Press and Public Relations

Therapies for older leukemia patients

No. 41c | 02/08/2017 | by Koh

The German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG) will provide funding for a new research group at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and at the University of Freiburg and Freiburg University Medical Center. The scientists will jointly pursue fundamental and clinical research into acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The DFG will support the project with funds of approximately €4.2 million over the next three years.

© The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), Wikimedia Commons

AML, a malignant disease of the blood, is diagnosed each year in about 3,000 people in Germany. The disease primarily affects people over 60 years. It accounts for approximately 80 percent of acute leukemias affecting adults. The new research group called "Age-Related Epigenetic Remodeling in Acute Myeloid Leukemia" will be studying epigenetic alterations in leukemia stem cells, which occur primarily in elderly people and can lead to the onset of leukemia. The group spokesperson is Professor Dr. Michael Lübbert from the Department of Medicine I of the Medical Center - University of Freiburg. He will be responsible for coordinating the project together with Professor Dr. Christoph Plass from the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) in Heidelberg.

Epigenetics studies mechanisms of inheritance that happen without any changes in the DNA sequence. These are dynamic modifications in which changing environmental conditions such as diet, stress or medications leave epigenetic patterns. Epigenetic mechanisms regulate which genes are activated or silenced at any given time.

The scientists will be focusing primarily on the interactions between the genetic alterations in AML and the epigenome – the complete set of epigenetic patterns – in leukemia stem cells of various aging phases. In addition, the consortium aims to further develop existing epigenetic therapy approaches and implement them in the clinic as swiftly as possible, with a particular focus on the treatment of elderly persons with AML. "We currently lack effective and well-tolerated therapies particularly for AML patients at an advanced age," said Plass, who is pleased about the funding approval by the DFG. "There is a great need for research in this area. The support by the DFG will enable us to follow up on very promising approaches and possibly advance them to clinical testing stage."

The DFG provides funding for research groups and clinical research groups that team up to pursue a common research goal in order to enable them to achieve results that would usually not be possible as part of an individual funding program.

The German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) with its more than 3,000 employees is the largest biomedical research institute in Germany. At DKFZ, more than 1,000 scientists investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and endeavor to find new strategies to prevent people from getting cancer. They develop novel approaches to make tumor diagnosis more precise and treatment of cancer patients more successful. The staff of the Cancer Information Service (KID) offers information about the widespread disease of cancer for patients, their families, and the general public. Jointly with Heidelberg University Hospital, DKFZ has established the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg, where promising approaches from cancer research are translated into the clinic. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of six German Centers for Health Research, DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partnering sites. Combining excellent university hospitals with high-profile research at a Helmholtz Center is an important contribution to improving the chances of cancer patients. DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centers, with ninety percent of its funding coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the remaining ten percent from the State of Baden-Württemberg.

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