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Developing Therapies for Older Leukemia Patients

German Research Foundation approves funding for new research group at university and medical center

Freiburg, Jul 07, 2017

Developing Therapies for Older Leukemia Patients

AML cells before (left) and after combined epigenetically effective treatment with a histone demethylase (LSD1) inhibitor and retinoic acid (in vitro experiment). Source: Dr. T. Schenk and colleagues

A new research group at the University of Freiburg and the Freiburg University Medical Center aims to conduct fundamental and clinical research into acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer diagnosed in around 3000 people a year in Germany. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has agreed to provide 4.2 million euros in funding for the project over the next three years. The group spokesperson is Prof. 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 Prof. Dr. Christoph Plass from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg (DKFZ). “The approval of funding for this research group is a great success and further proof of the University of Freiburg’s prominence as a center for epigenetic research,” says Rector Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer.

AML develops primarily in patients over the age of 60. It accounts for around 80 percent of all acute leukemias in adults. The “Age-Related Epigenetic Remodeling in Acute Myeloid Leukemia” research group aims to analyze epigenetic modifications in leukemia stem cells that develop primarily in older people and can lead to the development of AML. Epigenetics is the study of mechanisms of inheritance that develop without a change in the DNA sequence. These are dynamic modifications in which changes in environmental conditions like diet, stress, or medications leave epigentic patterns. Epigenetic mechanisms thus determine which genes are activated or inhibited at any given time. One of the topics the researchers will be focusing on is the interactions between the genetic modifications that develop in AML patients. In addition, they will be studying the epigenome – the entire record of epigenetic patterns – of leukemia stem cells from different phases of aging. Furthermore, the group is interested in improving on existing epigenetic therapy approaches and implementing them in clinical practice for older patients with AML as quickly as possible: Several members of the group are already very actively involved in conducting clinical trials on AML patients.

With its research group and clinical research group funding programs, the DFG supports groups of researchers who devote themselves to a common research topic, the goal being to enable them to produce findings that would generally not be possible within the context of individual funding. The University of Freiburg and the Freiburg University Medical Center are currently participating in 23 research groups, one of them a clinical research group. Four of them are being coordinated in Freiburg.

Press release from the Medical Center – University of Freiburg on recent research findings by Michael Lübbert

Prof. Dr. Michael Lübbert
Department of Medicine I (Specialties: Hematology, Oncology, and Stem-Cell Transplantation)
Medical Center – University of Freiburg
Phone: +49 (0)761/270-35340