UAMS professors awarded $2.23 million for myeloma research

University of Arkansas for Medical Science employees and staff watch as a C-130 from the 19th Airlift Wing stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base do a flyover of the UAMS Medical Center on May 8, 2020, in Little Rock. 
(File Photo/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)
University of Arkansas for Medical Science employees and staff watch as a C-130 from the 19th Airlift Wing stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base do a flyover of the UAMS Medical Center on May 8, 2020, in Little Rock. (File Photo/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)


Two researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences have been awarded $2.23 million to continue their research of the treatment of multiple myeloma, UAMS announced Thursday.

Dr. Frank Zhan, myeloma center research director, and John Shaughnessy Jr., professor of medicine at UAMS, will use the grant money for two separate projects that look into the development and prevention of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that breaks down bone marrow in patients.

The projects are funded by a $1.73 million National Institutes of Health U54 grant and a $500,000 Myeloma Solutions Fund award. The U54 grant collaborates with the Baylor College of Medicine and Duke University. The Myeloma Solutions Fund award includes a collaboration between UAMS, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Houston Methodist Neal Cancer Center, according to a UAMS news release.

Zhan said the grants were awarded in September.

Zhan is the principal investigator for a project titled "Prevention of MGUS progression to Multiple Myeloma by Modulating the Bone Marrow Microenvironment."

"MGUS refers to monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, a premalignant condition of antibody-producing plasma cells that can frequently progress to multiple myeloma or Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia," the news release says.

Zhan's project is looking at how aging plays a role in the development of these MGUS cells.

"The long-term objective is to determine the functional role of the bone marrow microenvironment in the development of MGUS and its eventual progression to myeloma," Zhan said in the release. "The prevalence of MGUS increases with age, suggesting that risk factors associated with aging are important in MGUS development."

Speaking along with Zhan in a videoconference interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Thursday, Shaughnessy said the average age of 9,800 patients who have been or are currently being treated for the blood cancer at UAMS over the past 25 years is 60.

Shaughnessy's project focuses on intercepting the development of the cells before they develop into multiple myeloma. He directs the Bioinformatics Core of the U54 project.

He said myeloma causes bone destruction because the molecule DKK1 causes the bone forming cells of the bone to be "paralyzed and killed."

"A lot of times myeloma patients get diagnosed when they break a bone unexpectedly," Shaughnessy said. "When they're getting out of bed, they break a rib, and they go in and they find out, 'Oh, my God, I've got myeloma.' Well, the reason that rib got broken is because those myeloma cells had been sitting there for 10 years secreting this molecule."

Shaughnessy said in the release that the results will aid in the identification and "interception" of high-risk MGUS before it converts to overt malignancy requiring intensive therapy.

"Interception is a key component of this grant mechanism ... It's interception early. This is no different than many other cancers, like prostate cancer and breast cancer, where the idea is early detection," Shaughnessy said.

My Ly is a Report for America Corps member.


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