U of MN researchers awarded more than $20 million for stem cell and natural killer cell research

October 31, 2005

University of Minnesota Cancer Center researchers have been awarded two program grants from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) totaling more than $20 million over five years to conduct research on stem cells and natural killer cells for treatment of cancer.

Principal investigators for the grants are Philip McGlave, M.D., chief of the University of Minnesota Medical School's Hematology, Oncology and Transplant Division and co-leader of the Cancer Center's Translational Research Program, and Jeffrey Miller, M.D., hematologist/oncologist and co-leader of the Transplant Biology and Therapy Program.

"These grants underscore the University of Minnesota's place as a world leader in cell-based experimental therapy. They focus on novel areas of investigation, including the use of umbilical cord blood as a source of stem cells for transplant and the use of natural killer cells to fight cancer," McGlave said.

McGlave will oversee three teams of researchers who will focus on projects aimed at further understanding the biology of human stem cells and transplanting them into patients for treatment of leukemia and lymphoma. In addition to McGlave, University of Minnesota physician-scientists leading the research projects include Stem Cell Institute leaders Catherine Verfaillie, M.D., and John Wagner, M.D. The newly awarded five-year competitive renewal of this grant will enable McGlave and his teams to build on 10 years of National Institutes of Health-funded interdisciplinary programmatic research in this area.

Miller also will direct three teams of researchers who are intent on learning more about the role of natural killer cells in killing cancer and how the cells can be used in unrelated donor transplants. In addition to Miller, the other team leaders include Daniel Weisdorf, M.D., University of Minnesota, and Peter Parham, Ph.D., Stanford University.

As part of the body's immune system, natural killer cells help defend the body against infection and against some cancers. Findings reported by Miller last year were the first successful demonstration that natural killer cells donated by a family member and transfused into a patient with advanced acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a highly fatal cancer of the bone marrow, could survive in the patient and actively attack the deadly AML cells.

Those findings led to Miller receiving the new NCI grant, which is one of the first grants awarded by NCI exclusively for research on natural killer cells for fighting cancer. The funds from both grants will be used to continue the laboratory research, conduct clinical trials in patients, and begin to apply what has been learned about the use of natural killer cells in fighting diseases including leukemia and breast cancer. The researchers also will collaborate with the National Marrow Donor Program in Minneapolis for use of marrow samples.
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University of Minnesota

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