Three times €240,000 for blood cancer research
DKMS Stiftung Leben Spenden (Foundation for Giving Life) has awarded three outstanding young female scientists with the highly endowed John Hansen Research Grant: Dr. Sarah Lindner from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Dr. Sabrina Prommersberger from University Hospital Würzburg, and Dr. Cristina Toffalori from San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan. Their research focuses on blood stem cell transplantation and cell therapy.
Every 27 seconds, someone, somewhere in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer. For many, a blood stem cell donation from a matching donor is their best chance of survival. But by far not all of those affected are permanently cured after transplantation. Relapses and complications still pose major challenges – for example, graft-versus-host disease, which is considered the most dangerous side effect of a blood stem cell transplantation.
Therefore, DKMS – beyond its original cause as a blood stem cell donor center – also works in the medical-scientific field to contribute to better transplantation results and thus to more second chances at life for patients. An important aspect of this is the promotion of young scientists: Every year, DKMS Stiftung Leben Spenden awards the DKMS John Hansen Research Grant to young scientists in order to secure medical progress in the field of stem cell transplantation and cell therapy for the future.
„We are delighted to be able to award the John Hansen Research Grant again this year to three outstanding female scientists who share the same goal as we do: to bring hope and a cure to as many patients as possible, all over the world,“ says Dr. Marcel van den Brink, Chairman of the DKMS Medical Council. „Their groundbreaking projects have convinced and inspired our jury of top-class medical experts. It is important to us to support the three award winners in the realization of their promising projects.“ The scholarship holders each receive €240,000, over a period of three years.
Three projects, three research approaches
Dr. Sarah Lindner’s research aims to contribute to a better understanding of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). GvHD is an immune reaction. In addition to the actual blood stem cells, each transplant also contains immune cells from the donor. While the donated blood stem cells settle in the bone marrow of the recipient and build up the new hematopoiesis, the donated immune cells migrate through the body after transplantation. Ideally, they destroy cancer cells in the process and prevent the cancer from returning. However, if the donor’s immune cells attack the patient’s healthy cells because they recognize them as foreign, graft-versus-host disease results. It is known that the composition of the intestinal bacterial flora changes considerably during stem cell transplantation, which affects the patient’s immune system – and thus also the risk of developing GvHD. Lindner now wants to explore the link between the gut microbiome and GvHD. (Project title: „Investigating the role of bile acid signaling in graft-versus-host disease“)
Dr. Cristina Toffalori’s approach aims to better understand the „graft-versus-leukemia“ effect. Although the newly transplanted immune system can help destroy the patient’s remaining leukemia cells and thus bring about a complete recovery, sometimes individual leukemic cells find ways to evade this effect. Toffalori will examine various components of the bone marrow to determine the extent to which they support or even induce changes in leukemia cells. Once the interplay of the individual factors is better understood, therapeutics could prevent adverse interactions, leading to a stronger antitumor effect. (Project title: „Multimodal mapping of the leukemia immune microenvironment to personalize the therapy of posttransplantation relapses“)
Dr. Sabrina Prommersberger’s project seeks to advance CAR-T cell therapy. CAR-T cell therapy is one of the most promising immunotherapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancers of the hematopoietic system. T cells – white blood cells that serve the immune defense system – are first extracted from the patient’s blood. They are then genetically modified in the laboratory and equipped with a specific receptor so that they can recognize and fight cancer cells. Subsequently, the „modified“ T cells are administered to the patient via an infusion. One obstacle concerning CAR T-cell therapy targeted against multiple myeloma has been the fact that T cells, which are actually „trained“ to destroy cancer cells, also fight each other, causing them to fatigue prematurely. Prommersberger will investigate whether the drug dasatinib can prevent premature CAR-T cell exhaustion. (Project title: „Leveraging dasatinib as an ON/OFF switch for SLAMF7 CAR T cells to prevent fratricide and exhaustion and augment anti-myeloma potency“)
Would you like to learn more about the medical-scientific commitment of DKMS? Information about the numerous studies and the John Hansen Research Grant can be found here: https://professional.dkms.org/