The nervous system's tie to leukemia

Peter Gordon

Fifty years ago, only 10 percent of children with pediatric leukemia survived. Today, around 90 percent beat the disease.

In spite of these numbers, leukemia still devastates too many kids and families. That’s why Masonic Scholar Peter Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrics faculty member and doctor at the U, is seeking ways to stop its progression.

One area that Gordon is exploring is how the central nervous system might contribute to the progression of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), as well as relapse and chemotherapy resistance in children with this cancer. It’s an understudied yet important aspect of leukemia research because ALL spreads to the nervous system in 50 percent of kids who do not receive nervous system therapy.  

In their past research, Gordon and his team discovered that ALL cells predominantly reside in a tissue called the meninges, which covers the brain and spinal cord, and that the ALL cells in this tissue are more resistant to chemotherapy.

This year, they made another big leap forward by identifying a drug that can re-sensitize leukemia cells in the meninges to chemotherapy. Their next big steps will be to further test this drug in the lab and in mouse models of central nervous system leukemia.

“Support from Minnesota Masonic Charities allows me to pursue research questions aimed at better understanding and, ultimately, treating leukemia."

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