Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD
Director, Lurie Cancer Center
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
By any measure, this has been an extraordinary year at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Guided by our mission as a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center, our physicians and scientists pushed the boundaries of scientific discovery to deliver the highest level of personalized care.
In the face of formidable challenges, our dedicated teams worked together, providing access to vital education and outreach, cutting-edge treatments, programs, and services — across Northwestern Medicine, and around the world.
Fueled by life-changing research, our Cancer Program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital is again ranked among the nation's top 10 by U.S. News & World Report in 2022-2023 and continues to be the top Cancer program in Chicago and Illinois.
As you will read, we have our eyes on the future. We are focused on reducing, and ultimately eliminating the cancer burden in the communities we serve — and are determined to transform our vision into new possibilities for cancer patients worldwide.
Lurie Cancer Center was among the nation's first Comprehensive Cancer Centers to receive a Merit Extension of its Cancer Center Support Grant from the NCI, enabling our investigators to maintain their focus on practice-changing discoveries.
"NCI awarded the two-year extension based on the strength of the cancer center over the last ten years, Lurie Cancer Center having been ranked among the very best cancer centers in its last two reviews," said Henry P. Ciolino, PhD, director of the NCI's Office of Cancer Centers. "NCI has confidence that Lurie Cancer Center will continue its exceptional impact on cancer research and patients thanks to the remarkable leadership of Dr. Platanias and his senior leadership team."
Together, Lurie Cancer Center’s physicians and scientists are transforming how we think about cancer. To achieve the greatest impact, director Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, and a world-class leadership team draw from and collaborate with some of the brightest minds in cancer research.
The caliber of these efforts is reflected in Lurie Cancer Center’s status as a National Cancer Center (NCI) - designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. Collaborative research opportunities span 36 academic departments and divisions across four schools at Northwestern. In addition to our eight Basic, Clinical and Population Sciences Research Programs, Lurie Cancer Center supports a diverse range of innovative research hubs and key initiatives focused on exploring new ways to bridge these scientific areas.
Lurie Cancer Center is excited about our role as one of only four NCI-funded Telehealth Cancer Research Centers of Excellence supported by the Cancer Moonshot. A first-of-its-kind trial will test whether a telehealth-based intervention can modify cancer patients' risk behaviors to improve their outcomes. The trial will recruit 3,000 participants at 11 Northwestern Medicine hospitals.
Supported by a prestigious U54 grant from the NCI, the Northwestern University Center for Chromatin NanoImaging in Cancer is addressing some critical knowledge gaps. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity to further develop a convergence of technologies and apply them to our ability to fight cancer,” said Principal Investigator, Vadim Backman, PhD, Associate Director of Research Technology & Infrastructure at the Lurie Cancer Center.
Lurie Cancer Center has two NCI-funded Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE). A cornerstone of the NCI's efforts to promote collaborative, interdisciplinary research, these highly competitive grants are designed to help move scientific discoveries rapidly into clinical settings. Each SPORE is organized around projects that take new and diverse approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment.
The Lurie Cancer Center Brain Tumor SPORE is led by Maciej Lesniak, MD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, with projects led by members of the Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology. It's one of just six in the U.S., and the only one in Illinois.
The Lurie Cancer Center Prostate Cancer SPORE is led by co-Principal Investigators, Sarki Abdulkadir, MD, PhD, Professor of Urology, and Maha Hussain, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division Hematology and Oncology. It's one of only eight in the country, and the only one in Illinois.
Watch this video to learn more about our Prostate Cancer SPORE
The following data helps to illustrate the impact of our efforts against cancer.
The Lurie Cancer Center provides scientific leadership in developing and conducting NCI-funded clinical research within the National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). Based on our demonstrated expertise, our members serve as chairs and co-chairs of the NCTN steering committees committed to setting strategic priorities and increasing collaboration at an early stage of clinical trial development.
The Clinical Trials Office, led by Devalingam Mahalingam, MD, PhD, provides a centralized resource to conduct and coordinate Phase I through Phase III clinical trials, with more than 300 interventional clinical trials investigating a full spectrum of novel diagnostic and treatment strategies.
As part of the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium, a network of academic institutions working together on collaborative clinical trials, we foster a unique team culture to drive science rapidly from ideas to improve the lives of patients in the diverse communities we serve.
“We are curing more cancers and we are extending life for many more people,” said Maha Hussain, MD, deputy director of the Lurie Cancer Center. “All of that did not happen accidentally, and it didn’t happen because of wishful thinking. It happened because of clinical trials.”
Our investigators benefit from access to strong infrastructure for interdisciplinary programs and initiatives, including 16 shared resources and facilities that foster basic, clinical and population science research programs. Designed to catalyze interdisciplinary translational research, the goal of our Translational Bridge Program is to propel basic science research into clinical trials and educate a new generation of translational investigators by supporting teams made up of a trainee paired with a laboratory scientist and a clinical investigator.
Meet our 2022 Translational Bridge Program Award Recipients and learn about their projects, bridging the gap between basic research, clinical practice and the community.
At the Lurie Cancer Center, our scientists work relentlessly to address oncology's most urgent questions. Below are just some of the transformative discoveries that are driving breakthroughs and changing lives.
The accelerated advancement of cancer immunology and immunotherapy is transforming treatment strategies. Led by Jeffrey Sosman, MD, and Bin Zhang, MD, PhD, the Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Initiative at Lurie Cancer Center is bringing together investigators across disciplines to foster collaboration and fuel new treatment strategies.
An epigenetic inhibitor can boost immune system activity in patients with ovarian cancer, making them more suitable for treatment with immunotherapy. This could be one strategy to aid immunotherapy in patients with ovarian cancer, for whom the treatment is usually only somewhat effective, according to Daniela Matei, MD, senior author of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Patients with acute myeloid leukemia, the most common type of adult blood cancer, show large-scale genomic mutations and altered DNA folding patterns that could help identify potential therapeutic targets, according to Feng Yue, PhD, director of the Center for Cancer Genomics at Lurie Cancer Center and senior author of a study published in Nature.
A combination therapy increased survival in patients with metastatic hormone-sensitive prostate cancer, according to a trial published in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). This practice changing finding represents a new strategy for managing what continues to be a deadly disease, according to Maha Hussain, MD, deputy director of the Lurie Cancer Center and a co-author of the study.
Boosting function of natural killer cells with magnetic nanoparticles could make cancer immunotherapy more efficient, according to Dong-Hyun Kim, PhD, senior author of a study published in ACS Nano.
An international trial spearheaded by Mary Mulcahy, MD, and Riad Salem, MD, is the first to demonstrate the benefits of targeted radioembolization in patients with colorectal liver metastases, according to findings published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
Scientists have identified a new gene that is responsible for activating an aggressive subtype of small-cell lung cancer. “By identifying this important gene, we now have a very good drug target to work with,” said Lu Wang, PhD, lead author of the study published in Science Advances.
Findings published in JAMA Oncology found that individual insurance status and residential zip codes were correlated with overall survival among women with early hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. “It’s a mix of structural, individual and environmental factors that are predicting breast cancer outcomes,” said the study’s co-author, Betina Yanez, PhD.
Scientists have identified a drug that inhibits growth of the most aggressive meningiomas and how to most accurately identify which tumors will respond. “Eventually we hope to tailor medical therapy to the genetic changes within each individual person’s meningioma,” said Stephen Magill, MD, PhD, corresponding author of the study in Nature Genetics.
Lurie Cancer Center’s faculty is comprised of clinicians and scientists from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and other academic units. Together they bring their combined knowledge and expertise directly to our patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, and the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.
“The remarkable strengths and expertise of each individual will enhance our efforts,” said Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, announcing these appointments to key leadership positions.
Sarki Abdulkadir, MD, PhD / Associate Director, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Leading efforts to promote opportunities for a diverse research workforce, and foster a more inclusive environment.
Melissa Simon MD / Associate Director, Community Outreach and Engagement
Leading community partnerships and initiatives to reduce cancer disparities across Chicago and beyond.
Mary Mulcahy, MD / Associate Director, Clinical Operations
Focused on expanding and integrating our outpatient medical oncology clinical operations and infusion services.
Amy Heimberger, MD / Interim Associate Director, Translational Research
Oversees the development and coordination of translational research efforts across the Lurie Cancer Center.
