University of Utah Hematology Professor Receives More Than $2 million to Conduct International Research on Blood Disorders

University of Utah Hematology Professor Receives More Than $2 million to Conduct International Research on Blood Disorders

Oct 10, 2006 6:00 PM

The University of Utah has been named one of eight institutions worldwide composed of U.S., Italian, and German researchers to share a $19.6 million National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant to advance basic and clinical research into incurable blood disorders, which includes certain types of leukemia.

Josef T. Prchal, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the Division of Hematology at the Universitys School of Medicine, will receive more than $2 million to conduct laboratory research and clinical trials as part of the Myeloproliferative Disorders Research Consortium.

Myeloproliferative disorders occur when the body overproduces certain types of blood cells, including red cells, platelets and white cells. The overproduction of these cells can lead to blood clots and, in some cases, to bone marrow failure or acute leukemia. Incurable blood disorders include chronic myeloid leukemia, polycythemia vera, essential thrombocythemia, and idiopathic myelofibrosis. The research consortium is focusing on the latter three disorders.

Polycythemia vera is characterized by too many red blood cells while essential thrombocythemia is associated with too many platelets. Both diseases share similar complications and can lead to blood clots, heart attack and stroke. With idiopathic myelofibrosis, abnormal blood stem cells in the bone marrow cause inappropriate blood production in the spleen and other tissues, resulting in bone marrow scarring, an enlarged spleen, and anemia.

"These three conditions are among the least understood, least researched, and often misdiagnosed blood disorders," said Prchal. "Our goal is to evaluate the genetic and molecular structure of these disorders to develop new treatments and therefore improve the quality of life of these patients."

More than 20 researchers in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Italy have collaborated to establish this team under the direction of Ronald Hoffman, M.D., the projects leader and professor of hematology and oncology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

The NCI grant will fund five basic research and six clinical projects. Prchal will be principal investigator for the first basic research project and for the University of Utah clinical trials, which will be conducted by his team at Huntsman Cancer Hospital, University of Utah Hospital, and the George E. Wahlen Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center. According to Prchal, those enrolled in the clinical trials will be referred from local and regional hematologists and will have been diagnosed with one of the blood disorders. Prchal will also be involved as a sub-investigator in two other projects and will oversee the evaluation of certain studies of all blood samples for the consortium with the intent to identify new drug treatments.

Until now, research into these blood disorders has been hampered because of the relatively small number of patients that can be seen at a single location and because so few researchers specialize in these uncommon disorders. This NCI grant will allow the consortium to maintain an interactive Web site for investigators, an international tissue bank, and an online database.

Additional team members at the University of Utah who will be involved in this landmark research study with Prchal include Charles J. Parker, M.D., professor of internal medicine in the Division of Hematology; Scott Samuelson, M.D., senior clinical fellow in hematology; and Diane Bowen, P.A., clinical coordinator for the clinical studies in Utah.

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