Blood Cancer

Coding Dimension ID: 
287
Coding Dimension path name: 
Cancer / Blood

Dual targeting of tyrosine kinase and BCL6 signaling for leukemia stem cell eradication

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01816-B
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 607 305
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Collaborative Funder: 
Germany
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells. In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an “proliferation phase” and a “quiescence phase”. The “proliferation phase” is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in “quiescence phase” divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia. We discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings demonstrate that the "quiescence phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "quiescence phase". In this proposal, we test a novel therapeutic concept eradicate leukemia stem cells: We propose that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases (“proliferation”) and BCL6 (“quiescence”) represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Leukemia represents the most frequent malignancy in children and teenagers and is common in adults as well. Over the past four decades, the development of therapeutic options has greatly improved the prognosis of patients with leukemia reaching 5 year disease-free survival rates of ~70% for children and ~45% for adults. Despite its relatively favorable overall prognosis, leukemia remains one of the leading causes of person-years of life lost in the US (362,000 years in 2006; National Center of Health Statistics), which is attributed to the high incidence of leukemia in children. In 2008, the California Cancer Registry expected 3,655 patients with newly diagnosed leukemia and at total of 2,185 death resulting from fatal leukemia. In addition, ~23,300 Californians lived with leukemia in 2008, which highlights that leukemia remains a frequent and life-threatening disease in the State of California despite substantial clinical progress. Here we propose the development of a fundamentally novel treatment approach for leukemia that is directed at leukemia stem cells. While current treatment approaches effectively diminish the bulk of proliferating leukemia cells, they fail to eradicate the rare leukemia stem cells, which give rise to drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. We propose a dual targeting approach which combines targeted therapy of the leukemia-causing oncogene and the newly discovered leukemia stem cell survival factor BCL6. The power of this new therapy approach will be tested in clinical trials to be started in the State of California.
Progress Report: 
  • During the past reporting period (months 18-24 of this grant), we have made progress towards all three milestones. Major progress in Milestone 1 was made by identifying 391 compounds in 10 lead classes that will be developed further in a secondary fragment-based screen. While the goal of identifying lead class compounds with BCL6 inhibitory activity has already been met, we propose to run a secondary, fragment-based screen to refine the existing lead compounds and prioritize a small number for cell-based validation in Milestone 2. The success in Milestone 1 was based on computational modeling, HTS of 200,000 compounds and Fragment-based drug discovery (FBDD).
  • For Milestone 2, we have successfully established POC analysis tools for validation of the ability of compounds to bind the BCL6 lateral groove and already produced 300 mg of BCL6-BTB domain protein needed for biochemical binding assays. Progress in Milestone 2 is based on surface plasmon resonance (SPR) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) assays. In the coming months, we will use crystallographic fragment screening using a subset of our fragment library in addition to SPR and NMR, since crystallographic fragment screens have been shown to yield complimentary hits. For Milestone 3, we have now set up a reliable method to measure disease-modifying activity of BCL6-inhibitory compounds based on a newly generated knockin BCL6 reporter mouse model, in which transcriptional activation of the endogenous BCL6 promoter drives expression of mCherry. This addresses a main caveat of these measurements was that they were strongly influenced by the copy number of lentivector integrations. The BCL6fl/+-mCherry knockin BCL6 reporter system will provide a stable platform to study BCL6-expressing leukemia cells and effects of BCL6 small molecule inhibitors on survival and proliferation on BCL6-dependent leukemia cell populations. This will be a key requirement to measure disease-modifying activity of inhibitory compounds in large-scale assays in Milestone 3. Other requirements (e.g. leukemia xenografts) are already in place. 
  • During the past two years of this grant, we have generated compounds that have the ability to block the function of BCL6. In previous work, we had identified BCL6 as a key requirement for persistence of leukemia stem cells, which are the root cause of leukemia relapse and drug-resistance in patients. Over the past six months, we have focused on validating the new compounds based on functional tests that allow us to measure the depth and durability of BCL6 blockade in cell-based assay. To this end, we designed a large-scale petri-dish system in which we measured the efficacy of 11 lead compounds and their derivatives to abrogate the ability of leukemia cells to form colonies, a capability that reflects the activity of leukemia stem cells. This assay allowed us to prioritize 4 compounds for further testing. In parallel, we developed a biological assay to verify that the compounds are actually hitting their target, i.e. BCL6, by measuring the activity of genes that are typically regualted by BCL6. These genes include tumor suppressors like p53 and Arf and we measured the ability of our compounds to re-instate p53 and Arf expression. We found that p53 and Arf were reinstated only by 2 of our 4 lead candidates, so current trouble-shooting efforts will attempt to clarify why this is the case and whether we can modify these two compounds to improve their on-target efficacy. The other two compounds will move forward in the next derivative screen, in which we perform a fragment-based, screen, i.e. test multiple derivative based on addition and removal of small structural changes (fragments). Other caveats to address in the next year will be stability (half-life) of the lead compounds, bioavailability (how much and how long the compound will be available in the blood stream) and toxicity (how much of the compound will be tolerated by mice, is there indication of damage to tissues upon long-term treatment?).The goal of these studies will be to make a strong case for IND-enabling studies, i.e. to enter a formal, government-regulated process to convert the strongest of our compound into an FDA-approved drug for potential clinical testing in patients with drug-refractory AML and ALL.

Clinical Investigation of a Humanized Anti-CD47 Antibody in Targeting Cancer Stem Cells in Hematologic Malignancies and Solid Tumors

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Development III
Grant Number: 
DR3-06965
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$12 726 396
Disease Focus: 
Cancer
Solid Tumor
Blood Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Most normal tissues are maintained by a small number of stem cells that can both self-renew to maintain stem cell numbers, and also give rise to progenitors that make mature cells. We have shown that normal stem cells can accumulate mutations that cause progenitors to self-renew out of control, forming cancer stem cells (CSC). CSC make tumors composed of cancer cells, which are more sensitive to cancer drugs and radiation than the CSC. As a result, some CSC survive therapy, and grow and spread. We sought to find therapies that include all CSC as targets. We found that all cancers and their CSC protect themselves by expressing a ‘don’t eat me’ signal, called CD47, that prevents the innate immune system macrophages from eating and killing them. We have developed a novel therapy (anti-CD47 blocking antibody) that enables macrophages to eliminate both the CSC and the tumors they produce. This anti-CD47 antibody eliminates human cancer stem cells when patient cancers are grown in mice. At the time of funding of this proposal, we will have fulfilled FDA requirements to take this antibody into clinical trials, showing in animal models that the antibody is safe and well-tolerated, and that we can manufacture it to FDA specifications for administration to humans. Here, we propose the initial clinical investigation of the anti-CD47 antibody with parallel first-in-human Phase 1 clinical trials in patients with either Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) or separately a diversity of solid tumors, who are no longer candidates for conventional therapies or for whom there are no further standard therapies. The primary objectives of our Phase I clinical trials are to assess the safety and tolerability of anti-CD47 antibody. The trials are designed to determine the maximum tolerated dose and optimal dosing regimen of anti-CD47 antibody given to up to 42 patients with AML and up to 70 patients with solid tumors. While patients will be clinically evaluated for halting of disease progression, such clinical responses are rare in Phase I trials due to the advanced illness and small numbers of patients, and because it is not known how to optimally administer the antibody. Subsequent progression to Phase II clinical trials will involve administration of an optimal dosing regimen to larger numbers of patients. These Phase II trials will be critical for evaluating the ability of anti-CD47 antibody to either delay disease progression or cause clinical responses, including complete remission. In addition to its use as a stand-alone therapy, anti-CD47 antibody has shown promise in preclinical cancer models in combination with approved anti-cancer therapeutics to dramatically eradicate disease. Thus, our future clinical plans include testing anti-CD47 antibody in Phase IB studies with currently approved cancer therapeutics that produce partial responses. Ultimately, we hope anti-CD47 antibody therapy will provide durable clinical responses in the absence of significant toxicity.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Cancer is a leading cause of death in the US accounting for approximately 30% of all mortalities. For the most part, the relative distribution of cancer types in California resembles that of the entire country. Current treatments for cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, biological therapy, hormone therapy, or a combination of these interventions ("multimodal therapy"). These treatments target rapidly dividing cells, carcinogenic mutations, and/or tumor-specific proteins. A recent NIH report indicated that among adults, the combined 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers is approximately 68%. While this represents an improvement over the last decade or two, cancer causes significant morbidity and mortality to the general population as a whole. New insights into the biology of cancer have provided a potential explanation for the challenge of treating cancer. An increasing number of scientific studies suggest that cancer is initiated and maintained by a small number of cancer stem cells that are relatively resistant to current treatment approaches. Cancer stem cells have the unique properties of continuous propagation, and the ability to give rise to all cell types found in that particular cancer. Such cells are proposed to persist in tumors as a distinct population, and because of their increased ability to survive existing anti-cancer therapies, they regenerate the tumor and cause relapse and metastasis. Cancer stem cells and their progeny produce a cell surface ‘invisibility cloak’ called CD47, a ‘don’t eat me signal’ for cells of the native immune system to counterbalance ‘eat me’ signals which appear during cancer development. Our anti-CD47 antibody counters the ‘cloak’, enabling the patient’s natural immune system to eliminate the cancer stem cells and cancer cells. Our preclinical data provide compelling support that anti-CD47 antibody might be a treatment strategy for many different cancer types, including breast, bladder, colon, ovarian, glioblastoma, leiomyosarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma, multiple myeloma, lymphoma, and acute myelogenous leukemia. Development of specific therapies that target all cancer stem cells is necessary to achieve improved outcomes, especially for sufferers of metastatic disease. We hope our clinical trials proposed in this grant will indicate that anti-CD47 antibody is a safe and highly effective anti-ancer therapy that offers patients in California and throughout the world the possibility of increased survival and even complete cure.

