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Research


Investigators in the Division of Hematology’s Blood Cancer Program are actively engaged in multiple research activities aimed at improving outcomes for patients with blood cancers and related disorders.  These studies are wide-ranging and involve extensive collaboration between laboratory scientists and physicians.  Our work is funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Cancer Society (ACS), the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), and numerous other foundations and industry sources.  Collectively, the Division is supported by over $4 million in annual research funding, which is aimed at improving the lives of and outcomes for blood cancer patients.
 
A key strength of our research group is it’s highly collaborative and cross-disciplinary nature, which provides an ideal environment in which to develop new therapies.  While all of our investigators are involved in multiple aspects of the “bench-to-bedside” process of drug/therapy development, their respective areas of expertise are as follows:
 
Unraveling the fundamental biology of blood cancer
Our laboratory investigators are pursuing numerous projects related to understanding basic aspects of blood cancer biology.  Studies conducted by James Degregori are focused on the analysis of signaling mechanisms and population dynamics of leukemia.  Projects led by Kathrin Bernt and Tobias Neff are exploring how the genome is regulated in normal vs. leukemic cell populations, with a focus on epigenetic mechanisms.  Work in Craig Jordan’s lab is investigating the characteristics of leukemia stem cells, in particular, novel metabolic properties of malignant cells.  Vu Nguyen is studying how the microbiome influences the immune system, and how modulation of microbial signals can be used to reduce the severity of graft-vs-host disease.
 
Developing the next generation of drugs
Several lines of investigation are aimed at developing new drugs or therapeutic strategies.  Doug Graham directs several projects using novel small molecule inhibitors of the Mer tyrosine kinase.  These new drugs have potent activity towards several types of blood cancer.  Craig Jordan has developed a novel plant-derived compound which selectively targets leukemia stem cell populations.  This agent is currently in early stage clinical trials.  James Degregori is developing novel strategies that target the mitochondrial machinery of leukemia cells, and has collaborated with investigators in the CU pharmacy school to create additional compounds in this class.  Chris Porter is conducting synthetic lethal screens to identify agents that synergize with chemotherapy agents.  Clay Smith is developing new approaches that modulate mechanisms controlling oxidative state in blood cancer cells, with a particular emphasize on the aldehyde dehydrogenase class of enzymes.
 
Clinical trials to test the most advanced therapeutic strategies
Our clinical trials team currently conducts a broad range of studies for blood cancer.  Dan Pollyea leads the leukemia and MDS program.  Current trials include novel agents that target Bcl-2 and IDH2.  Jon Gutman leads the allogeneic stem cell transplantation (SCT) program and is involved in several studies exploring ways to improve the SCT process.  Of particular interest is the use of umbilical cord blood as a source for stem cells in allogeneic SCT.  Clay Smith oversees clinical studies for multiple myeloma (MM) and is developing new therapies for the MM patient population.