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NYU Cancer Institute Leads $6.25 Million Research Effort to Find New Therapies for the Most Common Form of Childhood Cancer

Funding Recognizes Pioneering Research into Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

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 treatment of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a major triumph in oncology but for the minority who fail to respond or relapse it can be a devastating disease,” says Dafna Bar-Sagi, PhD, senior vice president and vice dean for science, chief scientific officer, and professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at NYU Langone. “Through this highly competitive grant we are proud to lead an elite national team of cancer researchers in the shared quest for new therapies and cures.”

The prestigious Leukemia & Lymphoma Society grant is part of the non-profit’s Specialized Center of Research program (SCOR) that 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 that unite around a common goal: finding targeted treatments for ALL patients who relapse and derive no benefit from existing chemotherapies. Principal investigator William L. Carroll, MD, the Julie and Edward J. Minskoff Professor of Pediatrics and director of the Cancer Institute, oversees the SCOR grant to ensure its overall success.

“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,” says Dr. 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 internationally recognized immunologist and cancer biologist Iannis Aifantis, PhD, 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 percent in the past four decades owing to the insights of Dr. Carroll and other experts on blood-borne malignancies. However, one in five cases of ALL will relapse, making the disease the leading cause of death among children. “The prognosis is still dismal for patients who relapse,” says Dr. Carroll. “Through this powerful collaboration, we intend to change that.”

The NYU Langone-led SCOR team is funded from October 1, 2013 to September 20, 2018.

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