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Research money might help find a vaccine against leukemia

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada has provided more than half a million dollars to help scientists try to find alternatives to chemotherapy

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC) has provided nearly $600,000 for research into alternative treatments, instead of chemotherapy, for infants and young children.

The news was released Tuesday as Canada observes that September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, as well as Blood Cancer Awareness Month. 

Canadian researchers who are exploring precision medicine with immunotherapy – including alternatives to chemotherapy for infants, and how a zebrafish gene could help with inherited bone marrow disorders – have received research grants from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC) for pediatric blood cancer research innovation, said a news release.

One of the grants included $200,000 for Dr. Trang Huang, to help identify proteins that are found only on the surface of leukemic cells; cells that could be targeted in a patient's body, allowing the patient to trigger an anti-leukemic defence.

"Imagine a child getting a therapeutic vaccine instead of enduring a two-year, gruelling chemotherapy treatment with immediate and long-term consequences that irreversibly worsen their quality of life," said Dr. Hoang, one of the 2023 recipients of the Pediatric Blood Cancer Research Innovation Grants from LLSC.

"In this era of precision medicine, we can do better," said Hoang, pediatric blood cancer researcher at the University of Montreal.

Similarly seeking an alternative to chemotherapy for children – in his case, infants under the age of one with leukemia – Dr. Jean-Sebastien Delisle, at the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemount in Montreal, is studying how the sequence of abnormal proteins causing infant leukemia can be used as immune targets, said the news release. 

"We want to identify those proteins and use them as a target to treat infant leukemia with immune cells rather than with toxic chemotherapy," said Dr. Delisle, who was also granted $200,000 from LLSC.

Dr. Jason Berman, at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, in Ottawa, is another grant recipient of $199,000, said the release. Berman is working to prevent childhood leukemia before it develops by studying how a gene in zebrafish affects blood production and causes defects in blood cells. 

"We hope our findings can be used to screen for drugs that can impact blood defects, restore normal blood production and potentially halt leukemia development," said Berman.

Nadine Prevost, Business Unit Director - Research and Community Support at LLSC said the Society is committed to investing into the vital and innovative research by Canada's leading blood cancer scientists.

"We support the research of, and people affected by, 137 types of blood cancer within leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, and myeloproliferative neoplasms."

LLSC said 2023 research investment in total in 2023 includes nearly $5 million for a total of 37 blood cancer researchers – including 14 women – at 21 universities and hospitals in five provinces. 


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