Three scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and Siteman Cancer Center each will receive $900,000 in funding – $2.7 million total – over two years for their innovative approaches to fighting leukemia and other types of cancer.
The awards, from the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Research Fund, are meant to further promising early-stage science that might not receive funding from traditional sources.
The recipients are:
- Timothy Ley, MD, the Lewis T. and Rosalind B. Apple Professor of Medicine
- Todd Druley, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics
- Samuel Achilefu, PhD, professor of radiology
Two of the projects are aimed at improving long-term outcomes for patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. An estimated 14,000 people in the United States will die of AML this year.
Ley and Druley are working to better assess which patients with AML are more likely to relapse after initial treatment with chemotherapy. They will compare different methods for measuring lingering cancer-related mutations that signal a greater likelihood of relapse. Better detection of the residual disease could lead to more effective therapies.
Achilefu is focused on developing a new approach to treat prostate cancer using a combination of light and a photosensitizing drug to kill cancer cells. He hopes to advance the treatment of primary, microscopic and metastatic tumors without inducing drug resistance.
The method is similar to photodynamic therapy, which is effective at treating recurrent forms of superficially located cancers, such as melanoma, that are more easily penetrated by light or reached by an endoscope. Unlike conventional methods that utilize light from an external source, Achilefu will employ a safe dose of clinically available radiopharmaceuticals to serve as the light source from within the tumor cells. Such light will stimulate the photosensitizers in cancer cells, converting them into highly toxic drugs. By selectively triggering therapy inside cancer cells, Achilefu and his team hope to minimize the toxic effects of drugs to healthy tissue.
Alvin J. Siteman, an emeritus Washington University trustee and chairman of Site Oil Co., established the Siteman Cancer Research Fund in 2010. Since then, the fund has provided nearly $8.2 million in funding to nine projects at Washington University/Siteman Cancer Center. All projects are reviewed and recommended by an external review panel.
Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.
Siteman Cancer Center, ranked among the top cancer treatment centers by U.S. News & World Report, also is one of only a few cancer centers in the U.S. to receive the highest rating of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Comprising the cancer research, prevention and treatment programs of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Siteman is Missouri’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and the state’s only member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.