UC Santa Cruz research could help enable the design of targeted cancer drugs.
Biomedical research at UC Santa Cruz has the potential to change how the most common type of childhood cancer is treated. A new grant from the nonprofit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation will help UCSC researcher Camilla Forsberg advance her work to identify the root cause of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) in infants and children.
Approximately 2,900 children and teens are diagnosed with ALL each year in the United States. Most are ages 2 to 3 years when diagnosed.
Forsberg, associate professor of biomolecular engineering in the Jack Baskin School of Engineering, and co-director for the UCSC Institute for the Biology of Stem Cells, is one of 16 researchers nationwide who have been awarded the foundation’s Innovations Awards. The two-year, $250,000 awards provide critical and significant seed funding for experienced investigators with novel and promising approaches to finding causes and cures for childhood cancers.
“Understanding the cause of this disease will enable the design of drugs that specifically eliminate cancer cells,” said Forsberg, “without causing damage to the body’s healthy cells while curing children with cancer.”
Avoiding treatment side effects is particularly important in children, as their growing bodies are much less able to tolerate standard chemotherapy. The idea of specific drug targeting is based on the success with the drug Gleevec in treating patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia.
Leukemia is a cancer that starts in early blood-forming cells. In a healthy child, the bone marrow makes blood stem cells (immature cells) that become mature blood cells over time. Cancer researchers like Forsberg are seeking a better understanding of what causes blood-forming stem cells to start behaving abnormally.