From humble beginnings to major progress in rare tumors

Endocrine cancers are among the most rare. They range from the often treatable thyroid cancer to the often deadly adrenal cancer. At the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center the endocrine sub-specialists are leading the way in working towards making all endocrine cancers curable.

Dr. Gary Hammer
Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D.

What started as a team of six physicians decades ago, has grown today to include more than 20 faculty  - clinicians and scientists leading basic and translational research programs, participating in all phases of clinical trials to provide patients with adrenal cancer, neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) and thyroid cancer with cutting edge care. The multi-disciplinary Endocrine Oncology team is led by Gary D. Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., and includes endocrinologists, endocrine surgeons, oncologists, geneticists, radiologists, nuclear medicine specialists, pathologists, radiation oncologists, nurse practitioners and nurses.

Patients come to U-M from around the world for access to the latest treatment options, including many investigational therapies developed by our Endocrine Oncology faculty. For example, Ron Koenig, M.D., Ph.D., is evaluating a novel therapy for a unique genetic subset of thyroid cancer and Mark S. Cohen, M.D. is translating natural product compounds called withanolides into novel therapies for endocrine malignancies. Research from the Hammer lab led to a spin-off company, Atterocor, that is moving forward translational research on a potential new oral drug for adrenal cancer, ATR-101, that is currently being tested in a phase 1 trial at U-M and other centers. In addition to the ATR-101 trial, the Endocrine Oncology clinical research team, directed by Richard Auchus, M.D., Ph.D., offers five other clinical trials for adrenal and thyroid cancers.

Clinical studies focusing on the epidemiology, genetics and outcome are critical to finding effective treatment options for patients with these rare cancers. The U-M endocrine oncology program has demonstrated success in fostering collaborative efforts between institutional and international teams of investigators.  This includes integral involvement in three collaborative endocrine cancer projects through The Cancer Genome Atlas, a program of the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute that aims to characterize and analyze the genome of specific tumors. Because of these collaborations, TCGA agreed to include adrenal cancer, phenochromocytoma and thyroid cancer in their genomic platform.

A recent comprehensive analysis of thyroid cancer from the TCGA identified markers of aggressive tumors, which could allow for better targeting of appropriate treatments to individual patients. The researchers, led by U-M pathologist Tom Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., suggest reclassifying thyroid cancer based on genetic markers, which could move the disease into a position to benefit more from precision medicine. The adrenal cancer project, under the leadership of Giordano and Hammer, is nearing completion.

“As we learn more about genetics and genomics of endocrine cancers, we have an opportunity to incorporate targeted therapies to attack these mutations, as evidenced by the recent availability of novel targeted therapies for thyroid cancer and the NETs,” says Hammer. “Results from Phase 1, 2 and 3 studies are forthcoming which we hope will continue to expand and refine treatment regimens that enhance quality and prolong the life of unique genetic subsets of our patients.”

For more about the Endocrine Oncology Program, visit mcancer.org/endocrine-cancer or call M-LINE at 800-962-3555 for a consult or referral with one of the endocrine oncology specialists.