Feinstein Institute for Medical Research Instructor Shih-Shih Chen, PhD, is continuing the Institute’s tradition of innovating the diagnosis and treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) through the recognition of her research that identifies a potential new therapy target for CLL. The award was presented at the recent International Workshop on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (iwCLL) for her abstract titled: “IL-4R – IL-4 axis Disruption by Ibrutinib Therapy Contributes to the Greater Vulnerability of U-CLL Clones to Loss of Microenvironmental Input.” These latest findings join the contributions made by Feinstein Institute Professors Kanti R. Rai, MD, and Nicholas Chiorazzi, MD, who have long been at the forefront of diagnosis and care of patients with CLL.
The International Workshop on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia was founded in 1979 by Dr. Rai, developer of the Rai staging system, and fellow CLL researcher Jacques-Louis Binet, developer of the Binet staging system. It is a biennial meeting focused on advancing the understanding and treatment of CLL and related lymphoproliferative disorders. As part of the event’s agenda there is a competition for the best abstract (research synopsis) presentation. Presenters are rated by the Workshop’s scientific program committee, based on innovation and impact on patients, with the top five being recognized. Dr. Chen’s received the highest score out of the 237 abstracts presented by researchers from across the globe.
“Chronic lymphocytic leukemia is the most common adult leukemia, and is becoming even more prevalent now that the Baby Boomers have come into the 60-plus age range where the disease typically manifests,” said Dr. Chiorazzi who was the organizer for the 2017 event. “The scientific program committee was enthusiastic to recognize Dr. Chen’s work as it provides new insights into how CLL cells grow and identifies a potential drug target to stop the cancer’s progression.”
Previous studies have shown that a group of white blood cells called B-lymphocytes are affected in patients with CLL. These CLL B cells require supportive factors found in tissues to survive and grow. Dr. Chen’s research looked to the IL-4 receptor that binds to the cytokine IL-4, a crucial factor that is associated with CLL disease progression. She found that the frontline therapeutic drug, ibrutinib, impairs IL-4 receptor expression and signaling in CLL B cells. With the IL-4 receptor blocked by ibrutinib, the CLL cells could not live or divide, essentially eliminating the cancer cells, particularly in CLL patients that responded to ibrutinib with limited tumor cell reduction. The tumor cells remaining after ibrutinib treatment have higher levels of the pro-survival protein BCL2, suggesting the combination of ibrutinib and a drug which inhibits BCL2 would be an effective therapy for CLL.
“I’m honored that my work in CLL was recognized by this prestigious organization,” said Dr. Chen. “CLL can be a difficult cancer to treat as the cells are not confined to one specific location of the body – they can be found throughout. Effective treatments must not only stop tumor cell growth but also reshape the tumor microenvironment. Though more research is required, ibrutinib has the potential to slow or event stop the progression of the disease when used in combination with other novel therapies.”
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The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research is the research arm of Northwell Health, the largest healthcare provider in New York. Home to 50 research laboratories and to clinical research throughout dozens of hospitals and outpatient facilities, the Feinstein includes 4,000 researchers and staff who are making breakthroughs in molecular medicine, genetics, oncology, brain research, mental health, autoimmunity, and bioelectronic medicine – a new field of science that has the potential to revolutionize medicine. For more information about how we empower imagination and pioneer discovery, visit FeinsteinInstitute.org
Heather E. Ball