Therapeutic Eradication of Cancer Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Therapy Development III
Grant Number: 
DR3-06924
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$4 179 600
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Cancer is a leading cause of death in California. Research has found that many cancers can spread throughout the body and resist current anti-cancer therapies because of cancer stem cells, or CSC. CSC can be considered the seeds of cancer; they can resist being killed by anti-cancer drugs and can lay dormant, sometimes for long periods, before growing into active cancers at the original tumor site, or at distant sites throughout the body. Required are therapies that can kill CSC while not harming normal stem cells, which are needed for making blood and other cells that must be replenished. We have discovered a protein on the surface of CSC that is not present on normal cells of healthy adults. This protein, called ROR1, ordinarily is found only on cells during early development in the embryo. CSC have co-opted the use of ROR1 to promote their survival, proliferation, and spread throughout the body. We have developed a monoclonal antibody that is specific for ROR1 and that can inhibit these functions, which are vital for CSC. Because this antibody does not bind to normal cells, it can serve as the “magic bullet” to deliver a specific hit to CSC. We will conduct clinical trials with the antibody, first in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia to define the safety and best dose to use. Then we plan to conduct clinical trials involving patients with other types of cancer. To prepare for such clinical trials, we will use our state-of-the-art model systems to investigate the best way to eradicate CSC of other intractable leukemias and solid tumors. Finally, we will investigate the potential for using this antibody to deliver toxins selectively to CSC. This selective delivery could be very active in killing CSC without harming normal cells in the body because they lack expression of ROR1. With this antibody we can develop curative stem-cell-directed therapy for patients with any one of many different types of currently intractable cancers.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The proposal aims to develop a novel anti-cancer-stem-cell (CSC) targeted therapy for patients with intractable malignancies. This therapy involves use of a fully humanized monoclonal antibody specific for a newly identified, CSC antigen called ROR1. This antibody was developed under the auspices of a CIRM disease team I award and is being readied for phase I clinical testing involving patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Our research has revealed that the antibody specifically reacts with CSC of other leukemias and many solid-tumor cancers, but does not bind to normal adult tissues. Moreover, it has functional activity in blocking the growth and survival of CSC, making it ideal for directing therapy intended to eradicate CSC of many different cancer types, without affecting normal adult stem cells or other normal tissues. As such, treatment could avoid the devastating physical and financial adverse effects associated with many standard anti-cancer therapies. Also, because this therapy attacks the CSC, it might prove to be a curative treatment for California patients with any one of a variety different types of currently intractable cancers. Beyond the significant benefit to the patients and families that are dealing with cancer, this project will also strengthen the position of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine as a leader in cancer stem cell biology, and will deliver intellectual property to the state of California that may then be licensed to pharmaceutical companies. In summary, the benefits to the citizens of California from the CIRM disease team 3 grant are: (1) Direct benefit to the thousands of patients with cancer (2) Financial savings through definitive treatment that obviates costly maintenance or salvage therapies for patients with intractable cancers (3) Potential for an anti-cancer therapy with a high therapeutic index (4) Intellectual property of a broadly active uniquely targeted anti-CSC therapeutic agent.

Forming the Hematopoietic Niche from Human Pluripotent Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology III
Grant Number: 
RB3-05217
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 375 983
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop. To approach this question we will use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation. Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells. The findings from these studies will have broad applicability to the production of other types of tissues from pluripotent stem cells, all of which have stem cells that require interaction with a specialized niche. In addition to the biological questions explored in this proposal, our focus on the blood system has direct clinical relevance to the field of bone marrow and cord blood transplantation. The development of a human hematopoietic niche from pluripotent stem cells could potentially be used to expand hematopoietic stem cells from adult tissues like cord blood. Most importantly, the ability to control differentiation from pluripotent stem cells into the blood lineage could provide an unlimited source of matched cells for transplantation for patients with leukemia and other diseases of the bone marrow and the immune system who currently lack suitable donors.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The unique combination of pluripotentiality and unlimited capacity for proliferation has raised the hope that pluripotent stem cells will one day provide an inexhaustible source of tissue for transplantation and regeneration. Diseases that might be treated from such tissues affect millions of Californians and their families. However, much is still to be learned about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and better controlled than is currently the case. The research proposed in this application has broad potential benefits for Californians both through the biological questions it will answer and the relevance of these studies for clinical translation. Our goal is to understand the way the microenvironment influences tissue production from pluripotent stem cells, a critical issue for the field of stem cell biology. Specifically we will explore the question- Do the cell types produced during differentiation of pluripotent stem cells produce an adequate microenvironment for the differentiation of tissue or are some cells inhibitory to tissue production? Our approach to these questions will be to use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to study these questions rigorously. However, the fundamental concepts formed from these studies will have great relevance for the clinical production of other types of tissues from pluripotent stem cells, such as islets, neural cells and cardiac muscle. In addition to the broad biological questions explored in this proposal, our focus on the blood system has direct clinical relevance to the field of bone marrow and cord blood transplantation. One goal in the proposal is to generate a cellular platform from pluripotent stem cells that will create an environment in which adult blood stem cells can grow and be expanded. Cell numbers collected from cord blood at birth are often insufficient for transplantation in adult patients and older children. The development of a human cell culture system that could expand the number of cord blood stem cells would provide new opportunities for transplantation for patients with leukemia and other diseases of the bone marrow and the immune system who currently lack suitable donors. All scientific findings and technical tools developed in this proposal will be made available to researchers throughout California, under the guidelines from the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.
Progress Report: 
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the first year of support, we have made significant progress in the first two specific aims. We have developed a method that allows us to track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment. We also have identified subsets of cells generated from pluripotent cells that have distinct functions in blood formation. Our plan during the next year is to fully characterize these subsets to understand how they function, and to improve our methods to expand them in culture.
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the second year of support, we have made significant progress in all three specific aims. We continue to refine our method that allows us to track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment during development. We have identified subsets of cells generated from pluripotent cells that can support cord blood HSC and now we are determining the mechanisms by which these cells act and how they can be best used to support HSC that develop from PSC.
  • The clinical potential of pluripotent stem cells for use in regenerative medicine will be realized only when the process by which tissues are generated from these cells is significantly more efficient and controlled than is currently the case. Fundamental questions remain about the mechanisms by which pluripotent stem cells differentiate into mature tissue. The overall goal of this research proposal is to discover if the cell types produced during differentiation of PSC produce the microenvironment needed for specialized tissue stem cells to develop.
  • To approach this question we use the hematopoietic (“blood-forming”) system as our model, as it is the best characterized tissue in terms of differentiation pathways and offers a range of unique technical tools with which to rigorously study questions of differentiation. Adult hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) survive and grow in the bone marrow only if they are physically close to specialized cell types, the so-called hematopoietic stem cell “niche”. We hypothesize that hematopoietic stem cells are not produced from pluripotent cells because the cells that form the niche and provide the necessary signals are not present during this early stage of differentiation.
  • Our research proposal has three specific aims. The first aim is to determine if a single cell type derived from pluripotent cells can generate both blood cells and the cells of the hematopoietic niche. The second aim is to identify the types of niche cells produced from pluripotent cells and define how each of them affect the growth of adult stem cells. In the third aim, the cell types that are found in aim 2 to best support adult hematopoiesis, will then be tested for their ability to promote the production of hematopoietic stem cells from pluripotent stem cells.
  • During the third year of support, we have made significant progress in all three specific aims. We have now completed our studies that track the common origin of the blood forming cells and their microenvironment. We have performed functional studies to identify which of the cell types that we generate from pluripotent cells support HSC when grown in culture, and which do not. Finally we have performed gene expression analyses on these different cell types to understand the molecular pathways that they use to support HSC in culture.

