Posted March 18, 2011

Researcher receives grant to develop alternative leukemia treatment

A Temple researcher has been awarded a grant from the University City Science Center to develop a tumor-inhibiting protein to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

George P. Tuszynski, a professor of neuroscience in Temple’s School of Medicine and professor of biology in the College of Science and Technology, discovered the novel protein Angiocidin and will receive the $200,000 proof-of-concept grant as part of UCSC’s QED Program. The awards bridge the funding gap between research grants and commercial seed investment by providing funds for life science technologies with high potential in the healthcare industry.

Tuszynski said that AML causes white cells in the blood to stop maturing at a certain level, which can cause a suppression of the immune system and lead to secondary problems such as infection and pneumonia, which are often fatal. Additionally, immature leukemic cells can spread to other organs and grow, compromising organ function and leading to death.

Patients diagnosed with AML are treated with chemotherapy, a highly toxic treatment that kills off these immature cells in the blood but does not prevent more of them from appearing. Currently, the only other option is a bone marrow transplant, which requires a compatible donor. The development of Angiocidin would offer an alternative treatment to these options.

“Remission rates are so low that, basically, leukemia is like a death sentence,” said Tuszynski, who is also a member of the Sol Sherry Thrombosis Research Center in Temple’s School of Medicine. “That’s why there’s an enormous need to find something to treat the disease that’s non-toxic.”

In initial studies against AML cell lines, Angiocidin demonstrated the ability to stimulate maturation in the effected white cells, causing them to behave and function like normal cells in the blood. In addition, it stimulated and bolstered the immune system.

“We’re not eradicating the cancer; the cancer is still there, but the protein is stimulating the cancer cells to function like normal cells,” said Tuszynski. “So you would still be living with the cancer in your blood, but it is more manageable.”

Tuszynski said the proof-of-concept grant will allow his team to conduct a mini-clinical trial. Working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania, they will treat leukemia samples taken from patients with the protein and evaluate its results in a mouse model.

“If we see positive results with this next phase of testing, we can go right into a phase I clinical trial,” he said.

“This funding marks a great achievement for George Tuszynski and represents Temple’s continued focus on commercializing new discoveries,” said Kenneth J. Blank, senior vice provost for research and graduate education at Temple. “The QED program is a leading model to establish proof-of-concept and we look forward to advancing this technology for the benefit of patients.”