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URMC / Research / Research@URMC / December 2015 / Aiming at Cellular ‘Neighborhood’ around Blood Cancer Improves Outcomes

Aiming at Cellular ‘Neighborhood’ around Blood Cancer Improves Outcomes

Wilmot Cancer Institute investigators have shown direct evidence of how changes in the blood-cell manufacturing environment can cause cells to malfunction and turn cancerous. The research, reported in the journal Blood, is believed to be the first of its kind and suggests new options for treating serious blood disorders.

Laura Calvi, M.D.Led by Laura Calvi, M.D., Dean’s Professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester, the team is studying the bone marrow in connection with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), the disease for which Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts was treated. MDS afflicts about 40,000 people annually. No new therapies have been developed for several years, and unless an MDS patient is eligible for a bone marrow transplant, as Roberts was, the disease can progress into acute leukemia.

Calvi’s lab identified some of the complex changes that occur in the blood microenvironment in response to MDS—for example, the expansion of abnormal cells and growth factors linked to cancer. (The microenvironment refers to the diverse group of cells in the neighborhood of bone and blood-producing cells; evidence shows that when this environment is disrupted, the bone marrow cannot produce enough healthy blood cells and begins pumping out cancer cells.)

The study also showed that by restoring the bone marrow microenvironment to health, researchers could reduce malignant MDS cells in mice.  Although more research is needed, Calvi wrote, the findings provide a strong rationale for treating the entire bone marrow microenvironment and not just the cancer cells. This strategy is unique, and Calvi’s team believes it can be useful for identifying new ways to treat several blood cancers.

The National Institutes of Health, as well as a charitable donation from Frank and Barbara Strong, funded the research. Other key Wilmot investigators include Sophia Balderman, Allison Li, Benjamin Frisch, Michael Becker, and Jane Liesveld. 

Leslie Orr | 12/18/2015

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