Contact: Andrea Greif
White Plains, NY (October 22, 2013) - The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) today is pleased to announce the researchers who will receive The New Idea Award - a grant program designed to identify novel research strategies with high potential for significant impact on the future of blood cancer treatments.
Specifically, this program supports academic researchers with innovative ideas for substantially different approaches to diagnoses and treatment of patients with blood cancers, as well as ideas that may fundamentally change our understanding of blood cancers. The goal of this program is to advance concepts that may eventually lead to significant improvements in the clinical outcomes, including quality of life, of patients with blood cancers.
"LLS is committed to curing cancer. To meet that objective, we have taken a proactive approach to enable leading scientists and clinicians to pursue novel, innovative approaches that can change the standard of care for patients with blood cancers," said Lee Greenberger, Ph.D., LLS chief scientific officer. "Typically, it is very hard to get funding from conventional sources to pursue emerging novel ideas. However, there is a long history of such novel ideas leading to major discoveries and applications. We believe the nine researchers selected to receive this first-time grant have such ideas that could transform how blood cancer is diagnosed and treated in the future."
The acclaimed researchers who will each receive a $100,000, one-year grant include:
Hilary Coller, M.D. - Princeton University. Quiescent cancer cells - cells that are dormant and do not divide - are typically resistant to chemotherapy. Preliminary data suggest that the transcription factor Nrf2, a protein that helps control the activity of genes, is important for quiescence. Coller proposes to determine the level of Nrf2 in proliferating and quiescent populations in three different B cell tumor types. The effects of Nrf2 inhibitors, alone or in combination with standard chemotherapeutic agents, in both cell populations will be tested. Since quiescent cells are resistant to numerous standard chemotherapies, this approach may rapidly translate a novel therapy to the clinic.
Joaquin Espoinosa, Ph.D. - University of Colorado. Espinosa's team will use a screen to knock out individual genes and pathways in cancer cells. This approach will identify those critical genes that, when inhibited, will potentiate the action of certain anti-cancer agents. This research will help identify novel combinations of chemotherapy that when used together are synergistic and give unexpectedly higher activity compared to when individual agents are used alone.
Irene Ghobrial, M.D. - Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In multiple myeloma (MM), cells disseminate from their point of origin leading to a more difficult-to-treat cancer that fails to respond to conventional therapy. Using a genetic screen, Dr. Ghobrial's team seeks to identify genes involved in the spreading of MM cells. They will also perform a drug screen for inhibitors of MM dissemination. The novelty of this approach is to identify, in a high-throughput fashion, genes involved in MM dissemination. In addition, the researchers will review collections of compounds, including many FDA-approved drugs, which may lead to repurposing of drugs for novel treatments of multiple myeloma.
Nora Heisterkam, Ph.D. - Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Heisterkam's project is focused on targeting the carbohydrate portion of a glycoprotein on the surface of a cancer cell. This glycoprotein is associated with drug resistance in acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL). Targeting this carbohydrate has proven to be effective in killing cancer cells in preliminary laboratory studies. The team will test several approaches to targeting this glycoprotein. The targeting of the carbohydrate portion of a protein is a novel approach to cancer therapy.
Robert Hromas, M.D. - University of Florida. DNA damaging chemotherapy can cause certain gene rearrangements, known as translocations, which often lead to secondary acute myeloid leukemia (AML) later in life. Hromas believes that the protein PARP1 is responsible for this and seeks to better understand the mechanism by which PARP1 is involved. They will also identify which of the available PARP1 inhibitors best prevents translocations, and determine if PARP1 levels are predictive of secondary AML formation in a retrospective analysis of stem cell transplant (SCT) patients. This innovation may help identify those SCT patients who are more likely to develop secondary AML before cytotoxic chemotherapy treatment is administered.
Robert Orlowski, M.D., Ph.D. - MD Anderson Cancer Center. Patients with high-risk multiple myeloma typically do not responded well to current chemotherapies. Orlowski's team proposes to perform a genetic screen to identify genes essential for the survival of these tumors. Since some of these gene products can be inhibited with known drugs, they will evaluate the effectiveness of these drugs, alone or in combination with current myeloma therapies. This may lead to novel combination therapies for this deadly disease.
Tomasz Skorski, M.D., Ph.D. - Temple University. Leukemia cells and leukemia stem cells accumulate lethal DNA damage that can be repaired by certain DNA repair pathways. However, in certain leukemic cells, defects in so called "BRCA" DNA repair pathway is impaired and an alternative DNA repair pathway is used. Skorski proposes to use genetic profiling to determine those primary patient samples having defects in the BRCA-dependent pathway. The effects of inhibiting the alternative DNA repair pathway will then be tested. These profiling studies may lead to better personalized and safe therapy for cancer patients, since they take advantage of key deficiencies that are found in leukemic cells but not normal cells.
Anthony Sung, M.D. - Duke University Medical Center. Thrombocytopenia (TCP), a decrease in platelets, is common in blood cancer, and yet platelet transfusions used to prevent bleeding can be problematic based on limited supply and patient complications. Sung's team has developed a nanoparticle that induces clotting, and preliminary data show that it reduces bleeding and increases survival in a mouse model of TCP. The innovation is in the use of a nanoparticle as an alternative to platelet transfusions. If successful, this could have rapid patient impact, and could radically change treatments for the many cancer patients who have the complication of thrombocytopenia.
Shobha Vasudev, Ph.D. - Massachusetts General Hospital. Cancer cells, particularly stem cells, can resist chemotherapy when in a quiescent, or dormant, state. This state is likely maintained through the expression of particular genes. The team proposes to identify all the genes involved in maintaining the quiescent state. This research may provide biomarkers as well as targets for future therapeutic intervention of hard-to-kill quiescent leukemia stem cells, which are often the source of resistance to targeted chemotherapy.
About The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society ® (LLS) is the world's largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. The LLS mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world, provides free information and support services, and is the voice for all blood cancer patients seeking access to quality, affordable, coordinated care. Founded in 1949 and headquartered in White Plains, NY, LLS has chapters throughout the United States and Canada. To learn more, visit www.LLS.org. Patients should contact the Information Resource Center at (800) 955-4572, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.