Tags Posts tagged with "Leukemia"

Leukemia

Lingbo Zhang Photo from CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

In the span of a few months, Lingbo Zhang, a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory fellow, has made discoveries involving two deadly blood cancers.

In September, Zhang, collaborating with researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, found a drug target that might eventually lead to a new treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome, which is a common form of blood cancer. The scientists published their work in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

In January, Zhang published work that analyzed the genes that are active in acute myeloid leukemia, which has a five-year survival rate of only 33 percent. 

By studying 230 genes, Zhang found that this form of blood cancer is addicted to higher concentrations of vitamin B6, creating a potential target for future therapy. The CSHL scientist published this work in the journal Cancer Cell.

“We feel humbled that we found a target” for a future AML therapy, Zhang said of his latest discovery. “My lab partners and I think one day we can potentially translate our knowledge into a real therapy. The translational part gives us the energy and encouragement to work hard.”

Indeed, Zhang explained that his work broadly focuses on blood cancer, in which he looks for questions of medical importance. With MDS, he started with the view that many patients with this disease do not respond to the typical treatment using a hormone called erythropoietin, or EPO.

Lingbo Zhang

People with MDS typically have too few red blood cells, which are made in bone marrow. The hormone EPO converts progenitor immature versions of red blood cells into the ones that function in the body. A small percentage of MDS patients, however, respond to EPO. This occurs because people with this disease have a smaller pool of progenitor cells.

Zhang and his colleagues went upstream of those progenitor cells, searching for defective processes earlier in the pathway. They found that a protein receptor, CHRM4, decreases the production of cells that might become red blood cells. 

By inhibiting that receptor, they hoped to restore the red blood cell making process. In mice that have the same blood features as human MDS, this approach worked, restoring the machinery that leads to the production of red blood cells.

With both the MDS and the leukemia studies, these discoveries might lead to a future treatment, but are not necessarily the final step between understanding molecular signals and developing treatments. These findings are transitioning from basic discoveries into the preclinical development of novel therapies, Zhang said.

For MDS, the treatment may be effective with the inhibitor itself, while for AML, it will potentially be effective as part of a therapy in combination with other treatments.

In his work on leukemia, Zhang said the research went through several phases, each of which took several months. For starters, he screened all the potential target genes. Once he performed the initial work, he conducted a validation study, exploring each gene, one by one. Finally, he worked to validate the study.

After all that work, he discovered the role that the gene that makes PDXK, the enzyme that helps cells use vitamin B6, plays in contributing to cancer. Normal, healthy cells use vitamin B6 during metabolism to produce energy and grow. As with most cancers, leukemia involves more cell division than in a healthy cell, which means that the PDXK enzyme is more active.

Scott Lowe, a collaborator on the research and former CSHL fellow who is now the chair of Cancer Biology and Genetics at Memorial Sloan Kettering, expressed surprised at the finding. “While the action of certain vitamins has previously been linked to cancer, the specific links between vitamin B6 identified here were unexpected,” he said in a press release.

A postdoctoral researcher in Zhang’s lab who has been working on the project for two years, Bo Li plans to continue this research and hopes to find a more mechanistic understanding of the discovery.

While this vitamin contributes to cancer, people with leukemia shouldn’t reduce their consumption of B6, which is necessary in healthy cells. If normal and cancer cells both need this vitamin, how could this be a target for drugs?

The difference, Zhang explained, is in the concentration of the enzyme and, as a result, the B6.

PDXK is higher in leukemia. Reducing its activity by inhibiting this activity could affect the disease.

Working with a collaborator at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Zhang is hoping to develop a better chemical compound with the right property to target the activity of this gene and enzyme.

To conduct research into different diseases and pathways, Zhang works with a group of “very talented and hard working people,” in his lab, which includes a few postdoctoral researchers, a doctoral student, a few undergraduates and a technician, bringing his lab’s staff to eight people. “We also have very good collaborators at other institutes and we are able to manage several projects in parallel,” he said.