Rinad Beidas, PhD
Chair, Department of Medical Social Sciences
Stephanie Eisenbarth, MD, PhD
Director, Center for Human Immunobiology
Jochen Lorch, MD
Medical Oncology Director, Head and Neck Cancer & Thyroid Cancer Programs
Martin Tallman, MD
Director, Faculty Mentorship and Career Development
Yan Liu, PhD
Co-Leader, Hematologic Malignancies Research Program
Jamile Shammo, MD
Director, Thrombotic and Coagulation Disorders Program
Between 2017 and 2022, Lurie Cancer Center investigators led or played a major role in clinical trials that resulted in FDA approval of 21 new cancer therapies, including the following high-impact approvals last year:
Lurie Cancer Center congratulates our highly innovative thought leaders who are transforming cancer research and treatment around the world. Learn more about some of their prestigious honors and national leadership roles, including:
Co-Chair, National Cancer Institute Leukemia Steering Committee
2022 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in Cancer Research Award
American Association for Cancer Research
Vice Chair, ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group
National Comprehensive Cancer Network Board of Directors
President, American Association of Neuropathologists
Secretary, National Comprehensive Cancer Network Board of Directors
Fellow, American Society of Clinical Oncology
Member, National Academy of Medicine
2022 Emerging Leader Award, The Mark Foundation
Chair, Breast Cancer Guidelines Panel, National Comprehensive Cancer Network
2022 Roger Winn Award from NCCN
National Cancer Advisory Board
2022 American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal
Fellow and Board of Directors, American Society of Clinical Oncology
2022 Ramzi S. Cotran Young Investigator Award
United States & Canadian Academy of Pathology
2022 Guggenheim Fellow
Board of Directors, Society for Clinical Trials
2022 UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Life Sciences Research
Editor in Chief, ASCO’s Cancer.Net
Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium Steering Committee
2022 James Prize, National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Medicine
Association of American Physicians
President, American Society of Hematology
Damon Runyon-Dale F. Frey Award for Breakthrough Scientists
Ten members of the Lurie Cancer Center are among the "world's most influential scientific minds," according to the Highly Cited Researchers list published by the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate. "Lurie Cancer Center has world-class biomedical research teams, whose work has a major impact in the fight against cancer," said Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD. "I congratulate our faculty for their exceptional efforts and highly innovative research."
David Cella, PhD
Navdeep Chandel, PhD
Vinayak Dravid, PhD
Mark Hersam, PhD
Shana Kelley, PhD
Chad Mirkin, PhD
Brian Mustanski, PhD
Amy Paller, MD
John Rogers, PhD
Sir Fraser Stoddart, PhD
The Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital is dedicated to caring for each patient from diagnosis through treatment to rehabilitation. Our specialists provide the full spectrum of medical, surgical and radiation oncology treatment options, as well as exciting new immunotherapy approaches (including CAR T-cell therapy), precision medicine, interventional radiology, the region's largest stem cell transplant program, and advanced technologies to improve diagnosis and treatment. They continue to extend the reach of emerging cellular therapies that help the immune stem fight cancer through the Matthews Center for Cellular Therapy, the Rube Walker Blood Center, and the Clinical Research Unit.
Our comprehensive Supportive Oncology Program and a wide range of specialized programs and services support state-of-the-art cancer treatment and the overall well-being of our patients and families.
In 2022, Lurie Cancer Center's multidisciplinary teams provided exceptional, comprehensive cancer care to our patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Lurie Cancer Center's primary teaching affiliate and clinical home, is ranked No. 9 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report in its 2022-2023 list of "Best Hospitals for Cancer" and recognized once again as the No. 1 Cancer program in Illinois and Chicago.
"This continued recognition reflects the tireless efforts of our extraordinary physicians, nurses, scientists, and staff," said Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, director of the Lurie Cancer Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "We are united in our commitment to improve outcomes and set new standards of care for our patients."
Our pediatric partner, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, is ranked No. 10 in the nation by U.S. News in its list of Best Children's Hospitals for Cancer, and Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has been recognized as the national leader in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation for 32 years. Our close proximity and affiliation with these world-class institutions, allow us to make the most of our combined expertise.
Although side effects after treatment are similar for all prostate cancer patients, gay and bisexual men may experience the impact in significantly different ways. Northwestern Medicine physician and Lurie Cancer Center member, Channa Amarasekera, MD, is director of the Northwestern Medicine Gay and Bisexual Men’s Urology Program, the first program of its kind in the United States.
He discussed the importance of asking patients about their sexual orientation, and how oncologists can help their gay and bisexual patients regain their sexual health after prostate cancer in The ASCO Post.
Lurie Cancer Center is a founding member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), an alliance of leading cancer centers dedicated to defining and advancing high-quality, effective and accessible cancer care so patients can live better lives.
Our experts help write the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines, widely recognized as the standard for evidence-based treatment.
Listen to this Podcast with William Gradishar, MD, on our role in developing NCCN Guidelines.
