OHSU Cancer Institute and School of Medicine Researcher Brian Druker Named to Institute of Medicine

11/15/03    Portland, Ore.

Druker is the only Oregon physician to be honored with an IOM appointment this year.

Brian Druker, M.D., JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at the Oregon Health & Science University Cancer Institute and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been elected a member of the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a division of the National Academies.

"Members are elected through a highly selective process that recognizes those who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health," said IOM President Harvey Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D. "Election is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of medicine and health."

Members of the IOM are elected by the incumbent membership on the basis of professional achievement, and demonstrated interest, concern and involvement with problems and critical issues that affect public health. The institute studies specific problems, such as the role environmental toxins may play in increasing a woman's risk of delivering a premature infant, the long-term health effects of childhood cancer treatment, and issues related to health care access.

"Election to the IOM recognizes the contribution of my research to the development of cancer therapies based on the molecular cause of the disease," Druker said. Approaching chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) from the inside out, Druker studies the molecular origin of CML as a means to develop the most effective treatments. Using this approach, Druker developed a nontoxic drug called Gleevec to treat CML. "When I attended medical school, cancer was categorized and treated based on the part of the body in which it appeared. Today we target the molecular abnormality at its root. It's been a privilege to see this work helping so many people."

Gleevec targets cancer cells while leaving normal cells unharmed, producing little or no side effects. Virtually all CML patients treated with Gleevec have experienced blood counts that have returned to normal. In 75 percent of these patients, leukemia cells can no longer be detected. The drug also is an approved, effective treatment for gastrointestinal stromal tumors, a form of intestinal cancer that, before the advent of Gleevec, was deadly.

"Brian's work has validated molecularly targeted therapy as an achievable goal," said Grover Bagby, M.D., director of the OHSU Cancer Institute. "His work has already energized similar research activities in ovarian, breast, prostate, gastrointestinal, head and neck, and skin cancer at the OHSU Cancer Institute, which is dedicated to the development of newer, less toxic forms of therapy and new strategies for cancer prevention based on molecular medicine."

Earlier this year an editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine dubbed Gleevec the "gold standard" treatment for CML, and the drug became the frontline therapy. Gleevec also earned the FDA's approval for use in children, the first new pediatric cancer drug treatment in more than a decade. Recent studies also have found Gleevec to be effective in treating hypereosinophilic syndrome, a rare and often fatal blood disorder.

"At the OHSU Cancer Institute's Center for Hematologic Malignancies, a dozen of the world's top scientists and clinical researchers are examining the causes of blood-based cancers and looking for new therapies," said Druker, whose current research focuses on understanding and predicting how individual CML patients respond to Gleevec and determining mechanisms of resistance if it occurs. He is also applying the Gleevec paradigm to acute myeloid leukemia.

Researchers at the OHSU Cancer Institute's Center for Hematologic Malignancies are studying the molecular mechanisms of myelodysplasia and Fanconi anemia, as well as chromosomal instabilities that lead to malignancies. They also are studying the development of vaccines to treat leukemia tumors, looking for new treatments for germ cell neoplasms and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and developing strategies to improve bone marrow transplants and diminish graft-versus-host disease.

In Portland, physicians and scientists with the OHSU Cancer Institute's Center for Hematologic Malignancies work closely with the OHSU Hospital's adult bone marrow transplant program and the OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital pediatric transplant program, as well as the Legacy-Good Samaritan Hospital Autolgous Bone Marrow Transplant program. The OHSU Center for Hematologic Malignancies has satellite clinics in Medford and Bend, Ore.

Also IOM members are OHSU School of Medicine faculty Peter Kohler, M.D., OHSU president; John Benson, M.D., dean emeritus; Jerris Hedges, M.D., professor and chairman of emergency medicine; and Merwyn Greenlick, Ph.D., professor emeritus of public health and preventive medicine.

Particulars: Brian Druker, M.D., is the JELD-WEN Chair of Leukemia Research at the OHSU Cancer Institute; an investigator with Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and a professor of medicine (hematology and medical oncology), cell and developmental biology, and biochemistry and molecular biology in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Note: Please contact Rachel MacKnight at 503 494-8231 or macknigh@ohsu.edu for a high resolution photo of Druker

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