NEW BRUNSWICK – The annual Century for the Cure bike ride that has raised more than $1 million since 2005 for research at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey is now making it possible for new scientific exploration in the area of hematologic malignancies. The ‘Century for the Cure Research Award’ has been created to enhance basic and translational research not previously focused on in the area of blood cancers. Each award is funded at $50,000 for one-year with an option to renew at that level for the following year. The initiative is also supported through The Cancer Institute of New Jersey’s National Cancer Institute Cancer Center Support Grant.
Following a competitive review process of submissions from researchers from The Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; and Princeton University, two awards were given this year. One of the grants was awarded to Shridar Ganesan, MD, PhD, associate director for translational science at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey and associate professor of medicine and pharmacology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and John Glod, MD, PhD, pediatric oncologist at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey and assistant professor of pediatrics and pharmacology at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Drs. Ganesan and Glod are exploring the role of abnormalities in the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) gene in the development of infant leukemia. In this type of leukemia, which occurs in very young children, a segment of the MLL gene is fused with another partner gene. This abnormal fusion of two genes then leads to the production of a fusion protein made of parts of each normal protein. MLL fusion partners have been shown to participate in the repair of damaged DNA, and work done in the Ganesan laboratory suggests that the abnormal MLL fusion proteins also incorporate into the DNA repair complex. Through the use of cell models, Ganesan and Glod will examine the effect of MLL fusion proteins on the repair of DNA damage. They also will explore the impact of treatment with drugs that block the interaction of MLL fusion proteins with other components of the DNA repair complex on the growth of leukemia cells that express MLL fusion proteins.
“The leukemias that develop as a result of abnormalities in the mixed lineage leukemia gene are typically poor prognosis cancers, which unfortunately have limited response to current therapies. By further understanding the molecular pathways behind these leukemias, we have an opportunity to develop more effective therapies for these patients,” noted Ganesan.
The other project, undertaken by Lori Covey, PhD, professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers University, focuses on further classifying and developing new therapies for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a cancer that targets white blood cells. CLL, which specifically affects the B cells in the blood, is the most common adult leukemia in the United States. Symptoms of this disease can be lessened with chemotherapy, but currently no established cure exists. Dr. Covey’s work specifically examines the role of CD40, an important B-cell marker that plays a critical role in allowing B cells and CLL to grow.
One measure of CLL severity is how well the cells grow when CD40 is triggered. Abnormal activation of this protein’s pathway can enhance cell growth and cancer. Using cell models from The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Covey and colleagues aim to identify whether classification of the CD40 pathway can be further broken down based on identification of biomarkers. “Further sub-classification of this signaling pathway could lead to more precise clinical staging and better prognostic indicators, as well as the development of novel therapies designed to block this pathway and ultimately cancer growth,” noted Covey.
Scott Glickman, founder of the Century for the Cure bike ride, knows the importance of cancer research, as he was treated at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey for stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma more than 15 years ago. “Tomorrow’s advanced cancer treatments depend on the research being done right now. There are still many mysteries when it comes to hematologic malignancies. That is why my wife Aileen and I are more than pleased that through the annual Century bike ride, there is an opportunity to support innovative scientific exploration in this area.”
Investigators will have the opportunity to apply for the ‘Century for the Cure Research Award’ on an annual basis.
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