Even though white people in the U.S. are more likely to develop diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), people of African descent are on average diagnosed with the fast-growing, aggressive and common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma 10 years earlier, and their five-year survival outcome is much worse.
To find out why this is the case, the National Cancer Institute has awarded a $2.76 million, five-year R01 grant to Jean L. Koff, MD, MSc, an assistant professor and clinical investigator in the Division of Hematology at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, and co-principal investigator Ankur Singh, PhD, Woodruff Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University.
The researchers plan to study how interactions between patient-level factors, tumor genetics and the tumor microenvironment contribute to racial disparities in diagnosis, survival and treatment.
“Our findings that African American patients are diagnosed at a younger age and exhibit specific tumor genetic abnormalities strongly suggest a biologic component to this disparity,” says Koff, a clinical expert in B-cell lymphoma. “But how race-specific differences in tumor immune microenvironment affect lymphoma outcomes has not been well-defined.”
Singh adds, “Once we identify factors that differ in African American patients, my lab will immune engineer lymph node-mimicking technologies to study these tumors and discover new therapies.”
Koff calls Singh’s pioneering work developing and deploying modifiable organoids—tiny, self-organized three-dimensional tissue cultures that can be crafted to replicate much of an organ’s complexity or express selected aspects of it—and computer chip systems that can model benign and malignant tissue, “an outstanding resource for investigating unanswered questions about how tumor microenvironmental factors influence response or resistance to certain therapies.”
The team ultimately wants to apply what they learn to the development of targeted treatments aimed at reducing disparities and improving outcomes for patients.
Koff and Singh have previously collaborated. “We quickly realized that our research interests and areas of expertise complement each other very well,” says Koff. “I think our ongoing close collaboration truly exemplifies a winning Emory-Georgia Tech partnership.”
This study is funded by NCI RO1 grant 1R01CA266052-01A1.