One-Two Punch
UNH researchers discover new inhibitor combination for rare form of cancer
UNH researcher in the lab
Jeremy Gasowski

ancer research has come a long way, but there are many miles to go, particularly for forms of the disease for which there is currently no known cure. Waldenström macroglobulinemia (WM), a rare form of lymphoma, is one of those cancers — today, there is only one FDA-approved treatment. But with the work being done at UNH, that may one day change.

Researchers have taken the novel approach of targeting specific cell proteins that control DNA information using inhibitors, a class of immunotherapy drugs that are known to be effective in reducing the growth of cancer cells. What’s more, when combined with a second drug, these inhibitors were even more successful in killing the WM cancer cells — a finding which could lead to more treatment options in the future.

UNH researchers in the lab
Jeremy Gasowski
“This is the first study to report the promising results of inhibitors in Waldenström macroglobulinemia, which could open the door to new clinical possibilities,” says Sherine Elsawa, associate professor of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture. “We know that targeting these types of proteins with inhibitors can increase high therapeutic results in many other kinds of cancer but desired results in WM cells have been lacking.”

In their study, just published in the journal Epigenomics, Elsawa and her team focused on the epigenetic regulation of WM cancer cells. (Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes that are caused by the activation and deactivation of genes without any change in the underlying DNA sequence of the organism; the Greek prefix epi- means “on top of” or “in addition to” and thus epigenetic literally means over or above the genome). Treated with two different inhibitors, WM cancer cells demonstrated reduced growth in a laboratory setting. Even more compelling, when treated with these inhibitors in combination with one of three different chemotherapy drugs, the researchers saw increased effectiveness. Interestingly, the drug ibrutinib, currently the only FDA-approved therapy specifically for WM patients, appeared to be the least responsive of the three, suggesting that other medications, particularly in combination with an inhibitor, might prove promising in the treatment of Waldenström macroglobulinemia.

— Robbin Ray ’82
From Implants to Tissue Engineering
NH BioMade aims to improve human health — think hip implants, tissue engineering, entire organs — by advancing the state’s rapidly growing biomaterials industry through a five-year, $20 million UNH-led partnership of higher education and industry. UNH is a key partner in the effort to educate and train the needed workforce.