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UCSD to Use $20M in NCI Funds to Lead Leukemia Consortium

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of California, San Diego said today that it has received a $20 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to continue leading a research consortium focused on understanding the pathology of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

The renewal award to the UCSD School of Medicine will fund the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Research Consortium (CRC), a group consisting of eight institutions working to delve into the biology of CLL, including its molecular, genetic, and cellular characteristics, and to develop potential treatments for the disease.

According to UCSD, CLL is a "particularly confounding" disease — a blood cancer that is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal, dysfunctional lymphocytes that interferes with bodily functions and disables the immune system.

It also is quite prevalent, with 1 out of 20 people over the age of 40 potentially having pre-cancerous CLL-like cells in their blood. More than 15,000 new CLL cases are diagnosed each year, and it claims the lives of around 4,400 annually.

"This funding allows us to continue critical research that has already produced substantial, new insights into how and why CLL develops and progresses differently in patients," UCSD Professor Thomas Kipps, director of the CRC and deputy director of research at the Moores Cancer Center, said in a statement. "Our work has revealed new targets and approaches for both mitigating the disease and perhaps eventually preventing it."

The CRC is comprised of UCSD and 7 other institutions, including the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute; the Mayo Clinic; Ohio State University; the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School; the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, and the BARTS and London Cancer Centre in England.

CRC's research projects involve studies seeking to understand the genetic basis for CLL and how genes change as the disease progresses; the resistance of CLL cells to apoptosis, which makes them less susceptible to chemotherapy; development of new anticancer agents that inhibit CLL development; the potential for using immunotherapy to stop and reverse the disease; and efforts to repair defective immune cells to maximize their response to mutations.