News Releases

Two Hutchinson Center researchers receive prestigious awards from Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

Drs. Marie Bleakley and Elahe Mostaghel will use the awards to improve treatments for leukemia and prostate cancer, respectively

SEATTLE — June 21, 2011 — Two Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center researchers have received prestigious awards from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

The research focus of Marie Bleakley, M.D., an immunologist in the Hutchinson Center’s Clinical Research Division, is on separating beneficial graft-versus-leukemia effect from detrimental graft-versus-host disease after bone marrow or stem cell transplantation.

Bone marrow transplantation, also known as allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HCT), is the only curative therapy for many patients with leukemia. Certain immune cells, called T cells, contained in the donor stem cells can cause a graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) effect, which eliminates leukemic cells. Unfortunately, there are also donor T cells in the graft that can cause a condition called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).  GVHD is a life-threatening immune response that remains the major barrier to the success of transplantation. 

GVHD occurs when the donor cells react against the body’s organs. GVHD can affect many different parts of the body and cause a range of symptoms. GVHD occurs only in people who receive cells from a donor (allogeneic transplant) rather than have a transplant of their own cells (autologous transplant). About 50 to 75 percent of allogeneic transplant recipients get chronic GVHD.

Bleakley’s goal is to identify specific subsets of immune cells that promote GVHD; these cells can then be eliminated to reduce the frequency or severity of GVHD, while at the same time maintaining and improving the GVL effect. In addition, she aims to discover novel leukemia-associated proteins that could be potential targets for therapeutics.  

Bleakley works under the mentorship of Stanley R. Riddell, M.D., an immunologist and member of the Hutchinson Center’s Clinical Research Division.

Damon Runyon’s Clinical Investigator Award program is specifically intended to help address the shortage of physicians capable of translating scientific discovery into new breakthroughs for cancer patients.  In partnerships with industry sponsors and through its new Accelerating Cancer Cures initiative, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has committed more than $38 million to support the careers of 58 physician-scientists across the United States since 2000.

Elahe Mostaghel, M.D., Ph.D, a prostate cancer researcher and oncologist, received a two-year, $300,000 continuation grant from Damon Runyon. Her research aims to define key mechanisms underlying resistance of prostate cancer to hormone-deprivation therapy treatment. Suppression of the hormone testosterone is currently the most effective treatment for advanced prostate cancer; however, tumors frequently develop resistance to this therapy. The continuation grant will enable Mostaghel to continue developing novel treatments for prostate cancer that can be rapidly moved into the clinic.

Mostaghel works under the mentorship of Peter S. Nelson, M.D., a member of the Human Biology Division at the Hutchinson Center.

Damon Runyon Continuation Grants are designed to support clinical investigators who are approaching the end of their original awards and need extra time and funding to complete a promising avenue of research or initiate/continue a clinical trial. 

Dean Forbes
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
(206) 667-2896


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