Leukemia Texas Funds Innovative Research Project
Leukemia Texas, an independent nonprofit based in the Dallas area, has been funding innovative research and financial assistance for leukemia patients statewide for almost a half-century. This year, MD Anderson was its sole research grant recipient, with $100,000 designated to advance the work of Kapil Bhalla, M.D., professor of Leukemia, and co-investigator Courtney DiNardo, M.D., associate professor of Leukemia. Their research project, “Targeted Therapy for AML (acute myeloid leukemia) Expressing Somatic or Germline Mutant RUNX1,” could lead to the first-ever chemotherapy-preventive approach to leukemias with hereditary mutations.
“We’re really honored to receive this grant,” says Bhalla. “There was no known way to have a specific treatment for leukemia that has a RUNX1 mutation. These types of leukemia don’t do well with standard treatment. That was the impetus for us to look for new ways of eliminating these leukemic cells.”
This research could have groundbreaking implications for preventing blood cancer in the future, says DiNardo, who received a $20,000 Leukemia Texas award in 2016.
“We are developing paradigms of RUNX1 that can be moved to other mutations and other gene programs in leukemia and, moving forward, potentially other cancers,” she says. “The data suggests we might have actually found some ways to prevent blood cancers from developing in these patients who have an inherited risk. That can be applied to many other rare inherited cancer predispositions, leukemia and otherwise.”
DiNardo sees patients in the clinic, and Bhalla oversees the laboratory where researchers study bone marrow and blood samples from her patients to assess the effects of newly discovered agents.
“This is an excellent example of how discoveries made at the bench can be translated into the clinic,” says Bhalla. “Alternatively, deficiencies in the clinical setting can be posed as problems to solve in the laboratory. This grant support will help us further probe into the effect of depleting RUNX1 and study how well the agents that we’ve discovered are performing.”
Support for Leukemia Texas’ research and patient aid programs comes from private donations and proceeds from events across the state such as the annual Beat Leukemia Ball, a Beatles-themed event held for the past six years in Fort Worth. The organization takes pride in the fact that all proceeds raised in Texas stay in Texas.
“MD Anderson has a proven track record of conducting innovative research that leads to new and improved methods of treatment for leukemia patients,” says Mandy O’Neill, chief executive officer of Leukemia Texas. “It is essential that we not only work toward a cure for leukemia, but also address key factors that may help identify individuals at risk for developing leukemia. Leukemia Texas is proud to recognize Dr. Bhalla and Dr. DiNardo as our 2019 Research Grant recipients. We are eager to see their results over the next year.”