UF researchers receive NCI grant to study microRNA degradation in acute lymphoblastic leukemia

A team of University of Florida researchers has received a five-year $2.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study gene regulation in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Jonathan D. Licht, M.D., left, and Mingyi Xie, Ph.D.

The team, led by Jonathan D. Licht, M.D., and Mingyi Xie, Ph.D., will explore processes involving microRNAs, which can inhibit gene expression and offer promising targets for cancer treatment. Licht, director of the UF Health Cancer Center, and Xie, an associate professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology, are members of the Cancer Center’s Mechanisms of Oncogenesis research program.

The researchers recently found that when T-cell ALL (T-ALL) cells are treated with dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid steroid commonly used in leukemia chemotherapy, two microRNAs are degraded by their target messenger RNA. This finding represents an emerging gene regulation mode and paves the way to develop strategies for cancer intervention.

In the new study, the team aims to understand more about the degradation process and explore how the process enhances the killing of T-ALL cells during chemotherapy. In the final aim, the researchers plans to develop an innovative protocol to globally identify sequences in different target messenger RNAs that can induce microRNA degradation in T-ALL patient samples.

Understanding the mechanism of resistance could help improve therapeutic interventions and ultimately help develop new therapies to treat the disease.

NCI Cancer Center badge