According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) there are over 380,000 people living with leukemia in the United States. Each year roughly 24,500 people die from the disease and over 62,000 new cases are diagnosed. To improve treatment options for leukemia patients, the NCI recently awarded John DiPersio, MD, PhD of Washington University, St. Louis $6 million in research funding. The Professor of Medicine in Oncology at the university’s School of Medicine will use the seven years of funding to support three major areas of leukemia research in his lab. These include: improving the effectiveness of standard chemotherapy, preventing graft-versus-host disease, and developing new immunotherapies.
(Image of leukemia cells courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. Most often, leukemia is a cancer of the white blood cells, but some leukemias start in other blood cell types.
Along with chemotherapy, the standard of care for leukemia is a stem cell transplant, commonly referred to as a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately this is not without risk. One major, and sometimes life-threatening, complication is graft-versus-host disease. This occurs when the donor immune cells, which kill cancer, inadvertently attack a patient’s organs.
Research Focus Areas Supported by the NCI Award:
- In order to combat the complications of bone marrow transplants, one area the $6 million will support at DiPersio’s lab is the prevention of graft-versus-host disease. A team of researchers led by Jaebok Choi, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine will investigate a class of drugs called JAK inhibitors, which are already approved by FDA to treat rheumatoid arthritis. These drugs have been shown in animal models and in small clinical trials to reduce graft-versus-host disease while maintaining the anti-cancerous effect against the leukemia.
- The second area supported by the grant is focused on improving the effectiveness of standard chemotherapy and in making stem cell donation faster and more efficient. DiPersio and Michael P. Rettig, PhD, an associate professor of medicine, are seeking better ways to force cancerous cells that hide in the bone marrow to move into the bloodstream, where they are more vulnerable to chemotherapy. This movement of blood stem cells also helps speed the process of harvesting healthy stem cells from a donor, for use in a stem cell transplant. Today, that process can take up to two weeks. DiPersio and his colleagues are testing strategies that could reduce the time to minutes or hours.
- The third area of focus the grant will support is the development of antibodies and engineered T cells, called CAR-T cells. The hope is to develop new immunotherapies to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) and T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (T-NHL). In order to do this they are working on creating antibodies and CAR-T cells capable of targeting multiple proteins on AML, T-ALL and T- NHL. Also, to pursue targeted therapies for T-ALL, the grant will support the use of CRISPR gene-editing technology to design T-cells that can attack cancer without harming healthy cells.
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Washington University Receives $46M to Support Translational Research
The 18th annual BioResearch Product Faire™ at Washington University in St. Louis is will be held on April 12, 2018. This is an excellent opportunity for life science researchers and laboratory equipment suppliers to network and discuss their research needs and solutions. Researchers are invited to attend the on-campus trade fair for free. For more information or to pre-register, click the link below:
There are over 2,000 faculty physicians at WU's School of Medicine. It is one of the leading research, teaching, patient care institutions in the country. Laboratory equipment suppliers interested in marketing their products at this prestigious university can visit the link below or call (530) 272-6675 for more information about exhibiting.