Leukemia and Lymphoma Research

Through discovery, innovation and collaboration, researchers at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta are investigating safer, less toxic and more effective methods of treatment for children with cancer. Program themes include:

  • Aberrant signaling nodes
  • Novel drugs and combinations

Clinical and Translational Research

  • Innovative therapy
    • Dr. Todd Cooper focuses his research efforts on developing novel drugs for clinical study in relapsed leukemia patients. Currently, Dr. Cooper is the lead investigator of two Phase I clinical trials for relapsed leukemia patients that are being conducted in selected institutions throughout the country. The first trial is an Aflac Cancer Center initiated study of a  specific drug that appears to push hidden leukemia cells into circulation—allowing them to be destroyed by chemotherapy. The second is a clinical trial of a drug that could be useful in treating children with a specific mutation in their leukemia that leads to devastating outcomes. Learn more
  • Nano-scale Proteomics
    • The NanoPro 1000 system (cell biosciences) enables a rapid and quantitative analysis of specific proteins from as few as 25 cells per sample. Drs. Kevin Bunting and Himalee Sabnis, along with a senior research technician Heath Bradley, use the automated, capillary based immunoassay platform to obtain precise and quantitative data of the phosphorylation states of proteins separated by isoelectric focusing. The instrument is capable of analyzing dozens of different proteins within a single sample or it can analyze a single protein in up to 96 samples per run.  The group is developing assays for profiling of signaling pathways in valuable patient samples.
  • mTOR targeted therapies
    • Drs. Frank Keller (ALL) and Kevin Bunting and Himalee Sabnis (AML) are focused on effectively inhibiting the mTOR pathway using innovative approaches in combination with rapamycin which alone is not very effective at suppressing protein synthesis downstream of a highly activated PI3K/AKT/mTOR pathway.

Clinical and Translational Researchers

     
 
MDM2Research

    While the activation of p53 is well known, Drs. Zhou and Gu have discovered that MDM2 has two major effects. They found that MDM2 also associates directly with XIAP to stabilize the protein. Therefore, blocking the interaction of MDM2 with XIAP could kill cancer cells liberation of p53, but also through induction of caspase mediated apoptosis.

 
     

Basic Research

  • Targeting MDM2 Signaling in Cancer Treatment
    • Drs. Muxiang Zhou and Lubing Gu are searching for small-molecule compounds that insulate the connections between MDM2 and XIAP. This insulating effect disrupts the signals from MDM2 to boost the production of the cancer-resistant XIAP—allowing cancer cells to become more sensitive to chemotherapy. Learn more
  • Targeting STAT5/mTOR Signaling
    • Dr. Kevin Bunting specializes in studying a molecule called STAT5, which shows great promise as a treatment that would greatly reduce unwanted side effects, like those associated with radiation. STAT5 could also lead to a revolutionary treatment of childhood cancer and other diseases. Learn more
  • STAT5
    • Dr. Bunting’s research is focused on understanding the biology of the latent transcription factor STAT5, in particular, its roles in normal hematopoietic stem cell function and its aberrant activation associated with a variety of hematologic malignancies. 
      • Activation of STAT5 by phosphorylation is required at tightly regulated levels for normal hematopoiesis, but its persistent activation is prevalent in adult and pediatric leukemias. 
      • A major focus of the Bunting lab is to identify key STAT5 downstream target genes associated with both normal and leukemic hematopoietic cell function and to utilize this knowledge to develop novel approaches to manipulate STAT5 activity in a therapeutic setting. 
        • In leukemia therapy, the goal is to disengage leukemic cell survival and to facilitate leukemia cell sensitivity in combination with other targeted agents. 
        • In hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, the goal is to develop innovative forms of conditioning based on STAT5 signaling inhibition. 
    • Dr. Bunting also studies the Grb2-associated binding (Gab) family of adapter proteins and their role in PI3K-AKT-mTOR activation in hematopoietic and immune cell biology. The Gab family of scaffolding adapter proteins are synergistic with STAT5 in controlling hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal and leukemogenesis and thus represent an attractive cooperative signaling node in which to focus on therapeutics targeting both STAT5 and AKT mediated signals.

Basic Researchers

Research Collaborations

The Aflac Cancer Center conducts leading-edge research in conjunction with the following local, regional and national organizations: