V-Foundation notches up the fight against childhood leukemia

Dr. Wu awarded 2013 V-Foundation grant

University of Florida cancer researcher Lizi Wu, Ph.D., an assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, is engaged in a running battle against a formidable opponent, a particularly aggressive form of childhood leukemia called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL. T-ALL is a subset of ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer, where the white blood cells reproduce out of control, never properly maturing to fight infection and quickly crowding out the normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets necessary for life.

Roughly 3,000 new cases of pediatric ALL are diagnosed every year, and for 80 percent of these children current intensive chemotherapy results in remission of the disease, where blood counts return to normal and the bone marrow is free of cancer cells. Nonetheless, many of these patients suffer from toxic side effects after aggressive treatment, and 20 to 25 percent of pediatric ALL cases stubbornly resist even the best available treatments.

Hope for these children is on the horizon thanks to a generous, $200,000 V-Foundation grant in support of Wu’s research. With V-Foundation support, she is exploring a specific genetic mutation common to more than 60 percent of all T-ALL patients that she believes may hold the key to improving outcomes for them. The mutation is present on a gene called the NOTCH 1 cell-surface receptor, and it causes the gene to be constantly “on” leading to unregulated lymphocytic cell growth and proliferation.

“If we can identify an inhibitor— a compound or drug — that can block the mutated cell-signaling pathway, we will be able to target the NOTCH-1 cell-surface receptor to turn it off,” said Wu.

“We are very grateful for V-Foundation support of our project, and enormously hopeful that it will lead to new therapeutic targets for children and adults diagnosed with T-ALL and other forms of cancer with aberrant NOTCH signaling,” she said.

NCI Cancer Center badge