Zhang said he likes basic and translational science. The basic science brings “beautiful new theories that identify a detail nature created.” He also feels driven to “translate some of these basic discoveries into a potential treatment,” he said. He is working with a foundation and the hospital and receives patient information from them, which encourages him to work hard to seek ways to “benefit them.”

Down the road, he hopes to understand the hierarchical process that leads from stem cells to mature blood cells. By identifying a majority of the players or the regulators, he may be able to understand the different processes involved in the course of numerous diseases.

As for his current work, Zhang is pleased with the potential translational benefit of both discoveries. “I feel very happy that we can identify a target for leukemia and MDS,” he said.

Julia Witzke. Photo from Witzke family

Kings Park students are asking their community to come dine together to help raise funds to help a classmate in the fight of her life.

Kings Park High School will be hosting a pasta fundraiser Jan. 31 for junior Julia Witzke, who has been diagnosed with leukemia. The event will feature karaoke, games and raffles in addition to food with all proceeds going to the Witzke family.

“When someone in Kings Park is in need of help people come out in droves,” Judy Bishop-Hart, a retired executive assistant of the district said. “We want them to know we are with them.”

“This means everything, words can’t describe how happy we are with the love Julia is receiving.”

— Denise Witzke

Bishop-Hart said fellow classmates of Witzke came up with the idea of hosting a fundraiser. They approached Bishop-Harts’s son, Jack Bishop, who currently works as a 12th-grade history teacher and others for help.

“The students went to him to see if they could plan something for Julia,” Bishop-Hart said. “They’ve put it upon themselves to make this happen.”

Witzke’s mother, Denise, said what the students and the community are doing warms her heart.

“This means everything, words can’t describe how happy we are with the love Julia is receiving,” she said.

Her mother said Witzke is currently unable to attend classes at the high school while receiving treatment. The Kings Park junior has also been disappointed about being unable to take part in typical coming-of-age events with her classmates.

“It has been hard for Julia since the diagnosis,” Denise Witzke said. “She misses being in school. — It is her junior year and she felt bad missing out on her junior prom. She was looking forward to getting her learners permit and taking drivers education classes with her friends.

Bishop-Hart wants the Witzke family to know that they have the support of the community.

“We are with them every step of the way,” she said.

In addition to the event, students and school staff members are signing a poster with personal messages for Witzke to let her know that she is in their thoughts.

The fundraiser will be held Jan. 31 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the cafeteria of Kings Park High School, which is located at 200 Route 25A in Kings Park. The cost is $10 per person with children under age 5 free.

Volunteers are still being sought to help ensure the event runs smoothly. Anyone with questions or who is willing to offer time or services can contact Bishop-Hart at 631-896-9597.

Leukemia survivor Aubri Krauss collected Band-Aid box donations for Stony Brook University Hospital’s hematology and oncology unit. Photo from Darcy Krauss

By Jenna Lennon

Three years ago, Jericho Elementary School student Aubri Krauss decided to start a Band-Aid drive to benefit Stony Brook University Hospital’s hematology and oncology unit.

She had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2011. At just over 3 years old, she toughed out the treatment, and when finished, decided she wanted to do something to help others.

“[I want to] bring smiles to other kids who are going through what I went through,” she said.

Leukemia survivor Aubri Krauss collected Band-Aid box donations for Stony Brook University Hospital’s hematology and oncology unit. Photo from Darcy Krauss

“We were at the pediatrician’s office, and she saw all the Band-Aids they had and she was like ‘You know what mom? We used so many Band-Aids when I was sick — wouldn’t it be great if we could get a bunch of Band-Aids for all the kids that are still sick?’” Aubri’s mother Darcy Krauss said. “When they have to get their finger pricked, those plain Band-Aids are boring. That was one of the great things for Aubri was she got to pick her own fun, kid Band-Aid.”

Last year, Aubri decided to try something different and hosted a wrapping paper drive for the events that the clinic holds for the children during the holidays.

