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Conquering Blood Cancer: Finding New Therapeutic Targets for Multiple Myeloma

Cancer Research Institute postdoctoral fellow Diego Acosta-Alvear, Ph.D., in the laboratory of Peter Walter, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Francisco - Howard Hughes Medical Institute in San Francisco, CA, is helping to conquer blood cancers by studying the regulation of the unfolded protein response in multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is an aggressive, incurable blood disease with poor survival rates and approximately 20,000 cases per year in the United States. While therapeutic improvements have been made in the last decade, the disease remains incurable and the patients eventually succumb after becoming refractory to currently available treatments. Moreover, the biological cause(s) of the disease remain poorly understood. It is known that an essential mechanism called the unfolded protein response (UPR) is involved in protein synthesis for normal cellular functions, such as growth, communication, and survival. Therefore, a tight regulation of the UPR is a critical part of normal cell physiology. Accumulating evidence posits that some UPR components promote the survival of cancer cells and thus may contribute to myeloma progression.

Dr. Acosta-Alvear is investigating the activation and regulation of UPR in multiple myeloma cells. He aims to establish molecular signatures associated with aberrant regulation of the UPR in multiple myeloma and to develop biochemical tools to manipulate the UPR to restrain tumor progression. By demonstrating that the UPR is instrumental to multiple myeloma survival, he may justify its exploitation as a valid target for developing therapeutics. These findings may also be extended to other types of tumors, as accumulating evidence links UPR to cell survival in other cancers.