We were gratified to read this week about the publication of a new study by Kenan Onel and colleagues at the University of Chicago. Their study identifies two genetic variants that, if confirmed in larger studies, may someday be able to predict which patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma are likely to develop radiation-induced second cancers years after treatment. Theirs is a small study, and the confidence intervals are large, so we’re likely years away from being able to put this into practice. Nonetheless, the study is encouraging. Knowing before treatment that a patient is at risk could some day help doctors tailor treatment to reduce the chances a patients contracts a treatment-related cancer. Secondary cancers are a serious concern for patients, especially younger patients, undergoing treatment.
The new work not only gives hope for an eventual important advance, it also makes us proud, as the American Cancer Society was one of the first organizations to see the potential in Dr. Onel’s work. The Illinois Division provided Dr. Onel critical funding to get the experiments started. I asked him about that funding today.
“I applied in 2005 for an ACS grant to do some genomic work in ALL [acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of childhood leukemia]. We got the grant and it got us started in doing genome-wide studies. In 2006, I applied for and got another ACS grant that was the foundation of the work in [this week’s] Nature Medicine paper. Both grants came just as I was starting my independent career as a scientist and both critical components of defining us as a genomics lab.
“In terms of what came next, the data from the grants were used to obtain federal funding, all in genomics or systems biology. Thus, everything we do now started with the support and seed funding of the ACS!”
Dr. Onel talked about that last year, and we’ve posted that interview on our YouTube channel so you can hear him talk about it in his own words. We think it’s a part of the research story the public doesn’t hear enough, and think it’s a good reminder of how critical it is to continue to fund early career researchers, even when the implications of their work is not fully understood.