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U of M Masonic Cancer Center receives $26 million to lead national BMT cancer research

Two of the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center's leading physician-scientists on research and treatment of cancers of the blood and bone marrow Philip McGlave, M.D., and Jeffrey Miller, M.D., -- have received renewed five-year program project research grants totaling almost $26 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

McGlave and Miller will use the grants to lead research teams focused on increasing the availability, safety, and effectiveness of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and cell therapies to improve treatment and survival for the thousand of patients diagnosed annually with leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and other blood and bone marrow disorders.

About the physician-scientists, their research goals

McGlave, deputy director of the Masonic Cancer Center and director of the University Medical School's Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation, received more than $12.6 million of renewed funding. He has received NCI funding to lead his stem cell research program for the past 15 years. The renewed funding will allow him to continue years 16-20 of his team's research, focusing on improving stem cell transplant and cell-based treatments.

Miller is associate director of the Masonic Cancer Center's Experimental Therapeutics Program and professor of medicine focusing on hematology, oncology, and transplantation. His award of more than $13.3 million will fund years 6-10 of his team's research on characterizing "natural killer cell" or "NK cells" to reduce the rate of relapse after transplant by leukemia patients. Currently, leukemia returns in about 25 percent of patients who undergo stem cell transplants.

In addition to University of Minnesota researchers, their respective research teams will include blood and marrow stem cell experts at the National Institutes of Health and at more than a dozen cancer research centers across the United States.

U of M pioneers stem cell transplantation

Stem cell transplant was pioneered at the University of Minnesota with the world's first successful donor transplant for malignant lymphoma performed in 1973. The patient was a 16-year old boy who is now 50 years old, married with a son, and living in the Twin Cities. Since then, hematopoietic cell transplantation has become a mainstay of treatment for blood and bone marrow cancers. The University of Minnesota through its Masonic Cancer Center has consistently maintained international leadership in stem cell transplant research and treatment.

Recent stem cell transplant research achievements

McGlave's research team most recently verified the effectiveness of umbilical cord blood transplants. Such transplants can be used in the majority of patients where a sibling is not available to serve as a stem cell donor. This finding now allows transplant physicians to identify donors for the majority of patients requiring hematopoietic cell transplants for treatment of hematologic cancers and diseases. Lead investigators on McGlave's team include University of Minnesota scientists Bruce Blazar, M.D., John Wagner, M.D., and Miller.

Achievements by Miller's research team include finding that favorable NK cell receptor genes in unrelated blood and marrow donors protect against relapse and provide significant relapse-free survival benefit to patients transplanted for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia. Lead investigators on Miller's team include Daniel Weisdorf, M.D., Sarah Cooley, M.D., and Chap Le, Ph.D., with Masonic Cancer Center; Peter Parham, Ph.D., Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA; Elizabeth Trachtenberg, Ph.D., The Children's Hospital Research Institute, Oakland, CA; Steven Marsh, Ph.D., Anthony Nolan Research, London, UK: and John Klein, Ph.D., Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

Research to be conducted with new grants

Research projects McGlave and Miller's teams will undertake with the renewed funding include:

  • Conducting clinical trials to test the effectiveness of umbilical cord blood "T regulatory cells" (Tregs) to prevent graft-versus-host disease in transplant patients
  • Exploring the role of young stem cells in umbilical cord blood to restore the thymic epithelial cell function to prevent leukemia.
  • Leading clinical studies to determine the effect of NK cell therapy used in combination with transplant to reduce the leukemia and give the patient long-term survival.
  • Prospectively choosing donors for transplant based on favorable NK cell receptor genes.
  • Testing novel agents to better activate NK cells in the body.


Contact: Nick Hanson
University of Minnesota

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