History of Research Innovations

For more than sixty years, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) has supported groundbreaking and lifesaving research. A short list of the scientific advisors and investigators who have been affiliated with LLS reads like a who's who of cancer pioneers, including Nobel laureates and Lasker awardees:

William Dameshek, M.D., participated in novel studies of nitrogen mustard as a treatment for blood cancer patients, in 1946, widely considered the first anti-cancer chemotherapy. He is also credited with first describing myeloproliferative diseases and chronic lymphocytic leukemia in adults. In the 1960s, he was an important advisor to the Leukemia Society of America (LSA), which more recently became LLS.

George H. Hitchings, Ph.D., helped develop 6-mercaptopurine and thioguanine in the 1940s, two of the first and most widely used anti-leukemia drugs. Dr. Hitchings was a medical and scientific advisor to LSA in 1969 and received the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Gertrude B. Elion, D.Sc., developed several life-saving drugs in the 1950s to treat leukemia patients. Dr. Elion advised LSA in 1975 and was the co-recipient of the 1988 Nobel Prize, with Dr. Hitchings.

Joseph Burchenal, M.D., established the chemotherapy program at New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in the 1950s, now the standard model around the world, and helped prove that methotrexate, 6-mercaptopurine, and other drugs can help leukemia patients achieve remissions. He was a long-time LSA advisor and received the prestigious Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1972.

Emil J. Freireich, M.D., showed that a three drug combination (methotrexate, vincristine and 6-mercaptopurine) could induce long-term remissions in children with acute lymphocytic leukemia, in 1965 along with James Holland, M.D., and Emil Frei, M.D. Dr. Freireich also pioneered the use of platelet transfusions when he developed the first continuous-flow blood-cell separator in 1969. He received the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 1972.

James Holland, M.D., helped prove that drugs with different activities could be used together to cure leukemia patients, along with Drs. Freireich and Frei. Dr. Holland was one of the first researchers funded by LSA, in 1954, as he began his important studies.

E. Donnall Thomas, M.D., winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, was the first scientist to successfully perform a bone marrow transplant between two humans to treat leukemia in 1956. He was an LSA advisor at the national level in the 1960s and also advised the Washington/Alaska chapter for many years.

George W. Santos, M.D., was also a pioneering bone marrow transplant expert. He performed his first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968, after receiving LSA research support in the preceding years. He was an LSA advisor in the 1980s.

C. Gordon Zubrod, M.D., pioneered the clinical trials concept in oncology during his time as clinical director of the National Institutes of Health from 1961 to 1974, where he led trials that resulted in long-term remissions for many children diagnosed with leukemia. He helped shape LSA medical and research programs and in 1972 received the prestigious Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award for his role in creating an effective national cancer chemotherapy program.

Robert C. Gallo, M.D., was the first to isolate interleuken-2 (IL-2), a natural cell product that can stimulate immune system cells. This breakthrough in 1976 laid the groundwork for the use of synthetic IL-2 as a lymphoma therapy. He received the Albert Lasker Basic Research Award in 1982 for his discovery of the first human "retrovirus" and its association with certain leukemias, and in 1986 received the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award for his contributions to AIDS research.

Kenneth B. McCredie, M.D., pioneered the use of combinations of anticancer agents, including interferon, in the 1980s, which would eventually lead to curing some forms of leukemia. He was a long-time LSA advisor at the national level and for the Texas Gulf Coast chapter.

J. Michael Bishop, M.D., discovered cancer-causing "oncogenes" carried by a family of viruses known as retroviruses and found related cellular genes that can malfunction to produce cancers. He advised LSA during the 1970s during which time he discovered the first human oncogene. He received a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1989 in recognition of these seminal advances.

Geoffrey M. Cooper, Ph.D., was a discoverer in 1982 of genes that control proliferation, differentiation, and survival in normal cells and can direct normal cells toward malignancy, expanding the list of known oncogenes. He advised LSA in the 1980s.

Brian Druker, M.D., was a leader during the 1990s in the development of Gleevec®, a revolutionary "targeted therapy" approved by the FDA in 2001 for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia. He was funded by LSA/LLS over the years and received the Albert Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award in 2009 for his ground-breaking studies. He has recently served as an LLS advisor.

Read about LLS's history
Read more about LLS's Research Program successes
Read about LLS's commitment to growth in the 21st century

last updated on Thursday, April 19, 2012
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