An Evening of Gratitude: Celebrating 50 Years

On November 9th, 2023, a small group of USC Norris faculty and friends of USC Norris came together to celebrate half a century of exceptional accomplishments in groundbreaking science and cancer care–the 50th anniversary of USC Norris.

Fifty years ago, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center as one of the nation’s first eight comprehensive cancer centers. In the five decades since, USC Norris has remained steadfast at the forefront of the battle against cancer, leaving an indelible mark on countless lives. Since its inception in 1973, USC Norris has remained committed to eradicating the burden of cancer through innovative research. From uncovering the genetic underpinnings of various cancers to developing targeted therapies, the USC Norris research team has revolutionized cancer treatment and provided hope to patients and their families across the globe.

Today, more than at any other time in USC Norris’ 50-year history, we have the opportunity to achieve the simple yet powerful vision of Kenneth T. Norris Jr. to “make cancer a disease of the past.”

Swing Against Cancer 2024

9th Annual Quinn Brady Memorial Swing Against Cancer Event

Register today for the 9th Annual Quinn Brady Memorial Swing Against Cancer Golf Tournament which supports lifesaving cancer research at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. This event will be held in person at the La Quinta Country Club at 77-750 Avenue 50, La Quinta, California, on Monday, April 8, 2024. To register for the event, click the button above. 

For more information or to register, please contact:

Hannah Padilla  
USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center
1441 Eastlake Avenue, Suite 8302 
Los Angeles, CA 90089 
Phone: 619.820.1290

33rd Festival of Life

USC Norris celebrates the courage and strength of their cancer survivors and families at the 33rd annual Festival of Life

USC Trojan Marching Band

The thundering sound of the USC Fight Song, piercing through the brass and percussion instruments of the USC Trojan Marching Band, signaled the beginning of the 33rd Festival of Life. The sound echoed throughout all of Pappas Quad at the Health Sciences Campus.

The event, held on the beautiful morning of Saturday, June 3, celebrated the strength, resilience, and tenacity of cancer survivors and their families. USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital hosts this annual event, which included moving speeches from cancer survivors and an awe-inspiring dove release.

In keeping with tradition, the Tree of Life was installed near the check-in area, enabling attendees to honor loved ones who have survived, are currently battling, or have lost their lives to cancer by leaving uplifting words of survivorship. Additionally, patients and caregivers shared notes of appreciation with members of their support system from their cancer journey on the Festival of Life scroll.

W. Martin Kast, PhD, leader of the USC Norris Tumor Microenvironment Program and a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, obstetrics and gynecology, and urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, served as master of ceremonies.The event included opening remarks by Steven Grossman, MD, PhD, the deputy director for Cancer Services at the USC Norris Cancer Center, and Joi Torrence-Hill, MHA, FACHE, the chief of hospital operations for the USC Norris Cancer Hospital.

Joi Torrence-Hill, Chief of USC Norris Hospital Operation

“Surviving cancer is an extraordinary feat, one that demonstrates your unwavering strength, courage, and determination,” said Torrence-Hill. “Your journey has inspired countless others and serves as a beacon of hope for those who continue to fight. We are celebrating YOU, your triumphs, and the immense significance of this milestone in your lives.”

Huyen Q. Pham, MD, a gynecologic oncologist and director of the Gynecology/Oncology Clinic at Keck Medicine of USC, and an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics & gynecology at the Keck School, also spoke about updated information on treatment advances and new cancer research. In addition, Dr. Pham shared his experiences as a physician.

Cancer survivors, including Jared Lipscomb, a leukemia cancer survivor, and Julie Clauer, a colorectal cancer survivor, shared their cancer journeys, inspiring all those in attendance with their bravery, resilience, and strength.  

Jared Lipscomb, cancer survivor

“I know survivorship looks different for everyone, and I know survivorship is a gift not everyone receives, but I do believe that the moment we get that diagnosis, we become survivors,” said Jared. “Getting through a single round of chemo or radiation makes us survivors. Being able to hold on one more day makes us survivors. If this community has taught me anything, it is that strength can be found when you least expect it. Today’s celebration of survivorship is a reminder that each day is a gift, and I am so lucky and grateful to be here, alive and able to celebrate with all of you.”

Led by Judy Stark, a 22-year cancer survivor and volunteer at the cancer center and cancer hospital, and Awa Jones, chief nursing officer at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital, cancer survivors were invited to stand amid applause during the Festival of Life as a show of celebration and support. This tradition takes place every year at this event. Cancer survivors ranging from 20 years or more to those who are just beginning their survivorship were honored and received a roaring round of applause from all in attendance. Additionally, everyone in attendance at the Festival of Life applauded the patients currently undergoing treatment at USC Norris Cancer Hospital in a heartwarming, inspiring display of community and support.

