Institute Scientist Awarded ~ $4 Million for Leukemia Research

Dr. Shujun Liu research will focus on new target to control leukemia

AUSTIN, MN – Jan 13, 2021 – Dr. Shujun Liu, head of the Cancer Epigenetics & Experimental Therapeutics lab and an Associate Professor at The Hormel Institute, was awarded a major grant from National Institutes of Health to research a new leukemia study. Dr. Liu is a noted expert and has published research in top journals in the area of leukemia. This grant will support research to identify targets to stop leukemia from progressing.

The nearly $4 million grant – given during an extremely tightened federal budget environment –  is even more of a win in an increasingly difficult and competitive research grant environment.

“We are extremely proud of Dr. Liu for his important research,” said Dr. Robert Clarke, Executive Director of The Hormel Institute.

“This new grant from the National Cancer Institute at NIH, awarded at a time of limited funding and tremendous competition from across the US, reflects his dedication and the significance of his study,”

Dr. Liu’s project is named “The Role of HIF1A-DNMT3A axis in AML1/ETO-Driven Acute Myelogenous Leukemia,” and $3,995,031 will be distributed to The Hormel Institute UMN over 5 years for the project.

The goals of this research are to study how the pattern of DNA methylation (naturally occurring chemical changes to DNA that affect gene expression) is altered by molecular signaling controlled by the HIF1a gene and the DNA methyltransferase protein 3a and use this information to develop new treatments. The project focuses on a particularly deadly form of cancer, a subgroup of acute myelogenous leukemia that is driven by an oncogene (AE) formed by the fusion of the AML1 and ETO genes (AE-AML). This research project will discover how the changes in DNA methylation patterns affect cancer formation and progression and could lead both to new drugs to treat AE-AML and to identifying biomarkers to select those patients who could benefit most from these new treatments.

“I am extremely thankful to receive the grant as it opens up the door for research to identify important new markers and targets for leukemia, a cancer that still a significant threat to people,” said Dr. Liu.

Leukemia is a type of blood cancer caused by the rapid production of immature or abnormal white blood cells. Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is an aggressive hematopoietic malignancy that progresses rapidly and gets worse quickly without treatment. While AML makes up only about 1% of cancers, it is one of the most common leukemias with almost 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The available treatments are not effective for all patients and many AML patients relapse and die from their disease.

“Our findings will provide information and new therapies for patients that previously would be given a poor prognosis,” said Dr. Liu “This will open the door to better ways to treat leukemia.”