CANDIDATE: I am a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Ross Levine in the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My previous PhD research offered me the opportunity to develop the experimental and computational skills necessary to assess cellular crosstalk in the tumor microenvironment. My current research extends these skills to the study of mutation order, and oncogene-dependency in subpopulations of leukemic cells. To gain insights into these processes I developed novel, multi-recombinase mouse models of oncogene-activation and dependency as well as new lineage tracing tools that allow for functional interrogation of clonal evolution. My proposed research will provide a strong foundation for independent research following the K99 phase of this grant. My long-term career goal is to identify molecular mechanisms driving leukemogenesis, including interactions between AML subclones in vivo and the role of sequential mutational acquisition. To achieve these goals I have developed a career plan that will 1) bolster my technical skills and scientific scope, 2) improve my presentation and communication skills, 3) cultivate professional relationships and networking, and 4) prepare me for mentoring future trainees. RESEARCH: The receptor tyrosine kinase, FLT3, is the most commonly mutated gene in acute myeloid leukemia. Mutations in FLT3 are often found with low variant allele frequency, suggesting these mutations occur as late, subclonal events. Despite their presence as a minor clone, FLT3 mutations are poor prognostic markers and the target of several recently approved clinical compounds. These inhibitors lead to some transient clinical success, yet patients invariably relapse and develop resistant, calling into question the necessity of FLT3 mutation in disease progression.
I aim to determine the dependency of FLT3 mutations in disease, and propose methods to assess the functional contributions of subclonal mutations to disease progression.
The specific aims are: 1) determining the genomic context for FLT3 oncogene-dependency in AML, 2) identifying novel therapeutic vulnerabilities in FLT3-driven AML, and 3) investigating the role of mutation order and clonal crosstalk in leukemic disease. ENVIRONMENT: The Levine laboratory is a part of the Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program (HOPP) at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a state of the art cancer research institute. The Levine lab is also a member of the Center for Epigenetic Research, and the primary mentor Dr. Levine, is the head of the Center for Hematologic Malignancies. These affiliations provide a rich set of collaborative, technical and scientific resources to execute the research and career development proposed here.
While the spectrum of genetic mutations in myeloid leukemia has been comprehensively studied, the relevance of the diversity of mutations within a single patient remains a significant hurdle in delivering efficacious therapy to patients. The proposed research here will use mouse models to identify contexts in which oncogenic FLT3 mutations are necessary for disease progression. These studies will provide insights into improved therapeutic strategies for patients with FLT3-mutant acute myeloid leukemia.