A 20/20 View of Cancer

Mini Medical School a 20/20 View of Cancer

A 20/20 View of Cancer was designed to give students insight into research centric key cancer concepts and on cancer in Minnesota.

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Session 1 - Cancer 101

Jan. 27, 2020

Presentation slides

Audience questions

christopher a pennell

Key Concepts in Cancer and Cancer Research

Christopher Pennell, PhD

Associate Director, Community Engagement and Education Masonic Cancer Center
Associate Professor
Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology

  • Cancer is an umbrella term that refers to hundreds of diseases.
  • Cancers are characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and spread (into local or distant tissues).
  • Cancers arise from the corruption or misuse of genetic information (encoded by DNA).
  • We get cancer because of bad luck, old age, and life-style choices.
  • The mission of the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota is to reduce the burden of cancer on all Minnesotans.
Schwertfeger Kaylee

The Anatomy of a Tumor

Kaylee Schwertfeger, PhD

American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grant
Associate Professor

Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology

  • Solid tumors are made up of many different cell types, including tumor cells and various types of non-tumor cells.
  • The term “tumor microenvironment” refers to the immediate environment within and surrounding a tumor that includes non-tumor cells and additional factors that provide structural support to the tumor.
  • Interactions between tumor cells and their “microenvironment” are critical for tumors to grow and metastasize to distant sites.
  • The tumor microenvironment can impact the ability of cancer therapies to effectively eliminate tumor cells.
  • Developing therapies that effectively target the tumor microenvironment may enhance the efficacy of cancer therapies.


Masonic Cancer Center Community Engagement and Education Team

Session 2 – Mutations and Their Consequences

Feb. 3, 2020

Audience questions

 David A Largaespada

Cancer Genetics

David Largaespada, PhD
Presentation slides

Associate Director
Basic Sciences

Masonic Cancer Center
American Cancer Society Research Professor
Department of Pediatrics

  • All cancers have a genetic cause – but that doesn’t (usually) mean the genes you’re born with cause cancer; instead cancer is primarily caused by mutations occurring in rare cells in your body.
  • For most people, their cancer risk is more determined by lifestyle choices than who their parents are. But some families do pass along high risk cancer-causing gene mutations from parent to child.
  • Cancer cells typically have many, many gene mutations and about 6 or more of these “drive” the abnormal behavior of the cancer cells, while the rest are merely “passengers.”
  • It is thought that the genes mutated in a cancer can produce abnormal proteins allowing the immune system to kill off the cancer cells. This is how “immunotherapies” like Keytruda can work for some cases of cancer.
  • The specific genes that are mutated in a tumor or leukemia may determine the prognosis of the patient and dictate the best therapy for the physician to choose.   


Carol A Lange

When Good Cells Go Bad

Carol Lange, PhD
Presentation slides

Co-Director: Cellular Mechanisms of Cancer Program
Masonic Cancer Center

Director: Molecular, Genetic, and Cellular Targets of Cancer Training Program
Tickle Family Land Grant Chair of Breast Cancer Research

Departments of Medicine and Pharmacology

  • All cells communicate or "signal" within and between each other in order to make appropriate cellular "decisions" based on hormonal cues.
  • Cancer cells are making inappropriate or abnormal decisions that cause them to grow and spread (into local or distant tissues - metastasize).
  • The wiring inside of cancer cells is altered due to corruption (mutations) or misuse (too much or too little) of critical genetic information.
  • The abnormal molecules (signaling proteins) in cancer cells that "pass" a signal can be inhibited by cancer therapies (drugs) to kill cancer cells.
  • Understanding how cancer cells send inappropriate "signals", and how this differs from normal cells, is essential to finding new and more effective cancer treatments and ultimately, cures.


M Health Fairview Cancer Risk Management Program

Session 3 – Causes and Prevention of Cancer

Feb. 10, 2020

Audience questions

Robert Turesky

Diet and Lifestyle Factors in Cancer Risk

Robert Turesky, BSc, PhD
Presentation slides

Masonic Chair in Cancer Causation    Professor
Department of Medicinal Chemistry

  • Lifestyle factors impact health (tobacco, alcohol, diet).
  • Some chemicals in the environment or diet,  if present at sufficiently high levels, can increase cancer risk.
  • Eat a varied and well balanced diet containing antioxidants.
  • Many chemicals in the diet can mitigate health risks posed by environmental and dietary toxicants.
  • Not all  naturally occuring herbs used as alternative medicines are safe.


Irina Stepanov

E-cigarettes and Vaping: Chemistry and Toxicology Considerations

Irina Stepanov, PhD
Presentation slides

Associate Professor
Division of Environmental Health Sciences

School of Public Health

  • Both the e-cigarette devices and the liquids used with these devices contribute to the chemical complexity of e-cigarette aerosol. 
  • Flavors and high nicotine content contribute to the popularity of some devices, such as JUUL, among youth.
  • Adult addicted smokers could potentially reduce some of their health risks by switching to e-cigarettes; however, complete switching is required to achieve this goal.
  • Research employing biomarkers of exposure and effect can provide key insights into the potential long-term health consequences of e-cigarette use. 
  • Investigators in the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota are nationally and internationally recognized leaders in the field of chemistry and toxicology of tobacco products.


Cancer Fighters presented by the Masonic Cancer Center Community Engagement and Education Team

A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation

Session 4 – Cutting-edge Cancer Therapies

Feb 17, 2020

Audience questions

 Ingunn Stromnes

Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy

Ingunn Stromnes, PhD
Presentation slides

Assistant Professor
Department of Microbiology & Immunology
Center for Immunology
Center for Genome Engineering
Masonic Cancer Center Member

  • The immune system has evolved to eradicate infections and abnormal (cancer) cells. 
  • There are many mechanisms in place for the immune system to not target healthy tissues. This process is called “self tolerance”. 
  • While some cancers are caused by infections, most cancers are derived from mutations in normal healthy cells. While cancers grow and acquire more mutations, some mutations in cancer cells can appear as foriegn to the immune system. 
  • Cancers employ many mechanisms to promote self tolerance and avoid immune detection.
  • Harnessing the immune system for cancer therapy is producing remarkable results in some patients and in some cancer types.
  • Many immunotherapies in the clinic are drugs that “release the brakes” on the bodies’ own immune system so it is no longer “tolerant” to the cancer cells. However, this can also cause immune-mediated pathology in normal tissues.
  • Developing safe and effective immunotherapies is challenged by the complexity of cancer and the risk of “off-target” toxicity.
  • Cell engineering is a way to create “designer” and living cells for cancer therapy in those cancer patients where other therapies fail.

Precision Cancer Therapy

Pamala Jacobson

Pamala Jacobson, PharmD, FCCP
Presentation slides

Professor and Director of the Institute of Personalized Medicine
College of Pharmacy, Department of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology

  • Not all individuals respond to cancer treatment and for some this is related genetics.
  • Genetic mutations used to select cancer treatments can be inherited or acquired.
  • Not all individuals with cancer have cancer genetic mutations that can be treated with precision medicine therapies.
  • For some cancers precision medicine therapy is life long.
  • Tumor resistance may develop to precision medicine treatments.
Katherine Bensen

Katherine Bensen

Young professional and mother of four living with stage IV lung cancer



Session 5 – Cancer in Minnesota

Feb. 24, 2020

Audience questions


Cancer in Minnesota

Rebekah Pratt, PhD
Presentation slides

Assistant Professor
Program in Health Disparities Research, and Department of Family Medicine and Community Health

  • Cancer disparities particularly impact Somali immigrants in Minnesota.
  • There are a wide range of reasons for this, including social, cultural and religious influences.
  • There are also great opportunities to address these disparities through conducting community partnered research in collaboration with the Somali community.
  • We can also address these disparities by partnering with local clinics and health care providers. 
  • Family based and strengths focused approaches, including incorporating messages from the Muslim faith in cancer prevention efforts, can make a positive difference on cancer disparities for Somali community members.


Doug Yee

Clinical Trials and the Minnesota Clinical Cancer Trials Network

Douglas Yee, MD
Presentation slides

Director, Masonic Cancer Center
John H. Kersey Chair in Breast Cancer Research
Departments of Medicine and Pharmacology

  • Population and laboratory studies identify potential new treatment strategies.
  • Clinical trials are necessary to develop new drugs and improve cancer outcomes.
  • Partnering with patients to enroll in clinical trials is necessary to defeat cancer.
  • Reducing disparities in cancer outcomes requires new strategies to include patients who do not live in metropolitan areas.


10,000 Families Study

Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network

Session 6 – Cancer Survivorship

March 2, 2020

Mini-medical school diplomas given as attendees arrive


Cancer Survivorship

Anne Blaes, MD
Presentation slides

Associate Professor
University of Minnesota
Division of Hematology/Oncology
Director of Cancer Survivorship Services and Translational Research
Section Head, Medical Oncology  

  • There are growing numbers of cancer survivors.
  • Cancer survivors have a unique set of needs.
  • Cancer survivors are at high risk for chronic diseases.  
  • The care of cancer survivors requires a team approach, with multiple disciplines.  

UCAN talks (20 min each) by cancer survivors treated at MCC

Tanya Bailey

A Heroic Journey Mindset 

Tanya Bailey, MSW, LICSW
Presentation slides

Cancer Survivor
Co-ordinator, Animal-Assisted Interactions, PAWS Program
Boynton Health
PhD Candidate
UMN School of Social Work

  • Facing a diagnosis of cancer provides endless options - and opportunities - to react and respond. What does a “heroic journey” mindset mean?
  • How was a heroic journey mindset helpful for me when I received my diagnosis of throat cancer.
  • What are some tools and techniques I incorporated in my heroic journey mindset:
    • Support - creating Team FIERCE
    • Connections - authoring my Caring Bridge story
    • Nature and animals
    • Mindfulness x3!
    • Gratitude 
  • How can you help others, and yourself, travel a heroic journey pathway.
Deborah Day Laxson

The Gray Zone:  When Life Support No Longer Supports Life

Deborah Day Laxson, PMP, CHTP
Presentation slides

Founder, Health Care Agent Literacy Project, LLC
Author, The Gray Zone: When Life Support No Longer Supports Life
Vice Chair, Minnesota Palliative Care Advisory Council
Steering Committee Member, Minnesota Cancer Alliance

  • Role confusion frequently exists between loved ones, caregivers and health care agents in medical events.
  • How does a non-medically trained individual determine when enough is enough?
  • There may be hidden impacts to health care agents responsible for making end of life decisions for their loved one.
Scott Petinga

From Surviving to Thriving

Scott Petinga
Presentation slides

TH!NK DIFFERENT Foundation Founder and Director
Center of Advocacy for Cancer of the Testes International (CACTI) Founder

10x Entrepreneur
3x Philanthropist
Healthcare Advisor

  • Being your own advocate to receive the best possible care
  • Biohacking to a better recovery
  • Staying resilient and tenacious with the bumpy roads ahead

Closing comments


Survivorship Conference presented by the Cancer Survivorship Conference Committee

Gilda’s Club