A collage of pictures show several scenes of healthcare professionals helping patients at Winship Cancer Institute

A year of cancer milestones

In 2017, Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute observed its 80th anniversary with a milestone accomplishment — designation as a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center, placing it in the top 1 percent of all cancer centers in the U.S. In Georgia, it is the first and only cancer institute to receive the honor.

Earning the NCI’s prestigious comprehensive designation positions Winship within an elite network, among 49 of the nation’s top cancer centers, which demonstrate outstanding research across the spectrum — from foundational science in laboratories to translational research in clinics, from population science that seeks to understand and prioritize Georgia’s health issues to training the next generation of cancer scientists.

“The greatest difference between being designated as a cancer center and being designated as a comprehensive center is clear evidence that we are positively impacting the cancer problem in Georgia,” says Winship Executive Director Walter Curran Jr.

The new designation represents not only affirmation of Winship’s strengths but recognition of support for the institute’s innovative research, which is improving the way cancer is prevented, diagnosed, and treated, as well as recognition of its work in educating both the public and future generations of researchers.

It’s a commitment that is changing lives. “As recently as 10 years ago, we had limited treatment options for people with advanced cases of lung cancer and melanoma,” Curran says. “Today, new therapies help people live longer with those diseases with a good quality of life. Those new treatments came out of Winship and other research cancer centers like Winship.”

Not only does the designation underscore Winship’s national reputation, it also highlights the institute’s overall excellence, which helps in recruiting the best and brightest minds. And in 2017, Winship did just that, attracting a record number of new faculty.

Cancer and cutting-edge research 

In the South, both the incidence and mortality rates for cancer are high. And Georgians demonstrate higher rates than the national average for lung, breast and prostate cancers, and melanoma. 

Not only does Winship strive to understand precisely what biological, environmental, and lifestyle risk factors contribute to these trends, our researchers are tackling these life-threatening cancers from every angle in research labs, clinics, classrooms, and in the community.

With cutting-edge research and breakthrough findings, their work is yielding results:

  • Advances in immunotherapy: The PD-1 immunotherapy drugs approved two years ago work for some but not all patients. Winship scientists are investigating how to make them effective for more patients, running clinical trials with the drugs to understand better how to unleash and reinvigorate our t-cells’ ability to destroy cancer cells.
  • Drug discovery targets DNA repair: Standard anticancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, target rapidly dividing cells by damaging their DNA. A newer strategy seeks to undercut the ability of cancer cells to repair DNA damage. Winship investigators — led by David Yu, associate professor of radiation oncology — have identified a distinct function in DNA double strand break repair that could help augment anticancer treatments.
  • Advanced imaging in research labs: Winship is among only 15 sites in the world to acquire and install a lattice sheet microscope — a novel technology that revolutionizes the way researchers view live cells. Unlike conventional microscopes, lattice light sheet microscopy allows investigators to view live cells at the highest combined 4-D resolution attainable. “The microscope will allow us to probe how living cancer cells behave in real time with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution,” says Adam Marcus, director of Emory’s Integrated Cellular Imaging Shared Resource. Acquisition of the novel technology was supported through a partnership between Winship and the Georgia Research Alliance.
  • Emory joins elite national network: A research team led by Haian Fu, director of Emory’s Chemical Biology Discovery Center at Winship, has been selected by the NCI to participate in a national network focused on the discovery of new cancer targets and precision cancer therapies. The Emory Molecular Interaction Center for Functional Genomics will be funded by a $4.52 million grant over five years. As one of 12 centers designated for the NCI’s Cancer Target Discovery and Development Network (CTD2), the designation will allow researchers to focus on cancer-driven mutations “to develop possible therapies for those once considered ‘undruggable,’ ” said Fu, Emory’s CTD2 principal investigator.
  • Lung cancer advances: Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital and Winship have launched a comprehensive lung cancer screening program for Emory Healthcare that offers a low-dose CT scan for patients most at risk of developing the disease, including current and former smokers. In other developments, Winship scientists have mapped a vast spider web of interactions between proteins in lung cancer cells — an approach that has revealed new ways to target cells carrying mutations in cancer-causing genes.
  • Grant targets tobacco-control models: Emory researchers Carla Berg and Michelle Kegler, both with Rollins School of Public Health and Winship, have received a $1.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center to establish tobacco-control models in the countries of Georgia and Armenia, which have among the world’s highest rates of smoking prevalence and secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Emory Proton Center moves forward: A 90-ton cyclotron has been installed at the state-of-the-art Emory Proton Therapy Center, now under construction in Midtown Atlanta. When it opens later this year, the center will be the first of its kind in Georgia to offer patients state-of-the-art radiation therapy while supporting research. Proton therapy is more precise than conventional forms of radiation therapy, delivering an exact, high dose of radiation to a tumor site, while sparing surrounding healthy tissue and organs from damage.
  • Grant to study HPV vaccination in Georgia: Winship researchers have received an NCI grant to study HPV vaccination in Georgia. HPV, the human papilloma virus, is the primary cause of cervical cancer as well as other cancers. For girls and boys, routine vaccination can help prevent certain types of HPV. “Through this project, Winship will be leading the way to understand how we can improve HPV vaccination across Georgia,” says Robert Bednarczyk, assistant professor in Rollins School of Public Health, lead HPV researcher, and Winship member.
Annual Report