Aubri decided to return to the Band-Aid drive this year because “she thinks it’s more personal to the kids,” Krauss said. When she began, she hoped to beat her collection of 700 boxes from her previous Band-Aid drive, and she’s done just that, collecting over 800.

“And they’re not all the little 20 packs,” Krauss said. “Some people brought boxes that have hundreds of Band-Aids, some people bought boxes that have 200 Band-Aids in it. So it’s a lot of Band-Aids.”

Middle Country Board of Education member Dina Phillips met Aubri in 2012 when her father was the assistant coach of her son’s baseball team.

“When I met Aubri, she endured countless tests, procedures, chemo treatments and much more, yet managed to do so without ever losing her sense of joy,” Phillips said. “She had to learn what it means to live part of her life in a hospital room, to lose her hair, and to lose some of the freedoms that other kids her age get to enjoy.”

“She endured countless tests, procedures, chemo treatments and much more, yet managed to do so without ever losing her sense of joy.”

Dina Phillips

She said she was blown away by how Aubri did not let her circumstances define her.

“With a maturity far beyond her years, Aubri turned her illness into an opportunity to help other kids like her, and turned her pain into a way to bring smiles to others,” Phillips said. “I am extremely proud of her. I hope we can all do a simple gesture and help her achieve her goal.”

Band-Aid drives were held at Aubri’s elementary school, Raymour & Flanigan Furniture and Mattress Store in Lake Grove, and Stagecoach Elementary School, where Phillip’s son goes to school. The students there decorated the box for a collection at Stagecoach’s 50th Anniversary celebration on June 9th.

“I think when you go through something so hard and you can come out on the other end and be empathetic and understanding … it just makes me very happy and blessed to be her mom,” Krauss said. “Everyone is like ‘she’s so lucky to have you as her mom,’ and I’m like no, I definitely think I’m the luckier one to have her as my daughter.”

Members of the community gather at Jackson Edwards’ Terryville home July 31 to welcome him home from a lengthy hospital stay in Maryland to battle leukemia. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

After more than four months of treatment battling acute myeloid leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer, 11-year-old Jackson Edwards returned home Monday from Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland to the sound of a Terryville fire truck honking and the cheers of friends and family.

“I don’t know how to put it — it’s such a wave of emotions,” Jackson’s mother Danielle Edwards said. “We’re happy, finally. Jackson’s a little nervous because he’s so far away from the hospital and he’s thin from the treatment, but he’s happy to be with his people.”

Jackson waives to the crowd assembled at his home. Photo by Kyle Barr

Tired from the long trip and overwhelmed by the number of people who had shown up for the surprise homecoming, Jackson only stood outside for a few minutes July 31, waving to his friends and family before heading back inside. They had taken a 6-hour drive to get back to Terryville from Johns Hopkins.

“[Jackson and his mom] had no idea what was here,” Jackson’s aunt DeeDee Edwards said. She had helped plan the surprise homecoming, and was in charge of keeping the mother and son in the dark. “Jackson was counting the stoplights until we got here, and he was so overwhelmed by all the people who came to support him.”

Though the drive home was long, the real difficulty for Jackson and his family was the more than 100 days he spent in Baltimore fighting the rare form of cancer.. Jackson has always been a charismatic young man, according to his family. He’s a typical 11-year-old — he loves wrestling and football. His favorite comic book and show characters are Captain America and Optimus Prime. In December 2013 Jackson was diagnosed with AML. It was the start of an arduous treatment process that saw Jackson go into remission in May 2014.

Around Christmas 2016, Jackson started to feel sick again, and after taking him to Stony Brook University Hospital, the family learned that the his disease had returned and he had relapsed. In April he was transferred to Johns Hopkins in Maryland where he underwent a long and painful process of chemotherapy in preparation for a later bone marrow transplant. Meanwhile, friends and family worked hard to fund raise and help Jackson’s mother in finding options for his treatment.

