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Weill Cornell awarded $1.8 million for translational blood cancer research

NEW YORK (August 30, 2012) -- Weill Cornell Medical College has been awarded three new research grants from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society totaling $1.8 million. The funds will support critically-needed translational research for blood cancers, accelerating promising discoveries from the laboratory to the patient's bedside.

Each $600,000 Weill Cornell research grant award, part of the nationwide $12 million investment by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Translational Research Program, will fund research in areas of blood cancers with unmet medical needs, such as leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma and also long-term effects of blood cancer therapies.

"Weill Cornell thanks the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for its generous, proactive support of our latest translational research," says Dr. Gail J. Roboz, associate professor of medicine and director of the Leukemia Program at Weill Cornell. "These new grant awards will help our research teams continue to meet the current challenges of treating blood cancers and develop novel therapies to improve leukemia patient outcomes."

Weill Cornell's awarded research grants include:

Dr. Monica Guzman, assistant professor of pharmacology in medicine at Weill Cornell, is principal investigator for the new research grant study investigating novel targeted therapies and strategies to eliminate leukemia stem cells from patients in remission from the disease. This research project is vital since leukemia stem cells can hide deep within the bone marrow's microenvironment -- out of reach from chemotherapy drugs. Researchers plan to overcome this challenge by testing the efficacy of nanotechnology's delivery of anti-leukemia stem cell drugs directly into bone marrow. In addition, researchers will analyze shifts in leukemia cell populations within bone marrow using single cell analyses at diagnosis and remission. Researchers hope to gain better insight into chemo-resistant leukemia stem cells and potential targeted drug treatments during remission. Study collaborators include co-investigators Dr. Roboz of Weill Cornell, Dr. Marina Konopleva of MD Anderson and Dr. Haifa Shen of The Methodist Hospital Research Institute (THMRI).

Dr. Duane Hassane, assistant professor of computational biomedicine in medicine, is principal investigator for the new research grant study exploring the significance and mechanisms of genomic diversity in acute myeloid leukemia stem cells. This research study is vital since acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is most often a fatal disease marked by high relapse rates thought to be driven by cancer stem cells, which resist chemotherapy and can re-establish disease. Relapsed AML is more often genetically complex and drug resistant than at initial diagnosis, presenting additional therapeutic challenges. Researchers propose that cancer stem cells represent an important source of genetic diversity driving the evolution of relapsed AML. Researchers plan to investigate the extent of genetic diversity in AML cancer stem cells using genome sequencing and gain better insight into the mechanisms that drive this diversity to uncover new therapeutic targets. In addition, researchers aim to determine whether genomic variation and disorder represent better predictors of AML risk. This study is a collaborative effort with Weill Cornell's Dr. Olivier Elemento.

Dr. Ruben Niesvizky, associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell and director of the Multiple Myeloma Service at the Center of Excellence for Lymphoma and Myeloma at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, is principal investigator for the new research grant study that will investigate stem cell alterations in multiple myeloma patients treated with the drug lenalidomide. Researchers will analyze the mechanisms underlying long-term and late-effects resulting from this cancer treatment and the development of measures to significantly reduce or prevent the drug's toxicities. This research project is vital for this disease, characterized by the clonal expansion of malignant plasma cells, because despite many treatment advances and improvement in survival, relapse occurs and the disease remains incurable. Novel agents like the drug lenalidomide have improved survival in patients with advanced multiple myeloma, but long-term use may lead to the development of second primary malignancies.

Researchers hope to gain insight into the mechanisms by which lenalidomide kills multiple myeloma cells and how the drug's long-time use leads to the development of other hematologic malignancies. Researchers plan to analyze single cell bone marrow stem cells of multiple myeloma patients after long-term exposure to lenalidomide, track any changes in their bone marrow stem cells and identify any early cellular changes that could be used as predictors of risk of second primary malignancies. Study co-investigators are Dr. Hassane and Dr. Guzman of Weill Cornell.

"These awarded translational research grants recognize Weill Cornell and its researchers' leadership in the field of leukemia and blood cancer research discoveries and treatments," says Dr. David Nanus, the Mark W. Pasmantier Professor of Hematology and Oncology in Medicine and chief of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell. "We admire the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's strategic approach in funding translational research where it is needed most -- for the most difficult to treat blood cancers -- to improve survival and the quality of life for patients with these hard to treat diseases."


Contact: Lauren Woods
New York- Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center/Weill Cornell Medical College

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