Mayo Clinic and TGen Begin Joint Research

Mayo Clinic and TGen Begin Joint Research on Multiple Myeloma
Rafael Fonseca, M.D., receives joint appointment to lead research collaboration

May 18, 2004

Multiple myeloma researcher Rafael Fonseca, M.D., has received a joint appointment with Mayo Clinic and TGen to lead a collaborative research project investigating biology, genetics and targeted treatment of multiple myeloma. This program is part of a research collaboration agreement signed by Mayo Clinic and TGen in Sept. 2003 to broaden areas of joint research endeavors.

The focus of Dr. Fonseca's research is the evaluation of MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance), multiple myeloma and Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia. Multiple myeloma and Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia involve devastating tumors of the bone marrow and lymphatic system that are diagnosed in nearly 16,000 Americans every year. MGUS is a very common condition that is found in approximately one to three percent of the population over the age of 50, and is the precursor to multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells, which are found in bone marrow, the blood producing tissue that fills in spaces within bone. Plasma cells produce antibodies (substances that help the bone fight infection). Typically plasma cells make up one to two percent of all cells in the bone marrow, but in a person with multiple myeloma, abnormal plasma cells (or myeloma cells) multiply in a cancerous manner. The growth of myeloma cells results in reduced production of blood, which produces anemia. Patients may also have associated destruction of bones.

Dr. Fonseca's research efforts have been fundamental to the understanding of the biology of myeloma and have established the role for the clinical implications of genetic aberrations of myeloma. Along with other researchers, he has shown that myeloma is composed of several subcategories defined at the genetic level. His laboratory is committed to translating this knowledge to a platform for targeted therapy for the disease.

"My colleagues and I are in the initial stages of a systematic evaluation of MGUS, myeloma and macroglobulinemia by molecular and cytogenetic methods," says Dr. Fonseca. "Ultimately our lab aims to understand the nature of the tumor cells, the significance of these abnormalities and how to best use this knowledge to generate targeted therapy."

Macroglobulinemia is a special type of lymphoma that produces a large amount of protein of the IgM type (antibody) and thus has some similarities multiple myeloma.

"The multiple myeloma research program Dr. Fonseca leads is a critical component of our collaboration with TGen," said Laurence J. Miller, M.D., chair, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center - Scottsdale. "Pursuing joint research strategies and building strong partnerships with researchers at TGen helps to advance Mayo Clinic's mission of integrating research and educational efforts with clinical medicine to provide optimal health care for our patients and for patients everywhere."

TGen President and Scientific Director, Dr. Jeffrey Trent, adds, "Dr. Fonseca's joint appointment is a tremendous addition to the TGen faculty, and proves our vision of collaboration can be successful. His research in multiple myeloma is gaining international recognition, and he has the rare combination of excellence in basic science, excellence in clinical management of patients with this difficult set of disorders, and he is remarkably collaborative in his research vision. I believe Dr. Fonseca is absolutely the perfect choice to lead the partnership to a successful outcome."

Dr. Fonseca was formerly a consultant in the Department of Hematology and Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he conducted multiple myeloma research since 1996. In January 2004, he joined Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale to serve as the site director for Hematology Malignancies and vice chair for Research for Hematology and Oncology. He also serves as the chair of the myeloma laboratory committee in the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group and is a scientific advisor to the International Myeloma Foundation, and holds leadership roles in other national myeloma organizations. He holds several NIH research grants and is a clinical investigator of the Damon-Runyon Cancer Research Fund.

Mayo Clinic has one of the premier myeloma treatment groups in the world, with more than 60 years' experience treating multiple myeloma using a multidisciplinary approach that includes medications, experimental therapies and diet and lifestyle management. Mayo has been a leader in the recognition of new treatments, prognostic factors and a basic understanding of the biology of the disease.

The mission of TGen is to make and translate genomic discoveries into advances in human health. Translational genomics research is a relatively new field employing innovative advances arising from the Human Genome Project to apply to the development of diagnostics, prognostics and therapies for cancer, neurologic disorders, diabetes and other complex diseases.

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