Sinai team builds first model acute myeloid leukemia progression using CRISPR

February 10, 2021

(New York, NY) February 10, 2021 - A research team led by the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (Icahn Mount Sinai) has built the first cellular model to depict the evolution of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), from its early to late stages. By using gene editing technologies to alter genes that make cells malignant, the team was able to identify potential therapeutic targets for early disease stages. The study was reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell in February.

The therapeutic targets could be applicable not just to AML but also to the blood cancer myelodysplastic syndrome and clonal hematopoiesis, which is often a preleukemic condition.

"We essentially built from scratch a model of leukemia that characterizes the molecular changes that underlie progression of the disease, and which allowed us to identify the earliest events in its development that can be therapeutically targeted," said Eirini Papapetrou, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Oncological Sciences at Icahn Mount Sinai, and senior author of the study. "By creating the first cellular model to track the evolution of human leukemia, we believe we've taken an important step toward unraveling the cellular biology of this disease. We've identified molecular vulnerabilities that occur early in the disease process which could potentially lead to improved biomarkers and novel treatments for AML--goals that have proven so elusive to medical science in the past."

AML is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. The disease, which primarily affects white blood cells, is one of the most common leukemias in adults, with more than 20,000 newly diagnosed cases each year in the United States. While several new drugs have been introduced in recent years targeting the disease, they have fallen short of significantly changing patient outcomes or survival.

By introducing specific leukemia-causing gene mutations through CRISPR-mediated gene editing, Icahn Mount Sinai researchers were determined to better understand the successive stages of the evolution of leukemia. CRISPR is a powerful tool that allowed the team to alter the DNA sequences in induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) to create a model with an increasing number of mutated genes that shows progressive malignant features that correspond to their human counterparts in myeloid disease. CRISPR gene editing uses Cas9, an enzyme that acts like a pair of molecular scissors with the ability to cut strands of DNA. Through use of these tools, the researchers were able to recapitulate the step-by-step conversion of a normal cell into a malignant one.

"CRISPR/Cas9 and iPSC technologies gave us the unique opportunity to characterize changes underlying the transitions between stages of AML, and to harness patterns of these changes to pinpoint target genes for early intervention," explains Dr. Papapetrou.

Specifically, the researchers found that inflammatory and innate immunity pathways constitute such early targets and demonstrated that inhibitors of these pathways, therapies that are being trialed in blood cancers and immune-related disorders, may be promising therapeutic modalities for AML and myelodysplastic syndrome.
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Other partners in the study included Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

About the Mount Sinai Health System

The Mount Sinai Health System is New York City's largest academic medical system, encompassing eight hospitals, a leading medical school, and a vast network of ambulatory practices throughout the greater New York region. Mount Sinai is a national and international source of unrivaled education, translational research and discovery, and collaborative clinical leadership ensuring that we deliver the highest quality care--from prevention to treatment of the most serious and complex human diseases. The Health System includes more than 7,200 physicians and features a robust and continually expanding network of multispecialty services, including more than 400 ambulatory practice locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island. The Mount Sinai Hospital is ranked No. 14 on U.S. News & World Report's "Honor Roll" of the Top 20 Best Hospitals in the country and the Icahn School of Medicine as one of the Top 20 Best Medical Schools in country. Mount Sinai Health System hospitals are consistently ranked regionally by specialty and our physicians in the top 1% of all physicians nationally by U.S. News & World Report.

For more information, visit https://www.mountsinai.org or find Mount Sinai on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

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