Combinatorial Chemistry Approaches to Develop LIgands against Leukemia Stem Cells

Funding Type: 
New Faculty I
Grant Number: 
RN1-00561
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 392 397
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Various cells and organs in the human body originate from a small group of primitive cells called stem cells. Human cancer cells were also recently found to arise from a group of special stem cells, called cancer stem cells (CSCs). At present, cancer that has spread throughout the body (metastasized) is difficult to treat, and survival rates are low. One major reason for therapeutic failure is that CSCs are relatively resistant to current cancer treatments. Although most mature cancer cells are killed by treatment, resistant CSCs will survive to regenerate additional cancer cells and cause a recurrence of cancer. As opposed to other human stem cells, CSCs have their own unique molecules on their cell surface. This project aims to develop agents that specifically target the unique cell surface molecules of CSCs. These agents will have the potential to eradicate cancer from the very root, i.e., from the stem cells (CSCs) that produce mature cancer cells. In this project, we will develop agents that specifically target leukemia stem cells to determine the feasibility of our approach. Leukemia is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in males and the fifth in females. If our approach is successful, we can use the same approach for other cancer types. To develop these specific agents, we will screen a library of billions of molecules to identify those that specifically target the unique cell surface molecules of leukemia stem cells (LSCs). After we identify these specific molecules, we will optimize their structure to increase their specific binding to LSCs. Specific binding to LSCs is crucial, as the optimized molecules will be able to uniquely kill LSCs and spare normal blood cells. Many leukemia patients need stem cell transplantation during treatment. There are two approaches to harvesting stem cells for transplantation: those harvested from patients themselves and those harvested from healthy donors. Stem cells harvested from healthy donors need to genetically match patients’ cells. Otherwise, these transplanted cells from the donor recognize the recipient’s (host or patient) cells as non-self cells and attack these cells. This response leads to a serious disease called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). It is often difficult to find matched donors. Stem cells harvested from patients are usually not used for the treatment of acute leukemia because they are contaminated with LSCs that will lead to recurrence of leukemia after transplantation. If this project is successful, the targeting agents developed in this project can be used to eliminate the contaminating LSCs and decrease the leukemia recurrence after transplantation.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Acute leukemia is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in males and females in California. The outcome for acute leukemia is poor and over 70% of patients will die from this disease. This project aims to develop therapeutic agents that specifically target leukemia stem cells and therefore eradicate leukemia from its root. These agents can also be used for stem cell transplantation. Many leukemia patients need stem cell transplantation during treatment. There are two approaches to harvesting stem cells for transplantation: those harvested from patients themselves and those harvested from healthy donors. Stem cells harvested from healthy donors need to genetically match patients’ cells. Otherwise, these transplanted cells from the donor recognize the recipient’s (host or patient) cells as non-self cells and attack these cells. This response leads to a serious disease called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). It is often difficult to find matched donors. This is especially true in California because of the genetically diversified population. Stem cells harvested from patients are usually not used because they are contaminated with leukemia stem cells that will lead to recurrence of leukemia after transplantation. If this project is successful, the targeting agents developed in this project can be used to eliminate the contaminated leukemia cells and decrease the likelihood of leukemia recurrence after transplantation. The ligands developed in this project can be used for targeted therapy for leukemia. Since no such ligands have been identified so far that specifically target leukemia stem cells, these ligands can be patented and eventually commercialized. This may have huge financial benefits to California. If this project is successful, the same approach can be used to treat other cancers and for the development of more commercialized drugs. If this grant is funded, it will secure my career as a physician-scientist in stem cell and cancer research. The physician-scientist is a diminishing breed in that it is difficult for physicians to do research while meeting the huge demands of the clinic. However, there is a huge gap between basic research and clinical applications. This gap is in part traced to the fact that it is difficult to find researchers who know and can integrate clinical needs with basic research. I consider myself a promising physician-scientist who has received extensive, rigorous and systematic training in medical science and basic research ([REDACTED]). If this grant is funded, I will not only carry out this important research, but this will also give me protected time for this research.
Progress Report: 
  • Human cancer cells were recently found to arise from a group of special stem cells, called cancer stem cells (CSCs). At present, cancer that has spread throughout the body (metastasized) is difficult to treat, and survival rates are low. One major reason for therapeutic failure is that CSCs are relatively resistant to current cancer treatments. Although most cancer cells are killed by treatment, resistant CSCs will survive to regenerate additional cancer cells and cause a recurrence of cancer. As opposed to other human stem cells, CSCs may have some unique molecules that can be targeted for cancer treatment. This project is to use such technologies as our patented one-bead one-compound technology (OBOC) to develop small molecules that can specifically target cancer stem cells. With OBOC, trillions copies of small molecules are synthesized in tiny beads around 90 microns. During development, millions of molecules can be screened against cancer stem cells with hours to days. So far, we have identified six molecules that target CSC. Currently, we are optimizing these molecules to increase their efficiency of these molecules on CSC. Once fully developed, these molecules will have the potential to eradicate cancer from the very root, i.e., from the stem cells (CSCs) that produce mature cancer cells.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia is a group of serious blood malignant diseases. The treatment outcome is poor, in large part, to the fact that a small group of cells named leukemia stem cells can survive treatment, regenerate more leukemic cells and cause recurrence. This project aims to improve the treatment outcomes of acute leukemia by eradicating leukemia stem cells. During the previous two years, we identified several small molecules that can specifically bind to leukemia stem cells. Over the last one year, we determined that one of these small molecules has the potential to work like a “smart missile” to guide the delivery of chemotherapeutic drugs to leukemia stem cells. More specifically, we linked this small molecule on the surface of nanoparticles that are small particles with the size of about 1/100th of one micron (much smaller than the width of a human hair). Inside of these nanoparticles, we can load chemotherapeutic drugs. We found that our small molecules can specifically attach the nanoparticles to leukemia stem cells, and deliver the drug load to the inside of the cells. Therefore, these “smart” nanoparticles can potentially target leukemia stem cells, and eradicate leukemia from the very root. Furthermore, chemotherapeutic drugs formulated in these nanoparticles are less toxic, suggesting that high-dose chemotherapeutic drugs can be given to patients to treat leukemia without increasing the horrendous toxicity associated with regular chemotherapy.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia is a group of serious blood malignant diseases. The treatment outcome is poor, in large part, due to the fact that a small group of cells named leukemia stem cells can survive treatment, regenerate more leukemic cells and cause recurrence. This project aims to improve the treatment outcomes of acute leukemia by eradicating leukemia stem cells. We identified one molecule that can specifically bind to leukemia stem cells. We also developed nanoparticles that are small particles with the size of about 1/100th of one micron (much smaller than the width of a human hair). Inside of these nanoparticles, we can load chemotherapeutic drugs, such as daunorubicin that is one of the two drugs used for the upfront treatment of acute leukemia. When we attached the stem cell-targeting molecules on the surface of nanoparticles, these nanoparticles work like “small missiles” that can seek and delivery daunorubicin into leukemia stem cells. We have shown that these “smart” nanoparticle can delivery chemotherapeutic drug daunorubicin to leukemia cells directly isolated from clinical patient specimens, and kills these cells more efficient that the regular nanoparticles. Therefore, these “smart” nanoparticles can potentially target leukemia stem cells, and eradicate leukemia from the very root. Furthermore, chemotherapeutic drugs formulated in these nanoparticles are less toxic, suggesting that high-dose chemotherapeutic drugs can be given to patients to treat leukemia without increasing the horrendous toxicity associated with regular chemotherapy.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common acute leukemia in adults and a very serious disease. Most AML cells arise from a group of special stem cells, named leukemia stem cells (LSCs). One major reason for treatment failure is that LSCs are relatively resistant to current treatments. Although most leukemia cells are killed by treatment, resistant LSCs will survive to regenerate additional leukemia cells and cause a recurrence of leukemia. Recently, we have developed a small molecule that can recognize and bind to AML LSCs. We have also developed tiny particles named nanomicelles. These nanomicelles have a size of about 1-2/100th of one micron (one millionth of a meter), and can be loaded with chemotherapy drug called daunorubicin that can kill LSCs. In this project, we will coat the drug-loaded nanomicelles with small molecules that specifically bind and kill LSCs. In patient’s body, these drug-loaded nanomicelles will work like “smart bombs”, and deliver a high concentration of daunorubicin to kill LSCs. Over the last one year, we found that these LSC-targeting nanomicelles could target and kill LSC more efficiently that free daunorubicin or nanomicelles that do not target LSC. We also found that, compared to free daunorubicin commonly used in the treatment of AML now, daunorubicin in nanomicelles could raise the blood daunorubicin concentration by more than 20 times. This is clinically significant as leukemia cells and LSC are located inside blood vessels and bone, and have direct contact with blood. Therefore, increase in blood daunorubicin concentration may represent more efficiency in killing leukemia and LSC.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is the most common acute leukemia in adults and a very serious disease. Most AML cells arise from a group of special stem cells, named leukemia stem cells (LSCs). One major reason for treatment failure is that LSCs are relatively resistant to current treatments. Although most leukemia cells are killed by treatment, resistant LSCs will survive to regenerate additional leukemia cells and cause a recurrence of leukemia. Recently, we have developed a small molecule that can recognize and bind to AML LSCs. We have also developed tiny particles named nanomicelles. These nanomicelles have a size of about 1-2/100th of one micron (one millionth of a meter), and can be loaded with chemotherapy drug called daunorubicin that can kill LSCs. In this project, we will coat the drug-loaded nanomicelles with small molecules that specifically bind and kill LSCs. In patient’s body, these drug-loaded nanomicelles will work like “smart bombs”, and deliver a high concentration of daunorubicin to kill LSCs. Over the last one year, we found that daunorubicin-loaded nanomicelles could significantly increase the blood daunorubicin concentration by 20-35 times after intravenous administration. This is clinically significant as leukemia cells and leukemia stem cells are mainly located inside blood vessels. Therefore, increase in blood daunorubicin concentration by nanomicelles means leukemia and leukemia stem cells are exposed to 20-35 times more daunorubicin than regular chemotherapy. one of the major toxicity of daunorubicin is toxicity to the heart. As acute myeloid leukemia usually occurs in elderly patients, many of them already have heart diseases that prevent them from receiving the most effective chemotherapeutic drug daunorubicin. We found that, when compared to the standard daunorubicin, daunorubicin in nanomicelle has 3-5 folds less toxicity to the heart. In addition, the toxicity to other vital organs, such as liver and spleen, is significantly decreased. Compared to the standard daunorubicin, daunorubicin in nanomicelles dramatically increases the drug efficacy in killing cancer cells and prolonging the survival in animal models.

