Patients with leukemia are treated with a harsh regiment of drugs, in the hopes that the disease will be conquered at its first appearance. With the current knowledge of leukemia and drug resistance, that’s not always possible.
Scott Lowe, Deputy Director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s NCI-designated cancer center is fighting to change the treatment of leukemias throughout the nation. With a Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society®, he is collaborating with researchers at the University of Minnesota, the University of California-San Francisco and the University of Chicago to try to make leukemia treatments more effective and less toxic to patients.
The cornerstone of the SCOR program—the Society’s largest and most innovative research initiative—is its collaborative structure: every recipient works with a cross-disciplinary team of leading researchers from their own and other universities and medical institutions. The concept behind the program is that leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma treatments and cures will be discovered most quickly in an environment of collaboration and teamwork. Each recipient receives $5 million in funding, distributed over a 5-year period. In the four short years since the program’s launch, SCOR funding has exceeded $67 million.
“We are combining people with common interests, but different expertise, to achieve goals that could not be done alone,” Lowe said. Shared research is a tradition deeply rooted at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a leading cancer research institution for more than 35 years.
Accepting the reality that petri dish research is not going to reveal all the solutions to the cancer program, these researchers are using mouse models to study the problem of chemotherapy resistance among patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a devastating disease with a very low cure rate. Although most children and many adults under age 50 with AML achieve a complete remission after undergoing chemotherapy, a large proportion ultimately relapse. Resistance to chemotherapy is even more common among AML patients over age 60.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of California-San Francisco will create mouse models with AML and send them to Lowe. Lowe will use these models to identify how these tumors become drug-resistant and will test new strategies and compounds aimed at overcoming this resistance. That data will be used by colleagues at the University of Chicago to guide new clinical trials.
“Our goal is to be able to better predict how people respond and how to use the drugs in a more rational way. Ultimately, we hope to overcome the problem of drug resistance and increase the probability that the disease will be treated the first time without the use of the poisons that are being used today,” Lowe said.
Gary Schectmann, Great Neck, NY, is just one leukemia patient who is glad to see Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® team up on this research. He was first diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 1986 and was treated with chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. In 1997—most likely as a result of the bone marrow transplant—he was diagnosed with AML and treated with a stem cell transplant. Today he is living with myloid displastic syndrome, which will more than likely develop into AML again.
Effects from chemotherapy and other forms of treatment have left Schectmann with a slew of every day problems that make life more of a challenge. Over the years, he has met quite a lot of leukemia patients who all had similar stories of reoccurrences and complications and few of them are still around today.
“It’s nice being a long-time survivor and it is also unbelievable knowing Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is doing this research. It gives me hope for the future. Knowing that if, and when, this disease comes back—and I have been told it will come back—there could be something new out there is great because another transplant won’t be an option,” Schectmann said. “It is also exciting for future patients who will not have to endure what I have.”
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
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. The Society’s mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families. Since its founding in 1949, the Society has provided nearly $360 million for research specifically targeting blood cancers. For more information, visit www.LLS.org. The Long Island chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society® serves patients and their families throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties. To reach the Long Island chapter, call 631-752-8500 or visit http://www.LLS.org/li.
Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has shaped contemporary biomedical research and education with programs in cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and quantitative biology. Home to eight Nobel Prize winners, the private, not-for-profit Laboratory employs 1,100 people including 600 scientists, students and technicians. The Meetings & Courses Program annually hosts more than 12,000 scientists. The Laboratory’s education arm also includes an academic publishing house, a graduate school and the DNA Learning Center with programs for middle and high school students and teachers. For more information, visit www.cshl.edu