About 75,000 new cases of lymphoma are diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and many are fatal, but a local researcher is entering the final year of study on a project that he hopes will greatly improve lymphoma survival rates.
For four years, Dr. Ricardo Aguiar at UT Health Science Center’s School of Medicine has been working under a grant from the Voelcker Fund to develop lymphoma treatments that are more effective and less toxic.
Aguiar’s team first discovered that elevated levels of the molecule microRNA-155 deplete the important retinoblastoma (RB) gene that stops cancer cells from growing.
"RB is really a checkpoint for cells," Aguiar explained. "Cells with broken DNA stop at that checkpoint and the DNA is fixed. When we do not have RB, there is no checkpoint, so the cell progresses and eventually may develop into a cancer."
Pushing forward from that discovery, Aguiar’s research moved to ways to rid the body of some of its microRNA-155.
"And that’s what we are working on now," he said. "It does not matter if the cancer has already developed – you still can act on it. For example, [we have] cell line models in the lab from patients that have cancer. And the microRNA-155 is highly expressed in these cells. If we suppress microRNA-155, the cell becomes less aggressive."
The final phase of the study is a year of testing on mice with the hope of starting clinical trials in another one to two years. Aguiar said the process could translate to other blood cancers including myeloma and leukemia.