Human endothelial reprogramming for hematopoietic stem cell therapy.

Funding Type: 
New Faculty Physician Scientist
Grant Number: 
RN3-06479
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 084 000
Disease Focus: 
Blood Disorders
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Directly Reprogrammed Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The current roadblocks to hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) therapies include the rarity of matched donors for bone marrow transplant, engraftment failures, common shortages of donated blood, and the inability to expand HSCs ex vivo in large numbers. These major obstacles would cease to exist if an extensive, bankable, inexhaustible, and patient-matched supply of blood were available. The recent validation of hemogenic endothelium (blood vessel cells lining the vessel wall give rise to blood stem cells) has introduced new possibilities in hematopoietic stem cell therapy. As the phenomenon of hemogenic endothelium only occurs during embryonic development, we aim to understand the requirements for the process and to re-engineer mature human endothelium (blood vessels) into once again producing blood stem cells (HSCs). The approach of re-engineering tissue specific de-differentiation will accelerate the pace of discovery and translation to human disease. Engineering endothelium into large-scale hematopoietic factories can provide substantial numbers of pure hematopoietic stem cells for clinical use. Higher numbers of cells, and the ability to grow cells from matched donors (or the patients themselves) will increase engraftment and decrease rejection of bone marrow transplantation. In addition, the ability to program mature lineage restricted cells into more primitive versions of the same cell lineage will capitalize on cell renewal properties while minimizing malignancy risk.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Bone marrow transplantation saves the lives of millions with leukemia and other diseases including genetic or immunologic blood disorders. California has over 15 centers serving the population for bone marrow transplantation. While bone marrow transplantation can be seen as a standard to which all stem cell therapies should aspire, there still remains the difficulty of finding matched donors, complications such as graft versus host disease, and the recurrence of malignancy. While cord blood has provided another donor source of stem cells and improved engraftment, it still requires pooling from multiple donors for sufficient cell numbers to be transplanted, which may increase transplant risk. By understanding how to reprogram blood vessels (such as those in the umbilical cord) for production of blood stem cells (as it once did during human development), it could eventually be possible to bank umbilical cord vessels to provide a patient matched reproducible supply of pure blood stem cells for the entire life of the patient. Higher numbers of cells, and the ability to grow cells from matched donors (or the patients themselves) will increase engraftment and decrease rejection of bone marrow transplantation. In addition, the proposed work will introduce a new approach to engineering human cells. The ability to turn back the clock to near mature cell specific stages without going all the way back to early embryonic stem cell stages will reduce the risk of malignancy.
Progress Report: 
  • We aim to understand how blood stem cells develop from blood vessels during development. We are also interested in learning whether the blood-making program can be turned back on in blood vessel cells for blood production outside the human body. During the past year we have been able to extract and culture blood vessel cells that once had blood making capacity. We have also started experiments that will help uncover the regulation of the blood making program. In addition, we have developed tools to help the process of understanding whether iPS technology can "turn back time" in mature blood vessels and turn on the blood making program.

Prostaglandin pathway regulation of self-renwal in hematopoietic and leukemia stem cells

