Rutgers researcher receives $100,000 grant to explore T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia

A one-year, $100,000 grant awarded to Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey resident researcher Daniel Herranz Benito, PhD, will support exploration into an aggressive blood cancer that impacts both children and adults – T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL). The New Investigator Award from the Leukemia Research Foundation (LRF) is one of 12 awarded nationwide by the entity this year to researchers who are in the early stages of their careers.

Cure rates for T-ALL in recent years have increased due to novel advances in treatments; however, up to half of patients have disease recurrence (Hunger, Mullighan; New England Journal of Medicine, October 2015). In these relapsed cases, therapeutic options are scarce, leading to high mortality rates in these patients.

T-ALL is caused mainly by the activation of mutations in a gene called NOTCH1. Previous research in this area by Dr. Herranz Benito suggests that inhibition of NOTCH1 has drastic metabolic consequences in leukemic cells, and identified a particular metabolic enzyme (PKM2) as a potentially attractive therapeutic target. In this new project, Herranz Benito will further examine the role of PKM2 in T-ALL and address the therapeutic effects of inhibiting PKM2 using advanced mouse models of leukemia and human T-ALL cells, as well as state-of-the-art molecular biology techniques. The aim is to discover novel therapeutic targets to more effectively treat T-ALL patients whose disease has recurred.

"T-ALL can be devastating. Even if most patients are cured, 20 to 50 percent relapse and eventually succumb to their disease. I am grateful to the Leukemia Research Foundation for recognizing the importance of this work, so that we have an opportunity to translate this research into novel therapeutic strategies for this patient population," notes Herranz Benito, who is a member of the Cancer Pharmacology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute and an assistant professor of pharmacology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

"Providing grants to new investigators is critically important because federal funding for blood cancer research has dropped by 25 percent in the last several years," said LRF Executive Director Kevin Radelet. "We're in the midst of losing an entire generation of cancer researchers because new investigators with fresh, groundbreaking ideas can't get the funding they need to develop the data required for greater funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Grants from the Leukemia Research Foundation not only advance blood cancer science but also jumpstart careers for these scientists."



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