The V Foundation has awarded WenYong Chen, Ph.D., and Ravi Bhatia, M.D., a three-year, $600,000 grant to fund translational research that aims to improve therapy for chronic myelogenous leukemia.
The grant is one of six awarded to research teams at top institutions nationwide.
Translational research is the process of applying basic scientific discoveries rapidly to new treatments by promoting direct collaborations between basic scientists studying fundamental biological processes such as Chen, who is an assistant professor in the Division of Biology, and researchers with expertise in clinical translation of basic research such as Bhatia, who directs the Department of Stem Cell & Leukemia Research.
“We are certain that V funding has once again been awarded to the most elite level of research. The six selected projects represent the best of the 45 proposals evaluated by The V Foundation in 2007,” said V Foundation Chief Executive Officer Nick Valvano, brother of legendary North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator Jim Valvano.
Jim Valvano founded The V Foundation in 1993 shortly before dying of cancer. The foundation’s goal is to find a cure for the disease. Since its creation, The V Foundation has raised more than $60 million and awarded cancer research grants in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
Chen and Bhatia’s proposal aims to devise better therapies for chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML. In 2001, CML received a major blow when the drug Gleevec was developed — a significant cancer success story. Gleevec blocks the activity of the oncogene that causes CML, but over time, some patients become resistant to it and progress to more advanced forms of the disease.
Chen and Bhatia believe that high levels of a specific protein that cells produce to counteract environmental stress may be associated with resistance to Gleevec.
“We have found that this stress-related protein is overexpressed by some CML cells,” said Chen. “If we find that it is a critical factor for resistance during Gleevec treatment, we could possibly devise strategies to block it.”
For his part, Bhatia will evaluate the effect of drugs that inhibit the activity of that stress protein on CML stem cells derived from patients. “If we could show that one of those inhibitors plus Gleevec was more active in inhibiting CML progenitors than Gleevec alone, it would provide support for using that drug in a clinical trial,” he said.
More information about Jim Valvano and The V Foundation is available at www.jimmyv.org.