The conclusion of the event was signaled by the annual tradition of the release of the doves. During this moment, the Bayou Brass Band played “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” by Diana Ross. Doves are a symbol of hope, and by releasing the doves that day, attendees not only celebrated the cancer survivors and patients who battle their cancer every day, but also remembered those lost along the way.

“At USC we ‘Fight On.’ To all the cancer survivors out there, keep fighting on,” said Dr. Kast in his closing remarks.  

USC research identifies biomarker that may predict treatment response to chemoimmunotherapy

USC research identifies biomarker that may predict treatment response to chemoimmunotherapy

Originally posted on Keck School of Medicine News

May 11, 2023 

By Zara Abrams 

The T-cell biomarker, which can be detected with a blood test, could help identify early in the treatment process which cancer patients will benefit from the combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy and which are unlikely to see results.

Cutting-edge cancer treatments like immunotherapy are offering new hope for patients, often in combination with more common approaches such as chemotherapy. But determining the best treatment combination isn’t always straightforward. Many patients spend valuable time on expensive therapies with serious side effects that aren’t effective against their cancer. 

Now, a new discovery is poised to help. Researchers from USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified a biomarker that indicates which patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) will respond well to chemoimmunotherapy. The biomarker, known as CX3CR1, is expressed on T-cells and can be detected with a simple blood test, six to nine weeks after a patient starts treatment. The results were published in the journal Cancer Research Communications. 

“We found that T-cell CX3CR1 expression can be used to monitor treatment effectiveness, and can be used as a biomarker to predict treatment response and prognosis for these patients,” said the study’s lead author, Fumito Ito, MD, PhD, associate professor of surgery at the Keck School of  Medicine of USC and co-leader of the Translational and Clinical Science Research program at the USC Norris cancer center.  

Ito and his team collected a series of blood samples from 29 patients with NSCLC who received a combination of immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapy and chemotherapy. They found that patients with elevated levels of CX3CR1 after six and nine weeks of treatment were more likely to see long-terms benefits from chemoimmunotherapy, including tumor shrinkage and cancer remission. 

The findings build on earlier work by Ito and his team, published in 2021, which found that CX3CR1 can be used to predict treatment response in NSCLC patients receiving immunotherapy only. The biomarker may also be useful for other cancers and therapies and could ultimately help doctors and patients determine the most effective cancer treatments while avoiding unnecessary side effects and invasive biopsies.  

An “early-on” treatment biomarker 

ICI therapy has revolutionized the treatment of lung and other cancers, but it doesn’t work for all patients. For some, it can even trigger an autoimmune reaction marked by life-threatening problems with the lungs, liver, kidneys, or other organs. 

Current pre-treatment methods to determine which patients will benefit from ICI therapy—and which will experience harmful side effects—don’t always work. CX3CR1 is the next best thing: an “early-on” treatment biomarker that is noninvasive. It can be measured when patients attend their first check-up and imaging appointment, typically about two months after starting ICI. 

“If ICI is not working, we like to stop as soon as possible,” Ito said. “We have other viable treatment options for NSCLC patients, so the biomarker can help us identify patients who might have better results with an alternative therapy.” 

Ito and his colleagues used a multi-omics approach, combining two cutting-edge sequencing methods to find the genomic and transcriptomic signature of T-cells. Each T-cell has a unique receptor pattern that can be used as a “barcode” to track them down in different parts of the body, including those attacking a tumor and those circulating in the blood. 

“By combining two different types of next-generation sequencing, we found a way to characterize and monitor patients’ T-cells,” he said. “Next, we plan to use this analysis in a larger cohort to see if patients with other cancers will respond in a similar way.” 

More evidence for CX3CR1 

Because ICI therapy targets a patient’s immune system, rather than the tumor itself, the newly discovered biomarker could have broad utility across multiple types of cancer. In addition to testing other cancers, Ito and his colleagues also plan to explore whether CX3CR1 can predict treatment response to other types of immunotherapy, including adoptive T-cell therapy and vaccine-based therapy. 

The team will also collect additional evidence for CX3CR1 in a larger group of non-small cell lung cancer patients undergoing ICI, both with and without chemotherapy. If additional research is successful, a blood test for the biomarker could reach broader patient populations in two to three years, Ito said. 

About this study 

In addition to Ito, the study’s other authors are Takayoshi Yamauchi from the Keck School of Medicine of USC; Eihab Abdelfatah from New York University Langone Health; and Mark D. Long, Ryutaro Kajihara and Takaaki Oba from the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

This work was supported by the Department of Defense Lung Cancer Research Program [LC180245], the National Cancer Institute [K08CA197966, R01CA255240-01A1, R01CA188900, R01CA267690, P30CA016056] and the Uehara Memorial Foundation.