Wilmot Scientists Share Latest Research at National Conference

December 08, 2009

Scientists at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center who investigate lymphoma and leukemia were among the top presenters at the American Society of Hematology 51st Annual Meeting, Dec. 5-8, 2009, in New Orleans.

Jonathan Friedberg, M.D., delivered an oral presentation on the progress in treating diffuse large B cell lymphoma with a new chemotherapy pill, fostamatinib disodium (FosD). Friedberg is focused on new ways to treat stubborn and/or relapsed lymphomas, by adding investigational drugs to standard therapies. He also spoke to ASH attendees about clinical trials testing a combination of three drugs already in the treatment arsenal: bendamustine, bortzomib and rituximab. Friedberg is chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology of the Department of Medicine and Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Steven Bernstein, M.D., presented evidenceof a possible new drug target for lymphoma, based on triterpenoids, which are bio-synthesized in plants and have been used for centuries for medicinal purposes in Asia. Research shows that a series of new triterpenoid derivatives have potent activity against lymphoma cells, by inactivating a key protein in the mitochondria (Lon protease). This protein is overabundant in lymphoma cell lines and in biopsy specimens, compared to non-cancerous B cells, supporting the idea that it may be a viable target for cancer cell death.

Craig Jordan, Ph.D., an expert in leukemia stem cell research, delivered a talk on the current understanding and future direction of cancer stem cells. Scientific evidence increasingly shows that a certain subpopulation of stem cells might be at the root of cancer and the source from which relapses evolve. Jordan has been developing a new drug compound that, at least in early laboratory results, is successful at destroying leukemia stem cells. The treatment, called parthenolide, is currently being investigated in a Phase I clinical trial in England. Jordan is director of Wilmot’s Translational Research for Hematologic Malignancies.

Two former colleagues from Jordan’s lab, Duane Hassane, Ph.D., and Monica Guzman, Ph.D., now at Cornell Medical School, made presentations based on work they did in Rochester. They showed the activity of chemical derivatives of an anti-leukemia stem cell compound, and a novel way to predict the drugs that will most effectively interact with parthenolide to mediate the death of leukemia cells.

Other Wilmot scientists who presented scientific posters at the ASH conference were: Charles Francis, M.D., on non-identical transfusions; John Ashton, M.S., on genes and pathways in blood malignancies; Christina Wiedl, D.O., on biology and drug sensitivities for childhood acute leukemia; Shan-Shan Pei, on the mechanisms behind Jordan’s investigational leukemia stem cell drug; Fay Young, M.D., on the hypothesis that human lymphomas may arise from a cancer stem cell; and Michael Becker, M.D., on the role of alpha-catenin in normal hematopoietic stem cell function.

“The number Wilmot scientists represented at ASH is pretty remarkable given the smaller size of our faculty,” Friedberg said, “and it aptly demonstrates the breadth of the patient-oriented research being done here.” 

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