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Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Grant Supports M. D. Anderson Vaccine Research

M. D. Anderson News Release 10/10/07

Larry Kwak, M.D., Ph.D.

A $6.25-million grant by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society will fund research at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to investigate vaccines that can summon an immune system attack against acute lymphocytic leukemia and multiple myeloma.

One of only three new Marshall A. Lichtman Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grants awarded by the society this year will provide $1.25 million annually for five years to develop therapeutic vaccines and translate them into clinical use. Acute lymphocytic leukemia is a fast-growing blood cancer in which too many immature white blood cells are produced.  In multiple myeloma, abnormal plasma cells multiply rapidly. Both cancers crowd out normal cells.

"We're honored to have earned this Leukemia & Lymphoma Society SCOR grant, which combines M. D. Anderson's expertise in the basic science of immunology and the design of therapeutic vaccines to address these two cancers," says principal investigator Larry Kwak, M.D., Ph.D., chair of M. D. Anderson's Department of Lymphoma and Myeloma and associate director of the Center for Cancer Immunology Research.

Kwak developed a vaccine against non-Hodgkins lymphoma that is in late-stage clinical trials. Two other project leaders are developing vaccines against advanced myelogenous leukemia and melanoma. The Department of Immunology is a leader in understanding the biology of T cells and dendritic cells, vital components of the body's adaptive immune system.

Dendritic cells engulf an invading virus, bacterium or fungus and pass on information that results in creation of T cells customized to destroy the intruder. Cancer cells generally evade the adaptive immune system because they do not appear to be invaders.

The SCOR grant focuses on better targeting dendritic cells against antigens specific to cancer cells to optimize the T cell response, Kwak says. Investigators also will look at suppressing a different type of T cell, called regulatory T cells, that suppress the immune response.

The research program employs mouse models and human preclinical research to design the project's clinical trials. This translational research, moving basic findings into the clinic, is ideal for M. D. Anderson's Center for Cancer Immunology Research, Kwak notes.

The CCIR, founded in 2003, was the first comprehensive program in the United States to bring basic science and clinical immunologists together in open laboratory environments to develop immunological treatments for cancer.

CCIR Director Yong-Jun Liu, M.D., Ph.D., chair of M. D. Anderson's Department of Immunology, and Chen Dong, Ph.D., associate professor of immunology, are project leaders in preclinical research on the SCOR grant.

Kwak and Richard Champlin, M.D., chair of M. D. Anderson's Department of Stem Cell Transplantation, are co-leaders of the myeloma clinical trial. Jeffrey Molldrem, M.D., professor of stem cell transplantation, is project leader of the acute lymphocytic leukemia clinical trial on the grant.

Kwak and Champlin lead the SCOR's administrative core.

Patrick Hwu, M.D., chair of M. D. Anderson's Department of Melanoma, and Laszlo Radvanyi, Ph.D., associate professor of melanoma, lead the immune monitoring core.

Elizabeth Shpall, M.D., and John McMannis, Ph.D., both professors of stem cell transplantation, lead the good manufacturing cell therapy laboratory and reagent core.

Eric Weider, Ph.D., assistant professor of stem cell transplantation research, leads the fluorescence-activated cell sorting core.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's innovative SCOR program brings together teams of researchers representing different disciplines in a collaborative effort to discover new approaches to treat patients with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Awards go to those groups that best demonstrate outstanding scientific promise facilitated by the synergy that will occur from their combined efforts. The society has awarded $172 million in SCOR grants since the program began in 2000. 10/10/07


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