Deirdre Cardarelli, a friend of the family, worked hard to help throw the surprise welcome for the Edwards’. For months Cardarelli was co-running the StayStrongJackson Facebook page alongside Jackson’s mom, and she was instrumental in forming a T-shirt drive and an Easter egg hunt to support the family’s travel and medical funds. The Facebook page and all the other social media efforts helped galvanize the local community in its support of Jackson, even those who were not necessarily close to the Edwards’..

Onlookers for the surprise homecoming brought signs of support to hold. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I don’t know the family personally, but our oldest, Michael, is in the same school with Jackson,” said community member Yoon Perrone. “We bought the shirts to support the family and we wanted to be here. I can’t imagine one of our own children having the disease.”

For the bone marrow transplant the family had to find a donor that was as close of a match as possible. Rocco Del Greco, a friend of the family, said he felt a deep need to help the young man and his family once he learned of the cancer’s relapse.

“Since I was not so emotionally connected to their son I was able to channel my anger for what happened to the young man,” Del Greco said. He helped to jump-start a YouCaring page to crowd fund for Jackson, which managed to raise more than $8,000. Del Greco  also managed several bone marrow drives during the search for a suitable donor. From January to early April, Del Greco helped facilitate for almost 1,800 people to test their DNA for matches to Jackson.

Finding a sufficient match was not easy for the Edwards’. Jackson’s mother had a 50 percent match from her own marrow. She served as the donor, and the transplant was successful. After about a month-long recovery, the doctors said he was safe to continue treatment from home.

The process kept Jackson away from school and friends and forced him to endure weeks of treatment, including chemotherapy. Jackson was not able to attend his fifth-grade graduation ceremony from elementary school in the Comsewogue School District, but his older brother Cortez James “C.J” Edwards walked up on stage in his place. Jackson’s mother said that while the treatment process and lengthy hospital stay did get tough, her son powered through it by making new friends.

Members of the community gather at Jackson Edwards’ Terryville home July 31 to welcome him home from a lengthy hospital stay in Maryland to battle leukemia. Photo by Kyle Barr

“He met a whole bunch of new people, because he’s very charismatic, and he stole a bunch of other people’s hearts,” she said.

The transplant has left his immune system weak, and for another eight months Jackson is restricted from coming too close in contact with other people while he heals. This will prohibit him from attending school for several months, but his mother said they plan on continuing his education with tutoring.

Though he said he is excited to eventually go back to school, for now Jackson celebrated a Christmas in July, including a tree and presents surrounding it. He was unable to celebrate Christmas with his family when his cancer relapsed back in December.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 47,000 people were diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, the most recent year on record with data on leukemia.

Kiddie Academy hosts second annual Hop-A-Thon to raise money for the Lukemia and Lymphona Society

On Feb. 17, kids between the ages 5 and 12 turned the music up and busted a move for good reason: they helped to raise $575 for those with leukemia and those working to find a cure.

For the second year in a row, Kiddie Academy Educational Child Care in Wading River sponsored a fun-filled and awareness-driven Hop-a-thon for the Long Island chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research, finding cures and providing treatment access for blood cancer patients.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro speaks to kids at Kiddie Academy of Wading River. Photo by Kevin Redding

As part of the organization’s Student Series, which aims to involve young people in the fight against cancer through service learning and character education programs, the event is a dance celebration for kids who, along with their parents, contributed money to the important cause. As leukemia affects more children than any other cancer, the program lets kids help kids while having fun.

But before the academy’s school age kids took to the lobby to hop and bop to songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” they sat down for a brief presentation about what they donated money towards, engaging in true-or-false questionnaires about blood cancers and learning about the “honored heroes” on Long Island — students from local school districts who have beaten cancer.

“Thanks to each and every one of you helping to raise money, kids like these are 100 percent better today and happy and healthy,” Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro told the energetic kids. “You’re dancing for them and I can’t thank you enough.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River students danced during its second annual Hop-A-Thon Feb. 17 to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Socoety. Photo by Kevin Redding

Samantha Wooley, a Kiddie Academy staff member, said the Hop-A-Thon is a reflection of the values of compassion and community contribution the students work on every month.