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology IV
Grant Number: 
RB4-06036
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 244 455
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. They are serious causes of illness and death, and are particularly devastating in children and the elderly. Despite substantial advances in treatment of leukemia, a significant proportion of cases are unresponsive to current therapy. Since more aggressive chemotherapy regimens provide only marginal improvements in therapeutic efficacy, we have reached a point of diminishing returns using currently available drugs. Thus, there is an urgent need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. To this end, our studies focus on defining the defects that corrupt the normal growth controls on blood stem cells. The proposed studies build on our discovery of a key enzyme with an unexpected causative role in leukemia. We propose to further characterize its function using various proteomic approaches, and employ a cross-species comparative approach to identify additional pathways unique to cancer stem cell function. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. They result from corruption of the normal controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Despite many attempts to improve treatments with new drug combinations, this approach has reached a point of diminishing returns since intensified chemotherapies contribute only marginal improvement in outcome and are associated with increasing toxicity. The proposed characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
Progress Report: 
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. Even patients who are successfully cured of their disease often suffer from long-term deleterious health effects of their curative treatment. Thus, there is a need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. Our studies focus on the defects and mechanisms that induce leukemia by disrupting the normal growth controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Using a comparative genomics approach we have identified genes that are differentially expressed in leukemia stem cells. These genes have been the focus of our studies to establish better biomarkers and treatment targets. One candidate gene codes for an enzyme with a previously unknown, non-canonical causal role in a specific genetic subtype of leukemia caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. To characterize its molecular contributions, we are identifying and characterizing protein partners that may assist and interact with the enzyme in its oncogenic role. Candidate interaction partners have been identified using proteomic techniques, and are being investigated for their possible mechanistic roles in leukemia stem cell functions. Another promising candidate that we identified in the comparative gene expression approach encodes a cell surface protein that is preferentially expressed on leukemia stem cells. We have exploited this cell surface protein as a marker to isolate the rare population of cells in human leukemias with stem cell properties. This technical approach has resulted in the isolation of leukemia stem cell populations that are more highly enriched than those obtained using previous techniques. The highly enriched sub-population of leukemia stem cells has been used for comparative gene expression profiling to define a dataset of genes that are differentially expressed between highly matched populations of leukemia cells that are enriched or depleted of leukemia stem cells. Bioinformatics analysis of the dataset has further suggested specific cellular processes and transcriptional regulatory factors that distinguish human leukemia stem cells caused by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. These newly identified factors will be studied using in vitro and in vivo assays for their specific contributions to leukemia stem cell function and leukemia pathogenesis. Continued characterization of crucial growth controls that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood cells that cause serious illness and death in children and adults. Even patients who are successfully cured of their disease often suffer from long-term adverse health effects of their curative treatment. Thus, there is a need for more targeted, less toxic, and more effective treatments. Our studies focus on the defects and mechanisms that induce leukemia by disrupting the normal growth controls that regulate blood-forming stem cells. Using a comparative genomics approach we have identified genes that are differentially expressed in leukemia stem cells. These genes have been the focus of our studies to establish better biomarkers and treatment targets. One candidate gene codes for an enzyme with a previously unknown, non-canonical causal role in a specific genetic subtype of leukemia induced by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. To characterize its molecular contributions, we have identified protein partners that may assist and interact with the enzyme in its oncogenic role. Candidate partners are being investigated for their possible mechanistic roles in leukemia stem cell functions. Another promising candidate identified in our comparative gene expression approach encodes a cell surface protein that is preferentially expressed on leukemia stem cells. We have utilized this cell surface protein as a marker to isolate the rare population of cells in human leukemias with stem cell properties. This technical approach has resulted in the isolation of leukemia stem cell populations that are more highly enriched than those obtained using previous techniques. The highly enriched sub-population of leukemia stem cells has been used for comparative gene expression profiling to identify genes that are differentially expressed between highly matched populations of leukemia cells that are enriched or depleted of leukemia stem cells. Bioinformatics analysis of the dataset has identified major cell cycle differences that distinguish human leukemia stem cells induced by abnormalities of the MLL oncogene. The distinctive cell cycle characteristics of the cells have been confirmed in functional assays for their specific contributions to leukemia stem cell function and leukemia pathogenesis. These studies are the first to mechanistically link a cell surface protein with regulation of self-renewal, a key attribute of leukemia stem cells. Continued characterization of the crucial growth controllers that go awry in blood stem cells to cause leukemia will identify new drug targets for more effective and less toxic treatments against these devastating, life-threatening diseases.

Derivation and Characterization of Myeloproliferative Disorder Stem Cells from Human ES Cells

