Two new grants from The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) will support Weill Cornell Medicine’s pathbreaking research on the origins of lymphomas and on treatments that exploit these cancers’ biological vulnerabilities.
One award, totaling about $5 million over five years, is a continuation of a Specialized Center of Research (SCOR) grant, originally awarded by The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2017. It will fund an ongoing multidisciplinary effort at Weill Cornell Medicine to develop a deeper understanding of, and better tools for fighting, types of lymphoma that are currently very hard to treat successfully.
The second award, an LLS Discovery Grant, for approximately $750,000 over three years, will support the investigation of a recently identified and highly malignant type of lymphoma called BN2-DLBCL.
“These awards reflect the unique breadth and innovative approach of Weill Cornell Medicine’s lymphoma research, as well as the close alliance between our laboratory and clinical researchers,” said lead principal investigator Dr. Ari Melnick, the Gebroe Family Professor of Hematology/Oncology and a member of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine.
"LLS is proud to support the work of Dr. Melnick and others at Weill Cornell,” said Dr. Orsi Giricz, LLS’s senior director of research programs and communications. “These two grants, in particular, demonstrate LLS’s philosophy of supporting innovative science through every stage of development and the depth and breadth of the work being done at Weill Cornell.”
Lymphomas arise within lymph nodes, usually from white blood cells called B cells. There are about 90,000 new lymphoma cases per year in the United States, and about 22,000 deaths, according to the LLS. Most types of lymphoma occur more frequently in older people. Although new treatments, including immune-modulating therapies, have improved outcomes greatly in the past two decades, some forms of lymphoma are still very hard to treat successfully.
Both sets of projects supported by the new grants are aimed at exploring and attacking the biological pathways that these relatively malignant lymphomas use to sustain themselves and resist treatment. Under the SCOR program, four projects are underway, with researchers studying: phospho-STAT3, a protein whose elevated activity is associated with poor patient outcomes; a protein called SEPT2 that is often mutated in patients of African heritage, and may help explain worse lymphoma outcomes in that group; how innate immune cells can communicate chemically with lymphomas to protect and enhance their growth, and the use by some lymphomas of signaling pathways involving DNA building-blocks called nucleotides, to drive their growth and suppress nearby immune cells.
Under the BN2-DLBCL grant, Dr. Melnick’s lab is examining the impacts of mutations in a poorly understood gene called SPEN, which are a defining feature of BN2 lymphomas. Because BN2 lymphomas arise from antibody-producing immune cells, Dr. Melnick and his team suspect that these lymphomas share some molecular origins with the autoimmune disease lupus.
For both grants, the Weill Cornell researchers are developing and using highly physiological mouse models of human lymphomas—including mice that have humanized immune systems and recreate the “tumor microenvironment” observed in patients.
Both sets of projects also place great emphasis on the development and testing of potential new lymphoma treatments.
“The work we did in the first funding period for the SCOR grant, for example, led to eight clinical trials, and one new FDA treatment approval,” said Dr. Melnick. “That close collaboration between our laboratory and clinical investigators is one of the great strengths of our program.”
Many Weill Cornell Medicine physicians and scientists maintain relationships and collaborate with external organizations to foster scientific innovation and provide expert guidance. The institution makes these disclosures public to ensure transparency. For this information, see profile for Dr. Melnick.