$1.7 Million Grant To Fund UAMS Myeloma Research

Sep 23, 2020

Dr. Jesus Delgado-Calle
Credit UAMS

A researcher with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will use a $1.7 million grant to find new ways to treat a deadly blood disorder.

The grant from the National Cancer Institute is going to Dr. Jesus Delgado-Calle, assistant professor of physiology and biophysics at UAMS, who is studying ways to improve bone health to prevent or delay relapses in patients with multiple myeloma.

Myeloma is an incurable cancer that forms in blood plasma cells and causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, causing bone damage and weakening the immune system. Nearly all patients with multiple myeloma end up relapsing with the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Delgado-Calle says he’s studying two drugs that could lessen the unusually high chance of myeloma recurring in patients after they go into remission.

“The microenvironment where the myeloma cells live in the bones helps a lot to keep them dormant and helps a lot for these dormant cells to become resistant to therapies. So what we are trying to do is, using this drug, modify the microenvironment in a way that these cells cannot wake up,” Delgado-Calle said. “After we do that and prove that it works, we can think about other things to target, in particular, those cells involved in the relapse for the patient.”

One drug in the study will potentially interrupt the pathways that cancer cells use to interact with the bone marrow in which they live. The other would target a protein that prevents rebuilding of damaged bone tissue that is overproduced in myeloma patients.

Delgado-Calle says the bone-targeted therapy showed good results in patients with osteoporosis in building bone mass, and would be a unique treatment method for addressing bone damage from myeloma. 

A diagram from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention displays how myeloma impacts healthy blood cells.
Credit cdc.gov

“When myeloma patients develop the disease, they usually have bone pain and can have bone fractures, and that’s something that is also a challenge in the clinic,” Delgado-Calle said. “All the therapies that are currently used in the clinic are intended to stop the destruction of the bone, but none of them can repair the bone.”

Delgado-Calle says the drug will specifically target bone cells, which will limit toxicity to other cells and organs. He says both treatments could also potentially be effective against other cancers that commonly spread to the bone in later stages.

“We envision that this drug and some of the approaches that we are using are going to be also relevant for other cancers that grow in bone. I can think of breast cancer, prostate cancer or any cancer really that metastasizes to the bone,” Delgado-Calle said.

Myeloma is the second-most common blood cancer behind leukemia and is highly difficult to detect early as its symptoms are often confused with other diseases. Approximately 50% of multiple myeloma patients live for another five years after diagnosis.

Delgado-Calle says the next steps of the study are to determine how the drugs interact with common myeloma treatments like radiation and chemotherapy, and to further study how the drug effects animals before testing on humans. He says it could take as many as 15 years for the experimental treatments to be approved for use in patients by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.