“In dancing, and just having fun, they’re working as a team and doing this all together,” Wooley said. “It’s broken up into different ages and levels, some of them are more shy while others are outgoing, and we’re just mixing them all together to have one big dance off.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River reached out to the society last year to participate in the program to support one of its students who had been diagnosed with leukemia, and is currently in remission.

Christina St. Nicholas, the director of Kiddie Academy of Wading River, said in a press statement that the Hop-A-Thon was “exactly in line with our curriculum” and the child care’s “strong emphasis on character education.”

“[It’s] an exciting program that will engage our preschoolers and school-age children to help others in a fun, educational way,” St. Nicholas said. “Joining in this program to fight leukemia is one of the many ways we strive to model the values of community, compassion and cooperation each and every day.”

Kiddie Academy of Wading River staff member Michele Boccia, on left, and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Campaign Specialist Alexa Landro, on right, talk to students about the lives they’re helping save. Photo by Kevin Redding

Nearly all 35 students in the school-age department of Kiddie Academy participated, with each classroom collecting bags of loose change. The childcare center also reached out to parents, who had the option to pay through a website or submit a check. Donations ranged from $25 to $75.

Kristin Lievre, a mother of two Kiddie Academy students from Wading River, said it’s important that the kids learn at an early age to give back to the community.

“I think it’s good to see there are ways we can help people through things like this,” she said. “This makes them feel good about what they can do for others.”

Sophia, 10, one of the star dancers of the day, echoed Lievre.

“It feels good because we can raise money for the people who are sick so they can get better,” she said, “and don’t have to deal with the sickness anymore.”

Marissa Pastore and her mom, flanked by Disney characters. Photo from Katrina Kurczak

A 14-year-old Huntington Station girl who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness got the wish of her life on Sunday when her favorite Disney characters came out to celebrate with her.

Marissa Pastore, who has been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on April 20, was treated at the Cohen Children’s Center, but her fragile body was unable to handle the chemotherapy, according to a GoFundMe online fundraising account set up for the family. A few days later, Marissa returned home with her mom Risa, dad Domenick and two brothers Domenick and Ryan, to enjoy their final days together.

Marissa’s mom is an emergency department nurse at Huntington Hospital and her dad is a former Huntington Manor Fire Department chief and a fireman with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), according to the account. Both are volunteers at the Huntington Manor Fire Department, and the account was set up so the family could “concentrate solely on loving Marissa.”

Marissa Pastore, 14, gets the surprise of a lifetime when Disney characters visit her. Photo from Katrina Kurczak
Marissa Pastore, 14, gets the surprise of a lifetime when Disney characters visit her. Photo from Katrina Kurczak

“Please help us support the Pastore family with any donation you can make which will go toward covering their living expenses while they take time off from work to celebrate Marissa’s life together.”

Not only did the account amass more than $55,000 by Wednesday, Marissa got a special surprise when Minnie Mouse, Mickey Mouse, Olaf and other characters from popular Disney movies greeted the 14-year-old Disney lover, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

According to Katrina Kurczak, one of Marissa’s wish granters and assistant director of program services for Make-A-Wish, the nonprofit group and the family put together Marissa’s wish quickly. Family and community members contacted them Tuesday, April 28, and the group met with the family Wednesday. On Sunday, her wish came true.

“She was surprised and so happy, she couldn’t believe it,” Kurczak said. The characters rode in on fire trucks and greeted her.

The goal was to bring Disney to her, as Marissa is unable to travel due to her condition. Disney princesses Anna and Elsa from “Frozen” also made a special appearance and sang to the young girl.

“Her dad wanted to do something to make her smile,” Kurczak said.

Many volunteers came together to help make the day as special as possible. The Huntington Manor Fire Department, Cold Spring Harbor Fire Department and the FDNY also helped make Marissa’s wish come true.

To donate to the Pastore family, visit https://www.gofundme.com/sus6z8.