Defu Zeng, M.D., associate professor in the departments of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism and Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, and Anna Scuto, Ph.D., staff scientist in the Department of Molecular Medicine, have been named as the 2009-10 recipients of the Tim Nesvig Research Fellowship in Lymphoma.
|From left, back row: Stephen J. Forman, Carrie Nesvig, Jon Nesvig, Scott Duxbury; front row: Hanneke Nesvig, Mieke Duxbury and Casey Morgan. (Photo by Teri Bloom)|
The fellowship was established in memory of Tim Nesvig, a lifelong athlete and marketing executive who worked for ESPN/ABC Sports. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma in 2003 and underwent a stem cell transplant at City of Hope.
Sadly, his aggressive form of lymphoma stopped responding to therapy, and he died at the age of 30 in 2005. The Nesvig family established the fellowship and a research fund, under the direction of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis and Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation and chair of the department, to advance research into novel lymphoma treatments at City of Hope.
“I am thankful to the Nesvigs for this opportunity to contribute to lymphoma research,” Scuto said. “This cause is personal for me, because my grandmother suffered from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I hope my work will make a difference for people like Tim.”
Said Zeng: “I am honored to be selected as one of the recipients for this year’s Nesvig Fellowship. It will be crucial to continuing exciting research — research we believe will save more lymphoma patients. The Nesvig family and all those who support the fellowship have my deepest gratitude.”
|Defu Zeng (Photo by p.cunningham)|
Zeng focuses on a new regimen for hematopoietic cell (blood stem cell) transplantation, or HCT, a potentially lifesaving treatment for blood cancers. His work may make the procedure safer and available to more patients.
HCT usually requires a patient to undergo chemotherapy and radiation before doctors transplant healthy blood stem cells into the patient. These cells form the foundation of a new, hopefully cancer-free immune system. After transplantation, patients who receive cells from an unrelated donor can face a potentially deadly side effect called graft-versus-host disease, or GVHD. In GVHD, transplanted immune cells attack the patient’s own tissues as if they were foreign, like bacteria.
Zeng and his team are investigating the use of a genetically engineered antibody called anti-CD3 before transplantation. In laboratory studies, this nontoxic treatment has shown great promise both in preventing GVHD and as a replacement for radiotherapy before transplant. Nesvig Fellowship funds will support a postdoctoral fellow to help prepare the regimen for clinical trials.
“If our regimen works in humans, it will make the transplant procedure applicable for many more patients — particularly the very young and the very old,” Zeng said. “This could save the lives of thousands with lymphoma and other diseases, including autoimmune disorders.”
Scuto will examine non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma. Specifically, she investigates the role of one protein — signal transducer and activator of transcription 3, or STAT3 — in the disease.
Preliminary research by Scuto has found that the STAT3 pathway is activated in lymphoma cells — unlike healthy B cells. Her lab experiments showed that inhibiting STAT3 halted lymphoma’s growth and spread.
Scuto works in the lab of Richard Jove, Ph.D., director of Beckman Research Institute, cancer center deputy director and professor of molecular medicine. Jove played a pioneering role in identifying STAT3’s function in cancer cells.
|Anna Scuto (Photo by p.cunningham)|
The Nesvig Fellowship will allow Scuto to expand on her encouraging early results. She will evaluate the lymphoma-fighting potency of a variety of targeted therapies that inhibit STAT3 and related cellular pathways — some medicines already in use to treat other cancers and others developed in Jove’s lab. The goal is to move these therapies, which may prove more effective and less toxic than current treatments, into clinical trials for non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma.
“The fellowship helps me follow up on our promising findings,” Scuto said.
The Tim Nesvig Lymphoma Fellowship and Research Fund is a donor-supported fund that has generated more than $5.7 million through various fundraising initiatives, including the annual City of Hope Golf Classic.
The most recent golf tournament, held Oct. 13 at the prestigious Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., was the most successful to date. The event raised more than $1.1 million, thanks to the support of corporate sponsors such as FOX Broadcasting Co., News Corp., Comcast, Cynopsis Media, October Moon Television, DIRECTV and Zenith Media, along with individual donors and friends of the Nesvig family.
Past recipients of the fellowship include Ryotaro Nakamura, M.D., assistant professor, Mark Kirschbaum, M.D., director of new drug development, and Leslie Popplewell, M.D., assistant professor, all in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation.