Funded by the Dick Vitale Pediatric Cancer Research Fund
Asparaginase is an important drug for the treatment of childhood leukemias. However, some leukemias become resistant to asparaginase, and this makes them very difficult to treat successfully. We discovered that by blocking a protein called GSK3α, we can make drug-resistant leukemia cells sensitive to asparaginase again. Although this finding is promising in the lab, there are currently no drugs known to block GSK3α that can be used to treat patients.
This proposal is focused on overcoming this problem by testing two different but related ideas. First, we will test the hypothesis that some existing drugs, which have already been developed for other purposes, also possess the ability to block GSK3α. Because these drugs are already approved for use in patients, we would be able to quickly start testing these in patients with leukemia. Second, we have engineered several new compounds that are specifically designed to target GSK3α. Fortunately, these have shown early promise in the lab, and we are ready to evaluate whether these newly engineered compounds fit the criteria as candidates for new drug development. If this line of research is successful, we expect it will lead to two different treatment strategies combining asparaginase with a drug that blocks GSK3α.
With support from the V Foundation for Cancer Research, we are optimistic that our work has the potential to lead to the development of potent new treatment strategies for some of the most difficult-to-treat forms of childhood leukemia.