Weill Cornell Medical College Wins $7.5 Million Grant From Leukemia Society To Study Multiple Myeloma

Aug 3, 2000


Carrying to a new level their clinical and basic research, a team of scientists and physicians at Weill Medical College of Cornell University has won a major international competition for a five-year, $7.5 million grant from The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to study the fundamental causes of multiple myeloma, one of the most difficult and intractable cancers.

"Every year, 14,000 Americans are diagnosed with multiple myeloma," said the leader of the team, Dr. Selina Chen-Kiang, Professor of Pathology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. "Among lymphoid malignancies, it is one of the most prevalent and difficult to treat, because virtually nothing is known about the molecular bases of its pathogenesis."

In multiple myeloma, cancerous antibody-producing plasma cells accumulate in the bone, causing painful breakage and eventually leading to death. The goal of the study is to understand how normal plasma cells develop and how the genes that regulate their development and transformation work, in order to formulate new treatments for the disease.

The grant is distinguished for being a SCOR (Specialized Center of Research) grant, in which, for the first time, a private, non-profit cancer organization is earmarking for the study of the blood cancers the kind of research dollars that until now have primarily been available only through the Federal government.

The researchers led by Dr. Chen-Kiang will be divided into four "projects."

In an example of institutional collaboration, Project One will be led by Dr. Michel Nussenzweig of The Rockefeller University; it will develop plasma cells and investigate their malignant transformation.

Project Two, led by Dr. Leif Bergsagel of Weill Cornell Medical College, will explore the role of gene translocation in the pathogenesis of myeloma.

Project Three, led by Dr. Chen-Kiang, will examine how cell division and cell death control the generation of normal plasma cells and the development of myeloma.

Project Four, led by Drs. Joseph Michaeli and Roger Pearse, both of Weill Cornell Medical College, will develop agents that inhibit myeloma-associated bone disease.

The projects will be supported by a Clinical Core led by Dr. Michaeli, an Immunopathology Core led by Dr. Daniel Knowles of Weill Cornell Medical College, and a DNA Core led by Dr. Nussenzweig.

Dr. Michaeli directs the Clinical Myeloma Service of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital's Weill Cornell Medical Center, which follows approximately 1,000 myeloma patients, with 150-200 new patients seen annually. Thus, large numbers of myeloma patients representing all stages and types will be available for study.

"The team members will collaborate fully to create a seamless blend of basic science and clinical investigation, using the most advanced genetic, molecular, and cellular approaches," said Dr. Knowles, who is Chairman of Weill Cornell's Department of Pathology.

"The interdisciplinary and interinstitutional synergy will bring the best and the brightest resources to bear on the problem of finding new and effective approaches to this disease," said Dr. Nussenzweig of The Rockefeller University.

"Of the over 60 medical centers that could have been selected, New York Weill Cornell stood out as the most promising," said Dr. Roy Silverstein, Director of Hematology/Oncology at Weill Cornell Medical College. "This is evidence of the vitality and excellence of our work in lymphoma and myeloma."

Two other SCOR grants being awarded at the same time by The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society are to be received by Dr. James Griffin and his team at Dana-Farber Institute and Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Brian Druker and his team at Oregon Health Sciences University.

For more information, including video interviews with the researchers, go to www.leukemia.org.