Researchers at the Van Andel Institute have identified a potential drug target for NK/T-cell lymphoma, a type of cancer responsible for claiming the life of a close friend and fellow researcher.

A study authored by Bin Tean Teh, M.D., Ph.D., and published this week in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, notes that a substantial proportion of NK/T-cell lymphomas harbor Janus Kinase 3 (JAK3) gene mutations, indicating that patients with these lymphomas might benefit from treatment with a Janus Kinase inhibitor.

Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the immune system.NK/T-cell lymphoma is an aggressive form of the disease with a poor prognosis that is rare in the United States, though prevalent throughout much of Asia. According to Teh, the only case ever recorded in Grand Rapids, Michigan was that which struck close friend and fellow Van Andel Institute researcher, Han-Mo Koo, Ph.D., in 2004.

Melanoma and pancreatic cancer
Teh and Koo began working together at Van Andel Institute in 1999 as a part of a group of founding principal investigators. Koo’s promising work identifying genetic targets for anti-cancer drug development for melanoma and pancreatic cancer was cut short when he passed away from NK/T-cell lymphoma in 2004, at the age of 40. Before Koo died, Teh promised him that he would dedicate his efforts toward finding the genetic basis of the disease.

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A complicated puzzle
“The passing of my colleague, whom I was very close to, was the reason that I started studying NK/T-cell lymphoma. It has been a complicated puzzle, but I feel that we have pieced together enough that we will have an impact on a large number of patients with the disease,” said Teh, director of the National Cancer Center Singapore-Van Andel Research Institute Translational Research Laboratory at the NCCS, and professor at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore.

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“We are currently putting together a proposal to test JAK inhibitors as a treatment for NK/T-cell lymphoma with JAK3 mutations,” said Teh. “I am hopeful that we might have found a molecular target for the treatment of a least some patients with this otherwise fatal disease.”

Reference:
Ghee Chong Koo GC, Tan SY, Tang T, Poon SL, Allen GE, Tan L, Chong SC, et al. Janus Kinase 3?Activating Mutations Identified in Natural Killer/T-cell Lymphoma Cancer Discovery, OnlineFirst June 15, 2012; doi: 10.1158/2159-8290.CD-12-0028 .

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