Voelcker grant goes to CTRC researcher

SAN ANTONIO (May 30, 2012) – Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is one of the most prevalent forms of adult leukemia and has few long-term survivors.

But Jennifer Carew, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, is working to find new treatments to improve the survivorship of patients with AML, and her research has been recognized with a $450,000 grant from the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund. The fund has given Health Science Center researchers more than $6 million, and chose Dr. Carew as a recipient of its 2012 Young Investigator Award to recognize her work to build better tools in the fight against cancer.

“Identifying specific defects in AML cells will help us develop more effective targeted treatments with fewer side effects,” Dr. Carew said.

Timed protein destruction is essential for many cellular processes, including cell division and cell death. But the systems that control protein degradation often malfunction in cancer cells. This can lead to the inappropriate destruction of proteins that would otherwise cause these malignant cells to stop growing or die.

NEDD8 is a molecule that helps cells to target some of these important proteins for disposal, and its function depends on a switch called NAE (NEDD8-activating enzyme). Recent studies have shown that NEDD8 activity is hyperactive in cancer, and this may contribute to disease progression and the development of drug resistance.

Dr. Carew is working with a new drug called MLN4924, which inhibits NAE and stops cancer cells from inappropriately degrading key proteins that, if left alone, can control cancer proliferation and lead to the cancer cells’ death.

Her recent studies have shown that inhibiting NAE with MLN4924 is a new and effective strategy to kill AML cells while sparing healthy tissue.

Dr. Carew’s team is investigating the role that NEDD8 plays in the development of AML, and also how NEDD8 activity in proteins affects how sensitive the cancer is to current anticancer drugs. As part of their study, researchers will combine MLN4924 with the standard leukemia drug cytarabine to see if the NAE inhibitor enhances cytarabine’s therapeutic effects. They plan to use what they learn to design a clinical study for patients with AML.

Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker, who died in 1980 and 2000 respectively, ran a successful dairy farm in San Antonio for many years and were deeply interested in supporting medical research.

MLN4924 is provided by Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company.

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.

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