Licht:Lab News

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Northwestern Awarded $6.25 Million to Study Blood Cancers

Northwestern University has been awarded a $6.25 million grant from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to investigate blood cancers and find new ways to treat them.

Jonathan D. Licht, M.D., Johanna Dobe Professor and chief of the division of hematology and oncology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, will lead the Consortium for the Study of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetic Targeting in Hematological Malignancies. The consortium is one of only three research groups around the country to be awarded the new Marshall A. Lichtman Specialized Center of Research grant offered by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Each group will receive $1.25 million per year for the next five years.

Licht's group, which includes scientists from other universities, is studying acute leukemia and multiple myeloma, both characterized by excessive production of cancerous white blood cells and suppression of normal blood cells.

Collaborative efforts among scientists in Licht's group will focus on a protein called mixed lineage leukemia (MLL) protein, which plays a fundamental role in the development of acute leukemia, and a protein dubbed MMSET, which has been implicated in myeloma. These rogue proteins are suspected to cause cancer not by causing mutations in the DNA of a gene like other cancer-causing substances but by influencing gene activity through changes that occur outside the DNA of genes. These changes, known as epigenetic modifications, are unique, and because MLL and MMSET may turn cancer-causing genes "on" through epigenetic modifications, it is a prime target for potential therapies for acute leukemia.

"It is a terrific honor to have assembled a group of such distinguished scientists who wish to aim their expertise at the complex problem of abnormal gene regulation in blood malignancy," Licht said. "Our program studies both the mechanisms of gene control and their relevance to diseases such as leukemia and myeloma."