Fenghuang (Frank) Zhan, MD, PhD, professor of Hematology, Oncology and Blood and Marrow Transplantation, and partnering with Gail Bishop, PhD, professor of Microbiology and Immunology and of Internal Medicine, earned a four-year, $1.52M grant from the US Department of Defense. Zhan also received a one-year, $20,000 grant from Iowa’s Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center for a similar project. Zhan and Bishop’s proposed research predicts that anti-CD24 antibodies may eliminate multiple myeloma tumor-initiating cells and result in a cure or delayed mortality.
Responsible for 19% of deaths from blood cell cancers, multiple myeloma is a B cell blood cancer which usually occurs with the singular asexual production of plasma cells. While current therapies provide relief at first, most people with myeloma relapse and become immune to treatments. Zhan and Bishop’s research is the first to suggest CD24 as a factor of myeloma tumor-initiating cells and predict that CD24+ cells will lead to the fastest relapse and death in people with myeloma.
“Understanding the nature of myeloma tumor-initiating cells will provide an opportunity to cure this disease by preventing its relapse, through specific targeting of these cells,” Zhan said. “Through a systematic screening, our preliminary studies supporting this award application demonstrated that CD24-expressing myeloma cells maintain the features of self-renewal and drug resistance in myeloma.”
Myeloma is especially common in Veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides, and the cases continue to increase as war in the Middle East continues. Myeloma spreads rapidly. With early detection and therapy, which could be provided from the application of anti-CD24 antibodies, Zhan and Bishop may have a solution to this growing problem in the military and on the home front.
“Also of interest, the incidence of B cell malignancies such as myeloma is significantly higher than average in the state of Iowa, possibly due to exposures to agricultural chemicals,” Bishop said.
Current therapies for cancer treatment prove more effective, however, with patients with myeloma, the relapse and development of resistance to treatment through further mutations in the cancer cells is a significant danger.
“I laid over the years the groundwork for the proposed research in this application,” Zhan said, of the HCCC grant. “My career training, expertise, leadership, motivation and excellent environment allowed me to receive this prestigious award and carry out the proposed research project.”
Zhan has nearly 20 years of experience studying myeloma as well as its high-risk subtypes and drug resistance, and Bishop, who serves as the Holden Chair of Cancer Biology and Associate Director for Basic Science Research in the HCCC, has a similar length of experience studying B cells and cancer. Zhan and Bishop hope their research will lead to a new therapy that provides a significant life extension for people with myeloma.