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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 institution in Germany. More than 1,300 scientists at the DKFZ investigate how cancer develops, identify cancer risk factors and search for new strategies to prevent people from developing cancer. They are developing new methods to diagnose tumors more precisely and treat cancer patients more successfully. The DKFZ's Cancer Information Service (KID) provides patients, interested citizens and experts with individual answers to all questions on cancer.

Jointly with partners from the university hospitals, the DKFZ operates the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) in Heidelberg and Dresden, and the Hopp Children's Cancer Center KiTZ in Heidelberg. In the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), one of the six German Centers for Health Research, the DKFZ maintains translational centers at seven university partner locations. NCT and DKTK sites combine excellent university medicine with the high-profile research of the DKFZ. They contribute to the endeavor of transferring promising approaches from cancer research to the clinic and thus improving the chances of cancer patients.

The DKFZ is 90 percent financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and 10 percent by the state of Baden-Württemberg. The DKFZ is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.


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