UCI Health oncologist receives NIH grant to study leukemia cell mutation

Van Etten's research targets gene that may hold a key to killing B-ALL cells

April 22, 2015

Cancer specialist Richard Van Etten, MD, PhD, has received a $2.7-million grant from the National Institutes for Health to continue his research into understanding and exploiting a genetic mutation that may be a key to treating a common and aggressive form of leukemia.

“B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a cancer of immune cells that has a high risk for relapse and poor overall survival,” said Van Etten, professor of medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, UC Irvine School of Medicine and director of the UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Mutations in a gene known as Ikaros have been shown to cause resistance to chemotherapy drugs. Our studies are aimed at understanding the biological role of Ikaros in the development of B-ALL and its response to therapy.”

Van Etten said his study of Ikaros-deficient B-ALL in mice with collaborator Katia Georgopoulos, PhD at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, has identified a novel pathway that may point the way to improved treatments and possible cure of this devastating leukemia.

B-cell acute lymphocytic leukemia is a fast-growing type blood cancer in which too many immature white blood cells, known as B-cell lymphoblasts, are found in the bone marrow and blood. It is the most common type of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), according to the National Cancer Institute. Annually, more than 50,000 cases of all types of leukemia are diagnosed and nearly 25,000 people die of the disease.

Van Etten is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking research on chronic myeloid leukemia and other hematological malignancies. Prior to coming to UC Irvine in 2013, Van Etten directed a highly successful research laboratory at Tufts Medical Center, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, at the Molecular Oncology Research Institute.

The UCI Health Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of only 45 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the U.S. and the only one in Orange County. The institute’s highest designation, comprehensive cancer centers conduct transformative cancer research and clinical trials, provide patients with leading treatments and prevention education, and set national cancer care guidelines.  

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