Big Ideas

Angela Fleischman, M.D., Ph.D.

Myeloproliferative neoplasm (or MPN) is not only difficult to pronounce, but has also proved a challenging puzzle for cancer researchers. MPN is a chronic blood cancer that often runs in families, but the reasons for its hereditary tendencies have continually evaded scientists. Angela Fleischman, M.D., Ph.D., is leading the charge to put the pieces together.

Fleischman received a V Scholar grant from the V Foundation in 2014, and then received extended funding via the V Scholar Plus Award in 2016. She and her team at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California, Irvine have honed in on a particular gene mutation that could be a key to finding more answers.

“It’s been found that mutations to a gene called calreticulin turn on cell activation pathways that drive increased blood production,” said Fleischman. “We are working to understand how the immune system of people with MPN is different than normal.”

Since MPN is a chronic disease, it tends to affect people more slowly. It increases the risk of blood clots, while also causing symptoms like headache, severe itching, numbness and burning of the hands and feet. Because of its slower nature, the scientific community has tended to try to manage the disease, rather than focusing on a cure.

Fleischman is focused on prevention.

“I think preventing hematologic malignancy is a much more effective approach than trying to treat it after a person develops clinical problems,” said Fleischman. “Because this runs in families, there should be an opportunity to identify those who are predisposed to acquire MPN and work to develop preventative strategies.”

And there is no better person to have on the job. As soon as she began medical school, Fleischman knew this would be her path. “I have always been intrigued by blood development,” said Fleischman. “So it was natural for me to study blood cancers.”

Thanks to the support of the V Foundation for Cancer Research, her team continues to work on the puzzle that is MPN. Fleischman hopes that they’ll eventually be able to stop it before it starts.
“I hope, someday, that we will prevent, not treat, cancer.”