Funding Type: 
New Faculty II
Grant Number: 
RN2-00910
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 065 572
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Cancer is the leading cause of death for people younger than 85. High cancer mortality rates related to resistance to therapy and malignant progression underscore the need for more sensitive diagnostic techniques as well as therapies that selectively target cells responsible for cancer propagation. Compelling studies suggest that human cancer stem cells (CSC) arise from aberrantly self-renewing tissue specific stem or progenitor cells and are responsible for cancer propagation and resistance to therapy. Although the majority of cancer therapies eradicate rapidly dividing cells within the tumor, the rare CSC population may be quiescent and then reactivate resulting in disease progression and relapse. We recently demonstrated that CSC are generated in chronic myeloid leukemia by activation of beta-catenin, a gene that allows cells to reproduce themselves extensively. However, relatively little is known about the sequence of events responsible for leukemic transformation in more common myeloproliferative disorders (MPDs) that express an activating mutation in the JAK2 gene. Because human embryonic stem cells (hESC) have robust self-renewal capacity and can provide a potentially limitless source of tissue specific stem and progenitor cells, they represent an ideal model system for generating and characterizing human MPD stem cells. Thus, hESC cell research harbors tremendous potential for developing life-saving therapy for patients with cancer by providing a platform to rapidly and rationally test new therapies that specifically target CSC. To provide a robust model system for screening novel anti-CSC therapies, we propose to generate and characterize BCR-ABL+ and JAK2+ MPD stem cells from hESC. We will investigate the role of genes that are essential for initiation of these MPDs such as BCR-ABL and JAK2 V617F as well as additional mutations in beta-catenin or GSK3betaï€ implicated in CSC propagation. The efficacy of a selective BCR-ABL and JAK2 inhibitors at blocking BCR-ABL+ and JAK2+ human ES cell self-renewal, survival and proliferation alone and in combination with a potent and specific beta-catenin antagonist will be assessed in robust in vitro and in vivo assays with the ultimate aim of developing highly active anti-MPD stem cell therapy that may halt progression to acute leukemia and obviate therapeutic resistance.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Although much is known about the genetic and epigenetic events involved in CSC production in a Philadelphia chromosome positive MPD like chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), comparatively little is known about the molecular pathogenesis of the five-fold more common Philadelphia chromosome negative (Ph-) MPDs. MPD patients have a moderately increased risk of fatal thrombotic events as well as a striking 36-fold increased risk of death from transformation to acute leukemia. Recently, a point mutation, JAK2 V617F(JAK2+), resulting in constitutive activation of the JAK2 cytokine signaling pathway was discovered in a large proportion of MPD patients. A critical barrier to developing potentially curative therapies for both BCR-ABL+ and JAK2+ MPDs is a comprehensive understanding of relative contribution of BCR-ABL and JAK2 V617F to disease initiation versus transformation to acute leukemia. We recently discovered that JAK2 V617F is expressed at the hematopoietic stem cell level in PV, ET and MF and that JAK2 skewed ifferentiation in PV is normalized with a selective JAK2 inhibitor, TG101348. However, a detailed molecular pathogenetic characterization has been hampered by the paucity of stem and progenitor cells in MPD derived blood and marrow samples. Because hESC have robust self-renewal capacity and can provide a potentially limitless source of tissue specific stem and progenitor cells in vitro, they represent an ideal model system for generating human MPD stem cells. Thus, California hESC research harbors tremendus potential for understanding the MPD initiating events that skew differentiation versus events that promote self-renewal and thus, leukemic transformation. Moreover, a more comprehensive understanding of primitive stem cell fate decisions may yield key insights into methods to expand blood cell production that may have major implications for blood banking. Clinical Benefit Generation of MPD stem cells from hESC would provide an experimentally amenable and relevant platform to expedite the development ofsensitive diagnostic techniques to predict disease progression and to develop potentially curative anti-CSC therapies. Economic Benefit The translational research performed in the context of this grant will not only speed the delivery of innovative MPD targeted therapies for Californians, it will help to train Californiaís future R&D workforce in addition to developing leaders in translational medicine. This grant will provide the personnel working on the project with a clear view of the importance of thir research to cancer therapy and a better perspective on future career opportunities in California as well as directly generate revenue through development and implementation of innovative therapies aimed at eradicating MPD stem cells that may be more broadly applicable to CSC in other malignances.
Progress Report: 
  • Summary of Overall Progress
  • This grant focuses on generation of MPN stem cells from hESC or CB and correlates leukemic potential with MPN patient samples. In the first year of this grant, we have demonstrated that 1) hESC differentiate on AGM stroma to the CD34+ stage, which is associated with increased GATA-1, Flk2, GATA-2 and ADAR1 expression; 2) hESC CD34+ differentiation is enhanced in vitro and in vivo in the presence of a genetically engineered mouse stroma, which produces human stem cell factor, IL-3 and G-CSF; 3) hESC CD34+ cells can be transduced with our novel lentiviral BCR-ABL vector, which, unlike retroviral BCR-ABL, can transduce quiescent stem cells; 4) BCR-ABL expression by CP CML progenitors does not sustain engraftment but rather leukemic transformation is predicated, in part, on bcl-2 overexpression; 5) JAK2V617F expression in hES or CB stem cells is insufficient to induce leukemic transformation; 6) BCR-ABL transduced hESC CD34+ cells have significantly higher BCR-ABL transplantation potential than CP CML progenitors suggesting that they have higher survival capacity; 7) lentiviral -catenin transduction of BCR-ABL hESC CD34+ cells leads to serial transplantation indicative of LSC formation; 8) CML BC LSC persist in vivo despite potent BCR-ABL inhibition with dasatinib therapy and will likely require combined inhibitor therapy to eradicate. Currently, HEEBO arrays and phospho-flow studies are underway to detect bcl-2 family members and self-renewal protein expression in BCR-ABL and JAK2 V617F transduced hESC and CB CD34+ cells compared with MPN patient derived progenitors. This will aid in development of combined MPN stem cell inhibitor strategies in this grant.
  • This grant focuses on generation of myeloproliferative disorder or neoplasm (MPN) stem cells from pluripotent (hESC) or multipotent (CB) stem cells and seeks to correlate their leukemic potential with that of MPN patient sample-derived stem cells. To provide a platform for testing induction of stem cell differentiation, survival and self-renewal by BCR-ABL versus JAK2, hESC were utilized in the first year and as more patient samples and cord blood became available these were utilized.
  • In the first year of this grant, we found that hESC undergo hematopoietic differentiation on AGM stroma to the CD34+ stage resulting in increased GATA-1, Flk2, ADAR1 and GATA-2 expression. Moreover, CD34+ differentiation was enhanced on a genetically engineered mouse stroma (SL/M2) secreting human SCF, IL-3 and G-CSF. Lentiviral BCR-ABL transduced hESC-derived CD34+ cells had higher BCR-ABL+ cellular transplantation potential than chronic phase (CP) CML progenitors, indicative of a higher survival capacity. However, they sustained self-renewal only when co-transduced with lentiviral -catenin (Rusert et al, manuscript in preparation) suggesting that blast crisis evolution requires acquisition of both enhanced survival and self-renewal potential. Similarly, lentiviral mouse mutant JAK2 expression in hESC or CB stem cells was insufficient to produce self-renewing MPN stem cells, indicating that the cellular context, nature of the genetic driver and responses to extrinsic cues from the microenvironment play seminal roles in regulating therapeutically resistant MPN stem cell properties such as aberrant survival, differentiation, self-renewal and dormancy.
  • In the second year of this five year grant, we have focused on human cord blood (CB) stem cells compared with a large number of MPN patient samples propagated on SL/M2 stroma or in RAG2-/-c-/- mice to more adequately recapitulate the human MPN stem cell niche. Also, to more faithfully recapitulate human (rather than the previously published lentiviral mouse JAK2 vectors, Cancer Cell 2008) JAK2 driven MPNs, we cloned human wild-type JAK2 and human JAK2 V617F from MPN patient samples into lentiviral-GFP vectors (Court Recart A*, Geron I* et al, manuscript in preparation). We also incorporated full transcriptome RNA (ABI SOLiD 4.0) sequencing, PCR array and nanofluidic phosphoproteomics technology to better gauge the impact of JAK2 versus BCR-ABL on stem cell fate, survival, self-renewal and dormancy in the context of specific malignant microenvironments and the relative susceptibility of MPN stem cells in these niches to single agent molecularly targeted inhibitors.
  • This grant focuses on generation of myeloproliferative disorder or neoplasm (MPN) stem cells from pluripotent human embryonic stem cells (hESC) or multipotent cord blood (CB) stem cells, and seeks to correlate their leukemic potential with that of disease progression in MPN patient sample-derived stem cells. In the first and second years of this grant, we found that lentiviral BCR-ABL transduced hESC-derived CD34+ cells had higher leukemic transplantation potential than chronic phase (CP) chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) progenitors. However, they sustained self-renewal only when co-transduced with lentiviral beta-catenin suggesting that blast crisis (BC) evolution requires acquisition of both enhanced survival and self-renewal potential. Similarly, we have shown using lentiviral vectors that mouse and human mutant JAK2 were insufficient to produce self-renewing MPN stem cells. New results in Year 3 demonstrate that BCR-ABL and JAK2 activation drive differentiation of hematopoietic progenitors towards an erthyroid/myeloid lineage bias. We have used full transcriptome RNA-Sequencing (RNA-Seq) technology to evaluate the genetic and epigenetic status of BCR-ABL and JAK2-transduced normal progenitor cells as well as patient-derived MPN progenitors. This has allowed us to probe the mechanisms of aberrant differentiation and self-renewal of MPN progenitors and identify unique gene expression signatures of disease progression.
  • We previously found that overexpression and splice isoform switching of a key RNA editing enzyme – adenosine deaminase acting on dsRNA (ADAR), and splice isoform changes in pro-survival BCL2 family members, correspond with disease progression in CML. In the current reporting period, RNA-Seq analyses revealed that ADAR1-driven activation of RNA editing contributed to malignant progenitor reprogramming, promoting aberrant differentiation and self-renewal of MPN stem cells. Knocking down ADAR1 using lentiviral shRNA vectors reduced the self-renewal potential of CML progenitors. This work has culminated in a manuscript that has now been submitted to PNAS (Jiang et al.). Recent results also show that ADAR1 is activated in progenitors from patients with JAK2-driven MPNs. Thus, ADAR1 may be an important factor that works in concert with BCR-ABL or JAK2 to facilitate disease progression in MPNs.
  • Our results show that another self-renewal factor that may drive BCR-ABL or JAK2-mediated propagation of disease from quiescent MPN progenitors is Sonic hedgehog (Shh). We have examined the expression patterns of this pathway in MPN progenitors using qRT-PCR and RNA-Seq, and have tested a pharmacological inhibitor of this pathway in a robust stromal co-culture model of MPN progression to Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML).
  • In sum, we have utilized full transcriptome RNA-Seq and qRT-PCR coupled with hematopoietic progenitor assays and in vivo studies to evaluate the impact of JAK2 versus BCR-ABL on stem cell fate, survival, self-renewal and dormancy. These techniques have allowed us to investigate in more detail the role of genetic and epigenetic alterations that drive disease progression in the context of specific malignant microenvironments, and the relative susceptibility of MPN stem cells in these niches to single agent molecularly targeted inhibitors.
  • The main objectives of this project are generation of myeloproliferative disorder or neoplasm (MPN) stem cells from pluripotent human embryonic stem cells (hESC) or multipotent stem cells, and identification of crucial leukemia stem cell (LSC) survival and self-renewal factors that contribute to the development and progression of BCR-ABL and JAK2-driven hematopoietic disorders. A key finding of our work thus far is that in addition to activation of BCR-ABL or JAK2 oncogenes, generation of self-renewing MPN LSC requires stimulation of other pro-survival and self-renewal factors such as β-catenin, Sonic hedgehog (SHH), BCL2, and in particular the RNA editing enzyme ADAR1, which we identified as a novel regulator of LSC differentiation and self-renewal.
  • We have now completed comprehensive gene expression analyses from next-generation RNA-sequencing studies performed on normal and leukemic human hematopoietic progenitor cells from primary cord blood samples and adult normal peripheral blood samples, along with normal cord blood transduced with BCR-ABL or JAK2 oncogenes, and primary samples from patients with BCR-ABL+ chronic phase and blast crisis chronic myeloid leukemia (CML). These studies revealed that gene expression patterns in survival and self-renewal pathways (SHH, JAK2, ADAR1) clearly distinguish normal and leukemic progenitor cells as well as MPN disease stages. These data provide a vast resource for identification of LSC-specific biomarkers with diagnostic and prognostic clinical applications, as well as providing new potential therapeutic targets to prevent disease progression.
  • New results from RNA-sequencing studies reveal high levels of expression of inflammatory mediators in human blast crisis CML progenitors and in BCR-ABL transduced normal cord blood stem cells. Moreover, expression of the inflammation-responsive form of ADAR1 correlated with generation of an abnormally spliced GSK3β gene product that has been previously linked to LSC self-renewal. These results have now been published in the journal PNAS (Jiang et al.). Together, we have demonstrated that ADAR1 drives hematopoietic cell fate by skewing cell differentiation – a trend which occurs during normal bone marrow aging – and promotes LSC self-renewal through alternative splicing of critical survival and self-renewal factors. Notably, inhibition of ADAR1 through genetic knockdown strategies reduced self-renewal capacity of CML LSC, and may have important applications in treatment of other disorders that transform to acute leukemia. Thus, these results suggest that RNA editing (ADAR1) and splicing represent key therapeutic targets for preventing LSC self-renewal – a primary driver of leukemic progression.
  • Whole transcriptome profiling studies coupled with qRT-PCR, hematopoietic progenitor assays and in vivo studies have shown that combined inhibition of BCR-ABL and JAK2 is another effective method to reduce LSC self-renewal in pre-clinical models. New results show that lentivirus-enforced BCR-ABL or JAK2 expression in normal cord blood stem cells drives generation of distinct splice isoforms of STAT5a. While inhibition of JAK2/STAT5a signaling or BCR-ABL tyrosine kinase activity alone did not eradicate self-renewing LSC, combined JAK2 and BCR-ABL inhibition dramatically impaired LSC survival and self-renewal in the protective bone marrow niche, and increased the lifespan of serial transplant recipients. These effects were associated with reduction in STAT5a isoform expression – which represents a novel molecular marker of response to combined BCR-ABL/JAK2 inhibition – and altered expression of cell cycle genes in human progenitor cells harvested from the bone marrow of transplanted mice. These results are the subject of a new manuscript currently under review (Court et al.). Moreover, this work has led to the development of new experimental tools that will facilitate study of LSC maintenance and cell cycle status in the context of normal versus diseased bone marrow microenvironments. In sum, studies completed thus far have uncovered a role for RNA editing and splicing alterations in leukemic progression, particularly in specific microenvironments. Using specific inhibitors targeting BCR-ABL and JAK2, along with strategies to block RNA editing and aberrant splicing activities, we have been able to establish the relative susceptibility of MPN stem cells to molecular inhibitors with activity against LSC residing in select hematopoietic niches that are difficult to treat with conventional chemotherapeutic agents.
  • In the final year of this project, we focused on elucidating the mechanisms of leukemia stem cell (LSC) generation in JAK2 compared with BCR-ABL1 initiated myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN, previously called myeloproliferative disorders). To this end, we investigated the MPN stem cell propagating effects of BCR-ABL1 or JAK2 alone or in combination with activation of the human embryonic stem cell RNA editase, ADAR1. Recently, we discovered that ADAR1, which edits adenosine to inosine bases in the context of primate specific Alu sequences, leads to GSK3β missplicing and β-catenin activation in chronic phase (CP) CML progenitors leading to blast crisis (BC) transformation and LSC generation. In addition, variant isoform expression of a Wnt/β-catenin target gene, CD44, was also characteristic of LSC. In a previous report (Jiang et al., PNAS 2013), identification of ADAR1 as a malignant reprogramming factor represented the first description of RNA editing as a regulator of reprogramming. When lentivirally overexpressed, ADAR1 endows committed CP myeloid progenitors with self-renewal capacity. Further studies revealed that JAK2/STAT5a activates ADAR1 leading to deregulation of cell cycle progression and global down-regulation of microRNA expression thereby uncovering two additional key mechanisms of LSC generation in MPNs. This is consistent with our findings from gene expression profiling studies performed in the previous year, along with functional classification and network analysis using Ingenuity Pathway Analysis (IPA), showing that cell cycle-related genes were significantly altered in human progenitors from xenografted mice treated with combination JAK2 and BCR-ABL inhibitor therapy compared with single agent therapies alone. Together these data suggest that combined BCR-ABL and JAK2 inhibition impairs LSC survival and self-renewal via cell cycle modulation. ADAR1 and other stem cell regulatory pathways such as CD44 represent novel targets to detect and eradicate the self-renewing LSC. We also performed new studies that elucidate the stem cell-intrinsic genetic changes that occur during human bone marrow aging, which may contribute to BCR-ABL or JAK2-dependent functional alterations.
  • This work has led to discovery of a novel role for embryonic stem cell genes and splice isoforms, including ADAR1 p150 and a transcript variant of CD44, in the maintenance of LSC that promote MPN progression. In addition, through the course of this research we have 1) developed novel lentiviral tools for investigating normal hematopoietic stem and progenitor (HSPC) and malignant LSC survival, differentiation, self-renewal, and cell cycle regulation, and 2) devised innovative LSC diagnostic strategies and 3) tested therapeutic strategies targeting LSC-associated RNA editing and splice isoform generation that selectively inhibit LSC self-renewal.

