Help in the fight against childhood leukemia

By Jan Jarvis

TeamConnor
From left to right: Shelly Borders, UNTHSC, Dr. Paul Bowman, UNTHSC, Joy Cruse, TeamConnor, Dr. Stephen Mathew, UNTHSC and Kathryn Copple, TeamConnor

Two UNT Health Science Center investigators working on a novel approach to treating the most common pediatric cancer have received a newly created award to advance their study.

TeamConnor Childhood Cancer Foundation recently announced that UNT Health Science Center is the first medical facility to receive the DFW Community Choice Grant for 2016. The $26,500 award will benefit Stephen Mathew, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Center for Cancer Research, and W. Paul Bowman, MD, Chair and Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Center for Cancer Research in the Institute for Molecular Medicine.

Children with leukemia currently are treated with chemotherapy and radiation. About 85 percent of these children survive with these treatments but often face serious long-term side effects.

“The problem is that the leukemia relapses for some of the ones that survive,” Dr. Mathew said. “And when it comes back, it is often really hard to treat and leads to increased treatment failure and mortality.”

Drs. Mathew, principal investigator and Bowman, co-investigator, have found a protein that seems to overexpress in children who may have an increased risk of treatment failure. This cell surface protein was previously identified on human natural killer cells by UNTHSC researcher Porunellor Mathew, PhD.

By targeting this protein, the researchers hope to develop a diagnostic tool that will allow physicians to know early which patients are at the highest risk for treatment failure.

They also plan to study how immunotherapy can benefit these young patients. Their research will focus on utilizing the CS1 antibody that targets leukemia cells and develop it as an immunotherapy for children with leukemia.

“We have an advantage in that the antibody we’re using has already been FDA approved for multiple myeloma,” Dr. Stephen Mathew said. “If we get good results with our study, this approach could be used use as a therapy for kids with leukemia.”

UNT Health Science Center is among six medical facilities across the nation to benefit from more than $272,000 in awards presented by the foundation to support cutting-edge research for childhood cancer.

“We are committed to funding research for childhood cancers at some of the best research centers in the country,” said Joy Cruse, founder of Dallas-based TeamConnor Childhood Cancer Foundation. “Thanks to our generous donors, TeamConnor was able to give 57 percent more than last year”

Other hospitals receiving grants include Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Seattle Children’s Hospital, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Children’s Health Dallas and Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

Dr. Mathew said he was appreciative of the grant.

“The Team Connor Foundation research award will enable us to investigate the proposed research plan and in the future lead to the development of new immunotherapy strategies and diagnostic tools to improve patient outcome in acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” he said.

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