Report: UPenn’s Focus on NETs

On Friday, May 5, 2017, I attended the 6th Focus on Neuroendocrine Tumors at the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. As usual, the topics and presentations were both informative and engaging. The conference was seamlessly co-chaired by Debbie Cohen, MD and David C. Metz, MD.

We were given an informative presentation by Ron Hollander, the Executive Director of the Neuroendocrine Tumor Research Foundation. This charitable organization received a grant in the amount of $15,000,000 from the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation. Mr. Petersen, who headed up a publishing empire which included such well-known publications as Motor Trend and Guns & Ammo, died from complications of a neuroendocrine tumor in 2007. Ron and his organization have made very good use of this incredible donation and they presented a short film which showed the research projects that the NETRF is funding and the grant recipients with a brief description of their projects. They have sought out the best and the brightest in the medical field across the country and are funding research which we hope will find the path that leads to a cure of this disease. His presentation invoked a sense of hope that we are not alone, and that there are people working behind the scenes to help us in this journey.

There were presentations from various doctors who comprise UPenn’s multidisciplinary team of their neuroendocrine department. Dr. Alexander Pryma gave a presentation on nuclear imaging and therapies, including Azredra and Lutathera, both of which are pending FDA approval. Dr. Bryson Katona gave a talk about clinical updates and promising studies that UPenn has been involved in. One project of involvement was the immunization of a llama in order to further research on Car-T therapy and the manipulation of cells to internally conquer or inhibit tumor growth. They are also using nude mice in the lab to further their research on novel targetable pathways.

Of great interest to me was the work being done by Dr. Michael Soulen. He shared with us a study regarding embolization for NET metastases. Liver involvement is one of the primary concerns for neuroendocrine patients. UPenn is currently heading up a clinical trial, called the RETNET trial, which is being conducted in conjunction with several other major US centers, including, Dana Farber, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, MD Anderson, Vanderbilt, Stanford and is also in some European sites. This trial has been designed to measure the effectiveness of the various types of embolization currently used in patients who have compromised liver due to disease burden. The researchers suspect that chemoembolization (which is where they cut off the blood supply to the tumor and then directly treat the tumor itself while the patient’s abdomen is open during surgery with a dose of chemotherapy agent) will prevail as the best method of embolization. I am excited to see how this study plays out at next year’s conference!