make the seemingly complex information more relatable, easy to understand, memorable and actionable. Her community partner for her work will be Sunnie Johnson-Lain, the Director of Services at Saint Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati’s west end neighborhood.  Dr. Lee has partnered with St. Vincent de Paul for many years to better understand food literacy in populations visiting their food pantries, as well as those with diabetes.  This will be their first cancer-focused program and first online education program co-created with breast cancer survivors.   

Melinda Butsch Kovacic, MPH, PhD,  Professor and Associate Dean of Research in CAHS, will use her funds to create and implement a Cancer Community Research Advocates Program to help communities become “Research Ready.”  Indeed, more than 42% of Cincinnati’s population is African-American and for more than two decades, African Americans have had the highest death rate from all cancers in Cincinnati.  On the other hand, African-American participation in Cincinnati’s cancer research is quite low.  As equitable participation in research becomes an important tool in the fight against cancer disparities, Dr. Butsch Kovacic is building on “Research Ready” materials previously created by members of the We Engage for Health Program to create, test and support her program.  

The Cancer Community Research Advocates program is being created in collaboration with Dr. Butsch Kovacic's community partner Vonnie Tawwab.  Vonnie is President of the West End Community Research Advisory Board (We C-RAB), a board supported by the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and Training (CCTST).  In addition, there will be a partnership with the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses in Cincinnati’s West End.  Like Dr. Lee, Dr. Butsch Kovacic is using the power of comic-style stories to fully engage community members.  Her Research Ready story was first created in response to WE C-RAB members requesting materials to “get out and talk to their friends and family members about research."  Ms Tawwab helped to create the Research Ready story and accompanying Facilitator’s Guide Book and participated in the program’s first training session for facilitators.  Further, as several of her friends and family have fought cancer, she is excited to create and test cancer-focused materials for use by advocates.  Materials focused on breast, lung, head and neck and prostate cancer are in development.


The May 21st UC Cancer Center Town Hall Meeting recording is available for review.  In this recording, Drs. Filak, Ahmad and Barrett offer updates about the latest advances of the Cancer Center.  In particular, our commitment to obtaining NCI designation and recent accomplishments are highlighted.

Celebrate with fellow riders and their guests at the exclusive Ride Cincinnati Kickoff Party on Friday, September 17, from 4 – 7 p.m. at the Top of the Park at The Phelps. Enjoy music, food and beverages and pick up your Rider credentials.  On Saturday, September 18, Riders will depart from downtown Cincinnati, completing routes ranging from 15 miles to 100 miles. Riders are then invited back to Yeatman’s Cove to a special rider celebration until 2:00 p.m.  Click here for registration information
UC Foundation Request For Proposal Announcements

If a funding possibility listed below interests you, please contact Amy Pass at at least one week prior to the deadline, prior to applying, to ensure coordination and facilitate assistance with approaches. The UC Foundation Corporate & Foundation Relations team, led by Carol Russell, will also assist in the process.
  • St. Baldrick's Foundation:  Continuing Childhood Cancer Research
    Deadline: July 9, 2021 (letters of intent)
UCCC Funding Opportunities
The UC Cancer Center is a Cancer Program Member of the Association of Community Cancer Centers, which entitles everyone who is affiliated with the cancer program to receive ACCC member benefits. The Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC), the leading education and advocacy organization for the multidisciplinary cancer team. We are pleased to provide the following tools and resources, at absolutely no cost to you, as a member of our multidisciplinary team:
  • Subscription to the bimonthly journal Oncology Issues
  • Access to the most up-to-date public policy changes and advocacy issues affecting the oncology team through our Legislative Action Center and a biweekly email newsletter, ACCConnect.
The UC Cancer Center is also a member of the Advisory Board Oncology Roundtable and a subscriber to The Cancer Letter. To access these resources, please contact the UC Cancer Center.
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