July 18, 2014 | by Darrin Joy
Elizabeth Budde, M.D., Ph.D., wants to encourage infighting. She aims to turn the immune system on itself — to the benefit of patients with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML.
AML arises when abnormal white blood cells grow out of control, amassing in the bone marrow and interfering with normal blood cell development. Blood stem cell transplants are the only hope of cure for most patients with AML; however, many patients eventually see their cancer return.
Budde wants to give patients with relapsed AML a fighting chance by giving them modified white blood cells that attack their malignant cousins.
Her work is garnering increased attention. Budde, an assistant professor in the Department of Hematology & Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation at City of Hope, has been chosen as The Jake Wetchler Foundation for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research-Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation Clinical Investigator. The accompanying $450,000 grant will support her studies for the next three years.
Although these “T cells” normally fight disease in the body, cancer cells can avoid detection and thrive. Budde’s efforts, under the mentorship of Stephen J. Forman, M.D., Francis & Kathleen McNamara Distinguished Chair in Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation, reprograms T cells to see the malignant cells for what they are and destroy them.
The grant will support a first-in-human clinical trial to test the safety of the educated T cells and find out how effective they are in killing cancer cells. It also will help Budde find ways to boost the potency of the T cells and make the therapy more effective.
Budde believes that her studies “have the potential to change the treatment paradigm and significantly improve the cure rate for patients with leukemia in the future.”
“Support such as this generous award is critical to our clinical research efforts,” said Steven T. Rosen, M.D., provost and chief scientific officer. “It represents important and prestigious recognition of the quality of work Dr. Budde and her colleagues are conducting.”
In line with its mission to fight pediatric cancers by funding leading-edge research and giving breakthrough ideas a start, The Jake Wetchler Foundation for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research partnered with the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation in 2011. The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation funds early career cancer researchers who have the energy, drive and creativity to become leading innovators in their fields.
Budde is the third recipient of The Jake Wetchler Foundation for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research-Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation award and the first clinical investigator to be supported through this partnership. She also is the first City of Hope clinical investigator to receive support from either foundation.
Read an overview of research at City of Hope.