At Lurie Cancer Center, our efforts to enhance and integrate clinical cancer care across Northwestern Medicine continue to gain momentum. Our shared goal is to ensure that patients have access to the same highly coordinated care, state-of-the art treatment options, exceptional patient experience, and novel cancer therapies they have come to expect from the top-ranked cancer program in Illinois – no matter where they enter our health system,
Led by Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, the Clinical Cancer Center Executive Council, was established to facilitate collaboration and guide the integration. The medical leaders of services in the cancer care network, Dean Tsarwas, MD; Christopher George, MD; and Alan Wan, DO, are an integral part of the process to integrate oncology teams across all 12 locations of cancer care at Northwestern Medicine.
By extending the exceptional care provided by the Lurie Cancer Center, and integrating physicians and staff from across the cancer care network, we are able to reach more than twice the number of patients. A key part of this achievement is our investment and focus on bringing novel therapies offered at the Lurie Cancer Center closer to where our patients live and work. In 2022, we are proud to have successfully integrated all 12 locations of cancer care across Northwestern Medicine into our clinical trials operations – a fundamental part of our role as a Lead Academic Participating Site (LAPS) to ensure that more patients have access to the best treatment options available.
We are currently working on adding additional locations in the coming years to better serve our communities and eliminate disparities in cancer care.
Together with our community partners and expanding networks, Lurie Cancer Center is working to make a positive difference in the communities we serve. We are committed to reducing the burden of cancer by ensuring that all cancer patients and communities can benefit from high-quality cancer screening and information -- and increasing access to the full continuum of cancer care.
Led by Associate Director of Community Outreach and Engagement, Melissa Simon, MD, MPH, Assistant Directors, Marquita Lewis-Thames, PhD, and Adam Murphy MD, MBA, MSCI, and Administrative Director, Tarneka Manning, MEd, Lurie Cancer Center’s Office of Equity and Minority Health (OEMH) is vital to our efforts to overcome barriers to cancer health equity and improve outcomes in traditionally underserved neighborhoods and beyond.
Lurie Cancer Center serves a large and diverse catchment area, with patients coming from all nine counties in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. The OEMH uses multiple data sources to focus on the areas of greatest need within our patient population. This knowledge guides our approach to advancing advocacy and policy development, access to care, and participation in cancer research and clinical trials.
Working together with new and existing organizations, our community partnerships and programs aim to identify and address barriers to cancer health equity and improve outcomes.
A transformative grant awarded to Northwestern totaling $16 million over five years from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aims to disrupt systemic barriers that impede the full participation of underrepresented groups by funding the cluster hiring of new faculty in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular, and brain and behavioral sciences.
This grant is an amazing dream come true. I have traversed the entire academe over 17 years here at Northwestern and am excited for the opportunity to lead substantive change in the institution with how we recruit, hire, onboard, support and retain diverse faculty,” said Melissa Simon, MD, MPH, associate director of community outreach and engagement for the Lurie Cancer Center, director of the Center for Health Equity Transformation, and the grant’s primary investigator and project leader.
Lurie Cancer Center is scaling up efforts to collect, analyze and apply data related to patient sex assigned at birth, gender identity and sexual orientation (SSOGI). With funding from the NCI, the cancer center is collaborating with the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing to address disparities in cancer care. “We want to be able identify and close these care gaps for all sexual and gender minorities,” said project leader and Lurie Cancer Center member, Lauren Beach, PhD, JD.
The Northwestern University Cancer Health Equity Research SPORE (NU-CHERS) will generate scientific findings and establish sustainable, collaborative, academic and community infrastructure that will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive translational cancer research program focused on gynecologic cancer health disparities. Melissa Simon, MD, MPH, is the Principal Investigator of this NCI-funded developmental research program — the first of its kind in the nation.
In 2022, Lurie Cancer Center teamed up with the Blue Hat Foundation for Colorectal Cancer Awareness and the Big Ten Cancer Research Foundation to increase awareness of the importance of colorectal cancer screening. “To affect change, you have to be in the spaces and places for change to occur. You can’t just say you want to see change; you have to do the work,” said Candace Henley, a colorectal cancer survivor and founder of the Blue Hat Foundation, an organization committed to supporting underserved community members who don’t have access to cancer prevention resources.
As Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Lurie Cancer Center, Sarki Abdulkadir, MD, PhD, is leading efforts to increase the diversity of the research workforce and promote career-enhancing research opportunities for early-and mid-career investigators from diverse backgrounds. In this newly created role, he works closely with Assistant Directors, June McKoy, MD, MPH, JD, MBA, and Jonathan Moreira, MD, to foster an equitable and inclusive environment throughout the Lurie Cancer Center.
The Lurie Cancer Center Diversity Scholars Program was established to actively support the growth and success of high achieving, academically ambitious postdoctoral fellows and non-tenure track faculty who are underrepresented in medicine.
Mario Shields, PhD, a research assistant professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology, received the first Diversity Scholars Award. This new initiative has committed to providing Dr. Shields with $75,000 support per year for three consecutive years, along with individualized mentorship to further his research aimed at understanding the mechanisms of pancreatic cancer development and progression.
The National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Directors Forum is working to improve diversity of clinical staff representation across the nation’s leading academic cancer centers. June McKoy, MD, MPH, JD, MBA, Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, was selected to join the forum comprised of more than 20 experts working to improve equity in cancer care systems.
2022 was a year unlike any other, but our dedication to empowering people through education and support remained unchanged. A wide range of interactive programs were offered online throughout the year, providing opportunities for cancer patients to learn, connect and make informed decisions about their care.
Programs and events included:
Lurie Cancer Center provides a variety of educational opportunities to advance professional development and training throughout the year. In 2022, nearly 190 distinguished speakers from other academic institutions and more than 175 thought leaders from across Northwestern shared expert perspectives and information on innovations in cancer research and treatment.
Educational opportunities included:
Our Supportive Oncology Program provides emotional and practical support for Lurie Cancer Center's patients and families coping with the challenges of diagnosis, treatment and recovery. A multidisciplinary team, including oncology social workers, psychologists, dietitians, a fertility preservation navigator, palliative care clinicians, adolescent and young adult (AYA) cancer navigator and tobacco treatment specialists, is dedicated to listening and responding to patient concerns, promoting well-being and treating each individual with respect and compassion.
Our Cancer Survivorship Institute help patients transition to life after cancer with a wide range of services, including treatment summaries, care plans that include steps for follow-up care, and tools to manage the physical and emotional challenges. An evidence-based approach to symptom monitoring was introduced to help connect patients with personalized services and supportive care.
Disease-specific survivorship clinics within the Cancer Survivorship Institute include the Lynn Sage Breast Cancer Survivorship Program, as well as Lurie Cancer Center’s Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Program and the STAR Program (Survivors Taking Action and Responsibility) for adult survivors of childhood cancer.
On Sunday, June 5, the 29th Annual Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk & 5K brought us together again! After two years of celebrating virtually, more than 2,500 cancer survivors and supporters gathered in Chicago's Grant Park to connect as a community, honor survivors, and celebrate milestones.
"All of us at Lurie Cancer Center and Northwestern Medicine are inspired by the strength and determination we witness each day. We all share the same commitment to improving the lives of people affected by cancer — now and in the years to come," said Leonidas Platanias, MD, PhD, before starting the Walk. Through the commitment of our participants, fundraising teams, and sponsors, the 2022 Cancer Survivors' Celebration raised more than $350,000 to transform discoveries into life-changing advances for our patients.
We can't wait to celebrate together on Sunday, June 4, 2023 at our 30th Annual Cancer Survivors' Celebration Walk & 5K! Register to join us at cancer.northwestern.edu/walk
In 1991, the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University was dedicated through a gift of endowment from Ann and Robert H. Lurie. We proudly commemorate and recognize this important date in Lurie Cancer Center's history by celebrating the 30th anniversary of its naming throughout the year 2021.
As you can see, we have our eyes on the future with a blueprint to achieve our goals. These achievements are made possible through the passion and shared commitment of Lurie Cancer Center’s members, collaborators across Northwestern University and Northwestern Medicine, and our community of donors, advocates, supporters, and friends.
Fueled by philanthropy, our physicians and scientists are empowered to push boundaries, break down barriers, and transform the future of cancer care.
Founded in 1974, Northwestern’s Cancer Center was dedicated in 1991 through a gift of endowment from Ann and Robert H. Lurie.
The title was modified in 1997, when the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University received the NCI’s prestigious “Comprehensive” designation, a reflection of our dedication to the highest standards of cancer research, patient care, education, and community outreach.
“Is the Lurie Cancer Center a ‘better place’ for cancer care than it was 30 years ago? Of course. The irony of cancer care is that if you are ‘good’ but not ‘getting better,’ you're not doing your job! And if you operate by this ever-evolving concept of ‘getting better,’ HOPE is a constant.” - Ann Lurie