Children’s Cancer Research Fund Backs Cutting-Edge Leukemia Research at UVA

May 24, 2023
Aerial view of UVA Health

A UVA School of Medicine researcher received a $250,000 grant to research a new approach to treating leukemia. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Children’s Cancer Research Fund has awarded $250,000 to a UVA Cancer Center researcher to continue developing an innovative new approach to treating leukemia.

The grant to John H. Bushweller of the University of Virginia School of Medicine is part of the national nonprofit’s efforts to accelerate development of new and better treatments for difficult-to-treat cancers.

“This funding makes it possible to continue developing a novel approach to treatment for a form of pediatric leukemia with a very poor prognosis,” said Bushweller, of the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics.

Bushweller said developing treatments that inhibit a protein that drives cancer development could be more effective – and less toxic – than current treatments. That could vastly improve patient outcomes.  

“This is exactly the approach we are pursuing with the support of [the research fund],” he said.

Better Leukemia Treatment

Bushweller and his team are developing drugs to block the effect of an abnormal protein formed when a protein called MLL fuses to other proteins. That alters the cell, resulting in either acute myeloid leukemia or acute lymphocytic leukemia. Bushweller and his team found in their lab models that blocking the abnormal proteins from binding to DNA completely prevented it from causing leukemia.

Headshot of John H. Bushweller

John H. Bushweller is working on treatments for childhood leukemia that have the potential to be more effective and less toxic than current treatments. (Contributed photo)

Based on those results, they are working to develop drugs that disrupt DNA binding as a novel approach for treatment.

Based on promising results so far, Bushweller believes his approach could be more effective and less toxic than existing options for treating leukemia. He hopes the new approach could be combined with existing drugs to provide unique benefits for patients.

“The potential benefits to patients include improved efficacy, leading to better outcomes, and much reduced toxicity, leading to far better quality of life and reduced long-term health effects from the treatment,” he said.

About the Children’s Cancer Research Fund

Children’s Cancer Research Fund is a national nonprofit dedicated to ending childhood cancer. It backs promising research from top scientists across the country, funding projects that could make the greatest impact for children battling cancer. Since 1981, the group has contributed more than $200 million to research, support programs for children and their families and cancer awareness and education outreach efforts.

“At Children’s Cancer Research Fund, we select and fund the best and most innovative research to advance breakthrough treatments for children’s cancer. And we are excited about Dr. Bushweller’s promising results,” said Jean Machart, chief operating officer and interim chief executive officer at Children’s Cancer Research Fund.

About UVA Cancer Center

Developing new and better ways to treat cancers is a primary mission of UVA Cancer Center. In recognition of UVA Cancer Center’s outstanding research and patient care, the National Cancer Institute has designated it one of only 54 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the country. The designation recognizes elite cancer centers with the most exceptional cancer programs in the nation.

To keep up with the latest medical research news from UVA Cancer Center and the rest of UVA Health, including the UVA School of Medicine and the UVA School of Nursing, subscribe to the Making of Medicine blog.

Media Contact

Josh Barney

UVA Health