University of Minnesota Professor Awarded R01 Grant from the NCI to Identify Prenatal Origin of Leukemia

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - A study, based at the University of Minnesota, that will examine the prenatal origins of pediatric leukemia, has been awarded a prestigious R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Led by Logan Spector, PhD, Professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics and the Suzanne Holmes Hodder Chair in Pediatric Cancer Research, the multi-institutional team will study the banked cord blood of individuals who were diagnosed with leukemia sometime between their birth and the age of 25.

The study is officially titled “Backtracking Leukemia-Typical Somatic Alterations in Cord Blood at Single-cell Resolution” and is being called ReCord for short. ReCord will examine cord blood for genetic alterations contributing to a leukemia diagnosis. Cord blood banking is a process of collecting potentially life-saving stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta and cryogenically freezing and storing them for future use. 

"Mutations found in leukemia cells have been tracked back to cord blood or newborn dried blood spots before, but never at this scale or with such sophisticated tools,” said Dr. Spector. “For the first time we will be able to say what the differences are between a pre-leukemia cell found in cord blood and actual leukemia. This study is a first step towards early detection of leukemia and someday even prevention."

The study also includes researchers at University of Southern California and Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Adam de Smith, PhD, at USC is co-Principal Investigator, with experience in both germline and somatic analyses of childhood leukemia. Joseph Wiemels, PhD, also at USC, conducted some of the first backtracking experiments while a trainee at the Institute of Cancer Research, London. The USC group will be responsible for creating the nucleic acid tools for the project.

The Oxford team (Drs. Irene Roberts, Anindita Roy, and Adam Mead) are hematologists who use molecular biology to understand leukemia. They will be using the USC-created primers for TARGET-seq, a technique they developed which simultaneously sequences DNA and RNA in single cells.

ReCord will catalogue which leukemia mutations occur in utero and which occur postnatally. It also will determine which cells in developing blood are vulnerable to acquire mutations. Lastly, ReCord may uncover vulnerabilities of pre-leukemic cells which could one day lead to prevention of leukemia.

About the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota

The Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, is the Twin Cities’ only Comprehensive Cancer Center, designated ‘Outstanding’ by the National Cancer Institute. As Minnesota’s Cancer Center, we have served the entire state for more than 25 years. Our researchers, educators, and care providers have worked to discover the causes, prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer and cancer-related diseases. Learn more at cancer.umn.edu.

About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit med.umn.edu