The Leukemia & Lymphoma Sociey awards $5 million to University of Chicago researchers

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society awards $5 million to University of Chicago researchers

December 8, 2006

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has awarded a $5.25 million Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant to Michael Thirman, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of leukemia biology at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The grant will support efforts use the knowledge of the genetic changes that cause leukemia and lymphoma as a guide to design precisely targeted, potent and minimally toxic therapies.

SCOR grants bring together teams of researchers from different disciplines to discover new approaches to treatment for leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. These awards go to groups that "demonstrate outstanding scientific promise and synergy," according to Marshall Lichtman, MD, executive vice president for research and medical programs at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

"Our team met regularly for two years before submitting this proposal," said Thirman. "These initial meetings led to a series of new collaborations, rapid dissemination of advances and sharing of information. This cross-disciplinary approach has become increasingly important in biomedical research and it dramatically increases the chances for achieving the SCOR's ultimate goal: improved patient care."

Pioneering research at the University, beginning more than 30 years ago, on how chromosome changes give rise to leukemia has dramatically improved cancer therapy. The SCOR grant--entitled "Peptide and Small Molecule Therapeutics for Hematologic Malignancies"--will enable Thirman's team to take the next steps, deciphering the role of several genes that are critical to the development of specific types of leukemia and developing peptides or small molecules that can penetrate cancer cells and disrupt the molecular pathways that result in malignant disease.

Although such targeted therapies are promising, researchers have to overcome a number of challenges to develop and use them effectively. Thirman's team of ten University of Chicago senior researchers from different specialties includes Wendy Stock, MD; Steve Kron, PhD; Piers Nash, PhD; Geoffrey Greene, PhD; Milan Mrksich, PhD; Michelle M. Le Beau, PhD; Richard Larson, MD; John Anastasi, MD; Koen van Besien, MD; and Amittha Wickrema, PhD.

The University of Chicago scientists will work closely with teams led by Steven Dowdy, PhD, of the University of California-San Diego and Ari Melnick, MD, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to develop and test new drugs.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, headquartered in White Plains, NY, is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood cancer research and providing education and patient services. Since its founding in 1949, the Society has invested more than $483 million in research targeting leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. This year they made four such SCOR grants. In addition to the University of Chicago Leukemia & Lymphoma Society funded projects at Harvard Medical School, University of Pennsylvania, and Cambridge University.