Development of Highly Active Anti-Leukemia Stem Cell Therapy (HALT)

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01430
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$19 999 826
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Collaborative Funder: 
Canada
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Leukemias are cancers of the blood forming cells that afflict both children and adults. Many drugs have been developed to treat leukemias and related diseases. These drugs are often effective when first given, but in many cases of adult leukemia, the disease returns in a form that is not curable, causing disability and eventual death. During the last few years, scientists have discovered that some leukemia cells possess stem cell properties that make them more potent in promoting leukemia growth and resistance to common types of treatment. These are called leukemia stem cells (LSC). More than in other cancers, scientists also understand the exact molecular changes in the blood forming cells that cause leukemias, but it has been very difficult to translate the scientific results into new and effective treatments. The main difficulty has been the failure of existing drugs to eliminate the small numbers of LSC that persist in patients, despite therapy, and that continue to grow, spread, invade and kill normal cells. In fact, the models used for drug development in the pharmaceutical industry have not been designed to detect drugs or drug combinations capable of destroying the LSC. Drugs against LSC may already exist, or could be simple to make, but there has not been an easy way to identify these drugs. Recently, physicians and scientists at universities and research institutes have developed tools to isolate and to analyze LSC donated by patients. By studying the LSC, the physicians and scientists have identified the molecules that these cells need to survive. The experimental results strongly suggest that it will eventually be possible to destroy LSC with drugs or drug combinations, with minimal damage to most normal cells. Now we need to translate the new knowledge into practical treatments. The CIRM Leukemia Team is composed of highly experienced scientists and physicians who first discovered LSC for many types of leukemia and who have developed the LSC systems to test drugs. The investigators in the Team have identified drug candidates from the vigorous California pharmaceutical industry, who have already performed expensive pharmacology and toxicology studies, but who lack the cells and model systems to assess a drug’s ability to eliminate leukemia stem cells. This Team includes experts in drug development, who have previously been successful in quickly bringing a new leukemia drug to clinical trials. The supported interactive group of physicians and scientists in California and the Collaborative Funding Partner country has the resources to introduce into the clinic, within four years, new drugs for leukemias that may also represent more effective therapies for other cancers for the benefit of our citizens.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Thousands of adults and children in California are afflicted with leukemia and related diseases. Although tremendous gains have been made in the treatment of childhood leukemia, 50% of adults diagnosed with leukemia will die of their disease. Current therapies can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year per patient, and do not cure the disease. For the health of the citizens of California, both physical and financial, we need to find a cure for these devastating illnesses. What has held up progress toward a cure? Compelling evidence indicates that the leukemias are not curable because available drugs do not destroy small numbers of multi-drug resistant leukemia stem cells. A team approach is necessary to find a cure for leukemia, which leverages the expertise in academia and industry. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies have developed drugs that inhibit pathways known to be involved in leukemia stem cell survival and growth, but are using them for unrelated indications. In addition, they do not have the expertise to determine whether the inhibitors will kill leukemia stem cells. The Leukemia Team possesses stem cell expertise and has developed state of the art systems to determine whether drugs will eradicate leukemia stem cells. They have also have access to technologies that may allow them to identify patients who will respond to the treatment. The development plan established by the Leukemia Disease Team will also serve as a model for the clinical development of drugs against solid tumor stem cells, which are not as well understood. In summary, the benefits to the citizens of California from the CIRM disease specific grant in leukemia are: (1) direct benefit to the thousands of leukemia patients (2) financial savings due to definitive treatments that eliminate the need for costly maintenance therapies
Progress Report: 
  • Development of Highly Active Leukemia Therapy (HALT)
  • Leukemias are cancers of the blood forming cells that affect both children and adults. Although major advances have been made in the treatment of leukemias, many patients still succumb to the disease. In these patients, the leukemias may progress despite therapy because they harbor primitive malignant stem-like cells that are resistant to most drugs. This CIRM disease specific grant aims to develop a combination of highly active anti-leukemic therapy (HALT) that can destroy the drug-resistant cancer stem-like cells, without severely harming normal cells.
  • During the current year of support, substantial progress has been made in achieving this goal. The CIRM investigators have shown that two different drugs that inhibit different proteins in leukemia stem cells can sensitize them to chemotherapeutic agents, and block their ability to self-renew. The CIRM investigators have also demonstrated that two different antibodies against molecules on the surface of the leukemia cells can inhibit their survival in both test tube experiments and in mouse models.
  • Extensive experiments are underway to confirm these promising results. The results will enable the planning and implementation of potentially transforming clinical trials in leukemia patients, during the period of CIRM grant support.
  • During the past 12 months, our disease team has made further progress in
  • the development of stem cell targeted treatment for chronic lymphocytic
  • leukemias and other leukemias. Stem cells express some molecules on the
  • surface that are different from the corresponding molecules on adult
  • cells. The ROR1 molecule is highly expressed by malignant cells from
  • patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as by progenitor cells
  • from other forms of leukemia and lymphoma. It is not expressed by normal
  • adult cells. With the support of the CIRM Disease Team grant, the
  • cooperating investigators have prepared monoclonal antibodies against the
  • ROR1 molecule, that are potent and specific. In animal models, the
  • antibodies can retard leukemia growth and spread. Unlike other anti-cancer
  • drugs, the new antibodies are not toxic for normal bone marrow cells.
  • Thus, they can potentiate the action of other agents used for the
  • treatment of leukemia.
  • The disease team is now focused on the pre-clinical development, safety
  • testing, and scale-up manufacturing of our new, promising agents, in
  • preparation for their introduction into the clinic.
  • During the past 12 months, our disease team has made further progress in
  • the development of stem cell targeted treatment for chronic lymphocytic
  • leukemias and other leukemias. Stem cells express some molecules on the
  • surface that are different from the corresponding molecules on adult
  • cells. The ROR1 molecule is highly expressed by malignant cells from
  • patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as by progenitor cells
  • from other forms of leukemia and lymphoma. It is not expressed by normal
  • adult cells. With the support of the CIRM Disease Team grant, the
  • cooperating investigators have prepared a humanized monoclonal antibody against the
  • ROR1 molecule, that is potent and specific. In animal models, the
  • antibodies can retard leukemia growth and spread. Unlike other anti-cancer
  • drugs, the new antibodies are not toxic for normal bone marrow cells.
  • Thus, they can potentiate the action of other agents used for the
  • treatment of leukemia.
  • The disease team is now focused on the pre-clinical development, safety
  • testing, and scale-up manufacturing of our new, promising agents, in
  • preparation for their introduction into the clinic.
  • During the past 12 months, our disease team has made further progress in
  • the development of stem cell targeted treatment for chronic lymphocytic
  • leukemias and other leukemias. Stem cells express some molecules on the
  • surface that are different from the corresponding molecules on adult
  • cells. The ROR1 molecule is highly expressed by malignant cells from
  • patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, as well as by progenitor cells
  • from other forms of leukemia and lymphoma. It is not expressed by normal
  • adult cells. With the support of the CIRM Disease Team grant, the
  • cooperating investigators have prepared a humanized monoclonal antibody against the
  • ROR1 molecule, that is potent and specific. In animal models, the
  • antibodies can retard leukemia growth and spread.
  • The disease team has now finalized the pre-clinical development, safety
  • testing, and scale-up manufacturing of our new, promising agent, in
  • preparation for their introduction into the clinic.

Dual targeting of tyrosine kinase and BCL6 signaling for leukemia stem cell eradication

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01816-A
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 607 305
Disease Focus: 
Blood Cancer
Cancer
Stem Cell Use: 
Cancer Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cancer Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells. In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an “proliferation phase” and a “quiescence phase”. The “proliferation phase” is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in “quiescence phase” divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia. We discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings demonstrate that the "quiescence phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "quiescence phase". In this proposal, we test a novel therapeutic concept eradicate leukemia stem cells: We propose that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases (“proliferation”) and BCL6 (“quiescence”) represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Leukemia represents the most frequent malignancy in children and teenagers and is common in adults as well. Over the past four decades, the development of therapeutic options has greatly improved the prognosis of patients with leukemia reaching 5 year disease-free survival rates of ~70% for children and ~45% for adults. Despite its relatively favorable overall prognosis, leukemia remains one of the leading causes of person-years of life lost in the US (362,000 years in 2006; National Center of Health Statistics), which is attributed to the high incidence of leukemia in children. In 2008, the California Cancer Registry expected 3,655 patients with newly diagnosed leukemia and at total of 2,185 death resulting from fatal leukemia. In addition, ~23,300 Californians lived with leukemia in 2008, which highlights that leukemia remains a frequent and life-threatening disease in the State of California despite substantial clinical progress. Here we propose the development of a fundamentally novel treatment approach for leukemia that is directed at leukemia stem cells. While current treatment approaches effectively diminish the bulk of proliferating leukemia cells, they fail to eradicate the rare leukemia stem cells, which give rise to drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease. We propose a dual targeting approach which combines targeted therapy of the leukemia-causing oncogene and the newly discovered leukemia stem cell survival factor BCL6. The power of this new therapy approach will be tested in clinical trials to be started in the State of California.
Progress Report: 
  • Leukemia is the most frequent form of cancer in children and teenagers, but is also common in adults. Chemotherapy has vastly improved the outcome of leukemia over the past four decades. However, many patients still die because of recurrence of the disease and development of drug-resistance in leukemia cells. In preliminary studies for this proposal we discovered that in most if not all leukemia subtypes, the malignant cells can switch between an "expansion phase" and a "dormancy phase". The "expansion phase" is often driven by oncogenic tyrosine kinases (e. g. FLT3, JAK2, PDGFR, BCR-ABL1, SRC kinases) and is characterized by vigorous proliferation of leukemia cells. In this phase, leukemia cells not only rapidly divide, they are also highly susceptible to undergo programmed cell death and to age prematurely. In contrast, leukemia cells in "quiescence phase" divide only rarely. At the same time, however, leukemia cells in "domancy phase" are highly drug-resistant. These cells are also called 'leukemia stem cells' because they exhibit a high degree of self-renewal capacity and hence, the ability to initiate leukemia.
  • Progress during Year 1: During the first year of this project, we discovered that the BCL6 factor is required to maintain leukemia stem cells in this well-protected safe haven. Our findings during year 1 demonstrate that the "dormancy phase" is strictly dependent on BCL6, which allows them to evade cell death during chemotherapy treatment. Once chemotherapy treatment has ceased, persisting leukemia stem cells give rise to leukemia clones that reenter "proliferation phase" and hence initiate recurrence of the disease. Pharmacological inhibition of BCL6 using inhibitory peptides or blocking molecules leads to selective loss of leukemia stem cells, which can no longer persist in a "dormancy phase" .
  • In year 1, we have performed screening procedures to identify novel therapeutic BCL6 inhibitors to eradicate leukemia stem cells: We have found that dual targeting of oncogenic tyrosine kinases ("expansion phase" ) and BCL6 ("dormancy phase") represents a powerful strategy to eradicate drug-resistant leukemia stem cells and prevent the acquisition of drug-resistance and recurrence of the disease.
  • Goal for years 2-3: Targeting of BCL6-dependent leukemia stem cells may reduce the risk of leukemia relapse and may limit the duration of tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment in some leukemias, which is currently life-long.

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