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St. Jude at ASH: Annual hematology meeting highlights recent research

Researchers from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will present their work and share their expertise at the 63rd annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

Memphis, Tennessee, December 6, 2021

A hematology researcher wearing a white lab coat is viewing  an imaging device

St. Jude researchers have been invited to provide expert talks on a number of topics, including treatments for sickle cell disease, immune responses, transplantation and novel therapies for childhood leukemia.  

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists will share original research findings, lead workshops and participate in education sessions at the 2021 American Society of Hematology (ASH) annual meeting. The 63rd annual meeting is a hybrid in-person and virtual conference being held December 8–17. In-person events will take place at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

St. Jude faculty, fellows and graduate students will present oral abstracts and posters as well as lead special sessions and workshops. Visit the St. Jude Conference Page to learn more

Oral abstract presentations:

St. Jude researchers have been invited to provide expert talks on a number of topics, including treatments for sickle cell disease (including gene-editing approaches), immune responses, transplantation and novel therapies for childhood leukemia.

Allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation is increasingly being used in patients with sickle cell disease, and researchers are looking at cerebral blood flow to evaluate success. Akshay Sharma, MBBS, of the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, will present reduced intensity hematopoietic cell transplantation improves cerebral hemodynamics in children with sickle cell disease December 11.

In research to better understand the underlying biology of myeloproliferative disorders, Johanna Melo-Cardenas, PhD, from the laboratory of John Crispino, PhD, Division of Experimental Hematology director, will present how IL13 contributes to fibrotic progression of myeloproliferative neoplasms December 11.

Swati Naik, MBBS, of the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, will discuss transplantation for pediatric cancer, specifically how CD45RA-depleted haploidentical transplantation combined with natural killer cell addback results in promising long-term outcomes in pediatric patients with high-risk hematologic malignancies December 11.

In another December 11 session, researchers will share their findings on new treatments for pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Chunliang Li, PhD, of the Department of Tumor Cell Biology, will present interrogating novel bromodomain inhibition resistance mechanisms in MLL-rearranged leukemia

Another ALL treatment will be shared by Jianzhong Hu, from the laboratory of Jun J. Yang, PhD, of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, on the development of proteolytic targeting chimeras to target Lck in T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Also from the Yang lab, Yizhen Li, PhD, will present the impact of T cell immunity on chemotherapy response in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Both talks occur December 13.

Also in ALL, Brennan Bergeron, a student in the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, will discuss research from the Pharmaceutical Sciences laboratory of Daniel Savic, PhD, mapping the gluococorticoid gene regulatory network and alterations that contribute to steroid resistance in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia will be presented December 13.

Two December 13 presentations from the laboratory of Mitchell Weiss, MD, PhD, Department of Hematology chair, will explore aspects of the biology of blood cells. Ruopeng Feng, Ph.D., will discuss the regulation of fetal hemoglobin expression by the VHL-HIF1a oxygen sensing system and Senthil Bhoopalan, MBBS, PhD, will present a novel RPS19-edited hematopoietic stem cell model of Diamond-Blackfan anemia for the development of a lentiviral vector gene therapy. Bhoopalan has received an ASH Abstract Achievement Award for this study.  

Gene therapy is an emerging approach for treating sickle cell disease; however, information about the knowledge and feelings of patients about this therapy is lacking. Liza-Marie Johnson, MD, Department of Oncology, will present research on  December 13 that addresses this through patient and caregiver attitudes toward gene therapy for sickle cell disease: A need for partnership and education.

Bringing together the worlds of sickle cell disease and HPV vaccination efforts, clinical fellow Tarun Aurora, MD, will present successful HPV vaccination in adolescents with sickle cell disease following a quality improvement bundle intervention, in collaboration with Jane Hankins, MD, Department of Hematology, also December 13.

Late-breaking abstract session:

The ASH annual meeting includes a selection of late-breaking abstracts, which are research projects that was were done after the general abstract deadline but which the program committee recognizes as exciting and of high impact.

Research from Masayuki Umeda, Ph.D., in the laboratory of Jeffery Klco, MD, PhD, Department of Pathology, will be presented December 14 as a late-breaking abstract looking at the molecular basis of relapse in a type of pediatric leukemia. The work covers how an integrated genomic analysis identifies UBTF tandem duplications as a subtype-defining lesion in pediatric acute myeloid leukemia.

Session moderators:

St. Jude investigators are moderating sessions during the main conference. These sessions are an opportunity to showcase St. Jude expertise on a variety of topics.

December 11, Paulina Velasquez, MD, Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, will moderate the cellular immunotherapies: basic and translational 1  session; Ilaria Iacobucci, PhD, Department of Pathology, will moderate emerging diagnostic tools and techniques: WGS and WTS: the new gold standard in hematology; and Shannon McKinney-Freeman, PhD, and Wilson Clements, PhD, both of the Department of Hematology, will co-moderate hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells and hematopoiesis: basic and translational: development and aging

Moderating December 13 will be Akshay Sharma in a session on hemoglobinopathies, excluding thalassemia: basic and translational emerging strategies to identify and prevent sickle cell disease pathology

Workshops and special sessions:

Workshops and special or education sessions are an important part of the conference that allow researchers to delve deeply into topics of interest.

Marcin Wlodarski, MD, PhD, Department of Hematology, organized a scientific workshop on germline predisposition to hematopoietic malignancies and bone marrow failure. He will moderate and present opening remarks. During this December 10 workshop, Richa Sharma, MD, Department of Hematology, will moderate a session on DNA repair and malignancy. Additionally, Sara Lewis, Department of Hematology, will discuss a registry for individuals with germline SAMD9 and SAMD9L mutations; and Senthil Bhoopalan presents TP53-dependent hematopoietic stem cell defects in RPS19 gene-edited CD34+ cells

Other workshops featuring St. Jude researchers include: Shengdar Tsai, PhD, Department of Hematology, on genotoxicities associated with genome editing, including sickle cell disease; Jonathan Yen, PhD, Department of Hematology, on base editing for sickle cell disease; and Shannon McKinney-Freeman, on murine fetal bone marrow and how it does not support functional hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells until birth.

Also December 10, Esther Obeng, MD, PhD, Department of Oncology, will speak as part of the trainee activities and services session on the ASH Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program. In a December 13 special-interest session on gene editing and real-world data, Jane Hankins, will present a report and recommendations for the coordinated registry network work group

Posters and more original research:

Researchers from St. Jude will present posters on a variety of topics, including the impact of gaps in care during adult care transfer in sickle cell disease, the impact of genetic ancestry on the biology and prognosis of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and clinical features and cytoreduction therapy in children with newly diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia and hyperleukocytosis.

Poster abstracts are available online.

Early-career investigators receive recognition:

This year, two St. Jude investigators received the ASH Research Training Award for Fellows.  Senthil Bhoopalan and Richa Sharma, MD, both of the Department of Hematology, were individually recognized with the award that is designed to encourage junior researchers in hematology or hematology/oncology to pursue careers in the field.

Also in 2021, Aimee Talleur, MD, Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Cellular Therapy, received an ASH Scholar Award. The award helps investigators who have completed their training and have research experience work as independent scientists.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening disorders. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 60 years ago. St. Jude shares the breakthroughs it makes to help doctors and researchers at local hospitals and cancer centers around the world improve the quality of treatment and care for even more children. To learn more, visit, read St. Jude Progress, a digital magazine, and follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.