Advances in CLL Treatment and Research | The Impact of CLL Global Research Foundation

George A Calin, MD, PhD
Professor, Department of Translational Molecular Pathology
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Dr. George Calin discusses his current research projects that are funded by the CLL Global Research Foundation and shares how the organization has impacted the field of CLL over the years.


Dr. George Calin:

I am George Calin. I am a professor in Translational Molecular Pathology. I work in MD Anderson for 17 years. And my connection with the foundation, it’s far behind. When I was working in Ohio State in 2005, after we discovered the role of micro-RNAs in CLL, I got one of my first independent grants from CLL Global Foundation. And then, Dr. Michael Keating convinced me to move from Ohio State to MD Anderson, where I am here from 17 years, and I have a continuous relationship with the foundation, and the colleagues from the foundation, and the people from leukemia [community].

There are multiple lines of research that are funded. So, we are working on familial CLL. Now, as you know, CLL has a very big familiarity. About 10 percent of the patients have at least two if not three, four members, with CLL and/or other type of cancers, and we don’t know what are the causes. So, the foundation is funding a project to identify the causes of familial CLL by sequencing the whole human genome, about 3 billion sequences, for proband and the people from the families that we have. Because in leukemia department, we have one of the biggest, if not the biggest database of CLL in all of the country, and I would say, probably top in the world.

Then, we have a second project which is funded. It’s about second cancers development in patient with CLL.

This is one of the main causes why the patient with CLL, who do well to the leukemia therapy, and they are happy, they pass away because of second cancers. So, we try to see if these very short RNAs that we discovered, the micro-RNAs, “micro” from the Greek, “very small,” so, very small, the little transcripts, are important in cell-to-cell communication between the leukemia cell and the non-leukemic cells in order to influence the frequency of second cancers.

And then, we have a third project on a very novel mechanism of genetic alteration. So, when the scientist and the clinician are looking to cancer patient, generally, they look to DNA mutations, thinking that everything, what is modified in DNA, will be found in RNA. What we analyze, we analyze so-called RNA editing. So, modification is an RNA molecule who has no correspondent in DNA.

So, otherwise, we identify the new type of editing, which has nothing to do with the DNA, and it’s located as a single nucleotide polymorphism loci in the human genome. And we think this influence response to therapy, mechanistic abnormalities in patients with CLL, and not only; many types of cancers.

So, making a long story short, CLL Global has a history of funding very innovative research that cannot get money from NIH and other government type of agencies, which are preferring a more safe type of project because they have to report, now, the outcome of the grant. Risky grants means several can make a big advance; several will fail, because this is about science. Sometimes; you are right; sometimes, you are not right. CLL Global, is funding this type of research for a long time.

Now, one of the initial grants that I told you was exactly on micro-RNA role in CLL, or the discovery of the role of these very short RNAs. In human cancers, the first ever was done in CLL. So, that funding was really pioneering a new discovery who started with CLL, and now, there are over 70,000 70,000, meaning 70 zero-zero-zero, not 17, 70,000 papers on micro-RNAs in cancer. Really, it started from these two patients, one from Dr. Keating and one from Dr. Kanti Rai with the deletion of chromosome 13, where disease – two micro-RNAs are located, miR-15 and 16.

So, I would say, this type of funding really started a huge field of research, which is now touching any type of cancer patient, and not only – many types of diseases, many type of biological fundings. It’s the same in the research side. CLL Global is a clinical side. CLL Global funded a lot of research done in clinical trials, which are now very important. It brought in venetoclax and so on.

So, I would say, this is money were given right, in the right time, at the right places. This is because, also, now, as a founder, Dr. Michael Keating has, he’s a wonderful clinician, but here’s the bottom line for science. He’s not a scientist, but he understand what is really important for science. And he’s funding not only side MD Anderson, but all over the world, these type of interesting ideas who really can make an impact.

The fight against CLL, against cancer, it’s never-ending.

Because as we show, for example, I talked today about ultra cancer DNA, DNA who never change the structure, for half billion year, still in patient with cancer each chain. So, keep funding, keep donating. Keep funding, because this is a way to make breakthrough in science. The CLL Global Foundation was very important, as I said, but the fact that the clinical trials are working well doesn’t mean – a good part of CLL patients still have poor chances to survive because there are other mechanisms we don’t know about.

Second, by expanding the foundation as a donation, you can make a difference for other type of cancer patients, the solid cancer patient in CLL who are patients with prostate cancer, lung cancer, which everybody of us has someone in family, someone out of the friends.

So, the funds who come here really have an impact not only on CLL; an impact of very many types of cancers, really because CLL Global clinicians are very open-minded, and the scientists too, and work on very, very bright and very powerful ideas. So, thank you for the contribution, thank you for donating, but keep in mind, fighting against CLL and fighting against cancer, it’s never finished.

Related Posts