UIC receives $20 million NCI grant to research blood disorders

A $19.6 million National Cancer Institute grant has been awarded to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine to advance basic and clinical research for incurable blood disorders.

It is the largest grant in UIC history.

Dr. Ronald Hoffman, Eileen Heidrick Professor of Oncology at UIC and principal investigator of the project, will lead an international team of scientists and physicians from 15 institutions in the United States, Canada, Italy and Germany to establish the Myeloproliferative Disorders Research Consortium.

"This is an important collaboration among more than 20 investigators who will share their expertise to study the cellular and genetic basis for specific myeloproliferative disorders," said Hoffman. "The goal is to develop novel clinical treatment programs and to identify specific biomarkers that will be useful indicators of response to therapy and risk reduction in patients."

The consortium will focus on two myeloproliferative disorders, polycythemia vera and idiopathic myelofibrosis. These disorders occur when certain types of blood cells are overproduced by the body, often leading to bone marrow failure.

The grant will fund six primary research projects and will allow the consortium to maintain an interactive Web site for investigators, an international tissue bank, and an online database to aid researchers in understanding the clinical differences among patients with myeloproliferative disorders.

Three of the research projects will deal with the cellular and molecular biology of polycythemia vera. Two of the research projects will address abnormal stem cell trafficking in myelofibrosis. A sixth project will embark upon clinical trials for each of the disorders.

Myeloproliferative disorders include chronic myeloid leukemia, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia and idiopathic myelofibrosis. While much is known about chronic myeloid leukemia, the other disorders are among the least understood malignant blood disorders and the most understudied, Hoffman said.

Until now, medical advances for these disorders have been limited because the small numbers of patients at any single institution prevent the conduct of rapid clinical trials and only a handful of basic and clinical researchers worldwide specialize in these uncommon blood disorders.

The prevalence of polycythemia vera and idiopathic myelofibrosis in the United States is unknown, but recent estimates from other countries indicate the combined annual incidence to be approximately 3 per 100,000.

Polycythemia vera is characterized by the production of too many red blood cells. In some patients, large amounts of white blood cells and platelets can also occur. The disorder can lead to the formation of blood clots, heart attack and stroke.

Idiopathic myelofibrosis occurs when abnormal blood stem cells in bone marrow cause too few red cells, and usually too many white cells and platelets, to be made. Fibrosis or scarring in the bone marrow may occur, and the disorder often causes an enlarged spleen and anemia. The only current therapy for the potentially fatal disorder is stem cell transplantation from a donor.

Recently, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller died from complications of a myeloproliferative disorder following two failed bone marrow transplants.

The Myeloproliferative Disorders Research Consortium comprises clinicians and researchers from UIC; University of Utah, Salt Lake City; Consorzio Mari Negri Sud, Santa Maria Imbaro, Italy; Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.; Istituto Superiore di Sanita, Rome; IRCCS Policlinico S. Matteo, Pavia, Italy; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore; McGill University, Montreal; MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston; Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York; New York University School of Medicine, New York; New York Blood Center, New York; Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York; Ospedali Riuniti de Bergamo, Bergamo, Italy; and University Hospital, Freiburg, Germany.

UIC ranks among the nation's top 50 universities in federal research funding and is Chicago's largest university with 25,000 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state's major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners in hundreds of programs to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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