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Professor seeks innovative treatments to prevent leukemia relapse

Tuesday, April 29, 2014
Professor seeks innovative treatments to prevent leukemia relapse

By Kelli M. Titus


Assistant professor of biological sciences Dr. Gerard Madlambayan has spent seven years studying the relationship between endothelial cells and leukemia, a type of cancer found in blood-forming tissue.
The Society of Leukemia and Lymphoma states that in the U.S., a new case of blood cancer is diagnosed every four minutes. Unfortunately, factors that support the growth and survival of leukemic cells remain a mystery.

Research efforts at Oakland University are attempting to change that.

Assistant professor of biological sciences Dr. Gerard Madlambayan has spent seven years studying the relationship between endothelial cells and leukemia, a type of cancer found in blood-forming tissue.

Globally recognized for his research contributions, Madlambayan’s work has resulted in two patents and has produced research results appearing in a number of high-impact publications. Early in 2014, he received a grant from the National Institute of Health for $430,000 over three years to study how the activation of endothelial cells, which line our blood vessels, can control the growth, survival and treatment outcomes of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

AML is a specific blood-based cancer that originates from leukemia initiating stem cells. Madlambayan’s research will study how these cells remain safe from chemotherapy treatment and how they can then initiate the process of cancer recovery and relapse.

“Each year, greater than 12,000 new cases of AML are reported,” Madlambayan said. “Even after chemotherapy … up to 80 percent of patients eventually relapse. These numbers are not good and indicate that current treatment strategies are not optimal.”

Madlambayan’s goal is to develop innovative treatment strategies that will prevent relapse by eliminating thriving leukemia cells.

“The new grant will allow us to develop a better understanding of how AML progresses, survives therapy and eventually relapses,” Madlambayan said. “The knowledge gained will allow us to generate new treatments that should eliminate AML in patients and concomitantly prevent relapse."

Madlambayan spent nearly two years producing and collecting data to support his research for the grant. He will use the $430,000 in grant money to not only fund his research, but also to send several OU students to conferences throughout the world in an effort to network, work with others in the field and further their education.

“The grant money will be used to directly fund research activities that will further our understanding of how endothelial cells support the growth, progression and survival of AML, both pre- and post-treatment,” Madlambayan said.

Madlambayan plans to write another grant before this one has run out, ensuring his research continues to move forward. He hopes to broaden his studies to include other types of blood cancers.

“Research involves constant progress,” Madlambayan said. “So, as the current project develops, we expect to identify new research avenues and new questions that we can try to answer.”

Oakland University offers research opportunities in a variety of centers and institutes, including the Eye Research Institute, Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Honors College, College of Arts and Sciences and School of Health Sciences.

Madlambayan says that student engagement in health science research has grown in the short time he has been at OU. “I believe this is a great achievement that will benefit future students,” he said.

The institution’s research infrastructure is vastly evolving, becoming a prevalent and effective resource for enhancing student education on campus.