- Bachelor of Arts, Macalester College, 1972
- Master of Science, University Wisconsin Madison, 1978
- Doctor of Philosophy, University Wisconsin Madison, 1981
Research Interests: Immunotherapy for cancer; multidrug-resistant leukemia; apoptosis
My laboratory investigates leukemia, which is a cancer of the blood-forming cells of the body. In healthy individuals the blood-forming cells generate the white blood cells that make up our immune systems. In leukemia, these cells are abnormal and the immune system fails to function properly.
In the past thirty years a number of chemotherapy drugs have been identified that are highly effective against particular types of leukemia, especially if used together in combinations. Nevertheless, many leukemia patients are not cured. In large part this is because their leukemias have become multidrug-resistant - resistant to the drugs used in their treatment and even to drugs they have not yet encountered.
To overcome multidrug-resistance, a different approach to therapy, one that harnesses the immune system, is being investigated. The assumption is that the immune system kills cancers by mechanisms that are completely different from that of chemotherapy and so resistance to one should not confer resistance to the other. My laboratory has tested the assumption and surprisingly has found that multidrug resistant leukemias also resist being killed by an important component of the immune system, the natural killer (NK) cell!
With support from the American Cancer Society, the National Institutes of Health, and Oberlin College, my students and I have discovered two changes in the drug-resistant leukemias that could account for their resistance to killing by NK cells. First, NK cells bind less strongly to the resistant leukemia cells than to their drug-sensitive counterparts, and secondly, the drug-resistant leukemia cells are less susceptible to the apoptosis-inducing toxins produced by NK cells.
We are currently employing cellular and molecular approaches to elucidate the changes in multidrug-reistant leukemias which allow them to escape chemo- and immuno-therapy. Our goal is to understand and ultimately to circumvent the changes that are responsible for therapy resistance.
If you would like to discuss potential research projects, please email me to set up a time for us to talk. I recommend that you take either of the two upper level laboratory courses I teach (BIOL 333, BIOL 328) as preparation for research in my lab or elsewhere; either will provide the opportunity for you to conduct small, but real research projects in a supportive, collaborative setting. Each will develop technical skills, decision-making abilities and self-reliance that are essential to conduct independent research.
Previous research interests: bone marrow transplantation for leukemia treatment; hemolytic disease of the newborn ("Rh-disease"); molecular immunology of marsupials
EmilyKate McDonough (OC '07) completed a portion of her Honors Research project at the NIH in January 2007. Shown with EmilyKate is the head of the Immunopathology Laboratory Herbert "Sandy" Morse, III, Ph.D. and research scientist Zohreh Naghashfar, Ph.D. A portion of the microarray data obtained by EmilyKate at NIH.