NYU Cancer Institute leads $6.25 million childhood cancer research effort

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Researchers at The Cancer Institute at NYU Langone Medical Center are leading a $6.25 million, five-year research initiative, funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, to develop new therapies and advance the cure rate for children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic cancer (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer.

Marked by the overproduction of immature white blood cells in the bone marrow, ALL is an aggressive cancer that can kill within months if left untreated. It affects more than 6,000 children in the U.S. every year.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society grant is part of the nonprofit’s Specialized Center of Research program (SCOR), which brings together some of the brightest and most innovative cancer specialists in the nation to discover new therapies and cures for patients with blood-borne cancers.

The grant encompasses four separate research projects spanning six institutions with a common goal: finding targeted treatments for ALL patients who relapse and derive no benefit from existing chemotherapies. PI William L. Carroll, M.D., the Julie and Edward J. Minskoff professor of pediatrics and director of the Cancer Institute, oversees the SCOR grant.

“Sharper methods to identify genetic mutations in cancerous white blood cells that render chemotherapy powerless will enable us to better identify which patients are at risk for relapse and develop patient-specific cancer therapies designed to root out cancer before resistance takes hold,” said Carroll.

Two of the projects will take place at The Cancer Institute. One, led by Dr. Carroll, targets drug resistance in relapsed ALL patients. The other project, led by immunologist and cancer biologist Iannis Aifantis, Ph.D., chair of the department of pathology at NYU Langone and member of The Cancer Institute, seeks to find new drugs to target the cellular cycle of ALL cancer cells.

A team of researchers from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the University of Colorado, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the University of New Mexico will conduct the other two projects: one seeks to identify and treat genetic mutations in ALL cancer cells; the other will develop nanoparticle medications for the targeted treatment of ALL.

The cure rate for children with ALL has increased to nearly 80% in the past four years. However, one in five cases of ALL will relapse, making the disease the leading cause of death among children.

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