News & Publications
Congratulations to Dr. Xiaoyan Jiang, who has been awarded a 5-year CIHR Project Grant!
Title: Targeting Key Autophagy Proteins/Pathways for Treatment of Human Leukemia
Blood cancer (leukemia) is common, with ~55,000 cases expected in the United States and Canada in 2017. The National Cancer Institute (US) calculated an overall 5-year survival rate
of 56% for various blood cancers. This is because drug resistance and relapse pose significant challenges. Life-long treatment is required, with potential side-effects and a high
cost. Blood cancer cells generally respond to drug therapy at the onset, but the drugs lose their effectiveness after 6-12 months. We and others have discovered that this is mainly due
to the inability of current therapies to eradicate blood cancer stem cells, which maintain the potential for relapse. There is thus an urgent need to develop new therapies that specifically
target blood cancer stem cells so that these cells can be eliminated, leading to a cure. We have found that ATG4B, a novel drug target and key driver in autophagy, displays abnormal
activity in blood cancer stem cells, particularly in drug-resistant patients. However, there is currently no drug that blocks autophagy in a specific and potent way, nor any related drugs for
autophagy inhibition that are approved as therapeutics. We have identified several promising new drugs that specifically target ATG4B in blood cancer stem cells. Combining these with
current anti-cancer drugs more effectively inhibits blood cancer stem cell growth in culture than single drug treatment; this treatment strategy also doesn’t have side-effects on normal
blood stem cells. This study will thus investigate if this combination therapy will more effectively eradicate blood cancer stem cells obtained from drug-resistant patients, using our
established animal cancer models. This will provide ultimate proof-of-concept for the development of more effective therapies with fewer side effects than currently used therapies.
More immediate economic benefits are also expected from the commercialization and drug development that will be fuelled by this research.