December 15, 2015

UNM Cancer Center Scientists Look Inside Cells to Study Blood Disorders

By msequeira
New DOD grant will support research using new sophisticated microscope methods to learn about cellular protein quality control

Myeloproliferative neoplasms are slowly-progressing but very serious blood cancers in which the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets. In many people, these disorders can be traced to a mutation in a gene called JAK2 and they respond well to certain drugs. But other people have mutations in other genes and they don’t respond well to existing drugs. For them, scientists at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center will use a two-year $453,000 grant to develop new treatment choices.

“This is a problem where cell biology will really influence how we think about the disease,” says Bridget Wilson, PhD. Wilson is one of the two principal investigators of the grant; the other is Cédric Cleyrat, PhD, also at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. Wilson and Cleyrat lead a team that uses new advanced methods to actually see the proteins inside a cell. They will learn how the proteins work together — or don’t.

The proteins they will study play an important role in cellular protein quality control. Each cell uses a chaperone process which guides newly-formed proteins to their final destination, either in the cell or on its surface. But if this chaperone process becomes faulty, the cell doesn’t destroy malformed proteins as it should. Wilson and Cleyrat want to study this cellular process more deeply. Many patients with blood disorders who don’t have mutations in their JAK2 genes have mutations in genes that code for other proteins in this process.

Working with Cecilia Arana Yi, MD, Wilson and Cleyrat will examine blood and bone marrow samples from people with these blood cancers. “Patients at UNM Cancer Center will be able to participate in these studies,” says Wilson. “Our goal is to try to understand how these different proteins intersect with each other with the promise of new therapeutic concepts down the road.”

About Bridget Wilson, PhD

Bridget Wilson, PhD

Bridget Wilson, PhD

Bridget Wilson, PhD, is a Professor in the Department of Pathology at the UNM School of Medicine. She holds the Maralyn S. Budke Endowed Professorship in Cancer Cell Signaling and serves as Director of the New Mexico Center for Spatiotemporal Modeling of Cell Signaling at the UNM Health Sciences Center. Dr. Wilson received her PhD in Medical Sciences from University of New Mexico. A cell biologist with over 20 years’ experience, she studies signal transduction, intracellular trafficking and membrane biology. Her laboratory specializes in innovative imaging approaches, including live cell, fluorescence-based assays and electron microscopy. Dr. Wilson has been a research program leader at UNM’s NCI-designated Cancer Center since 2005 and was elected an AAAS Fellow in 2012.

About Cédric Cleyrat, PhD

Cédric Cleyrat, PhD
Cédric Cleyrat, PhD

Cédric Cleyrat, PhD, is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. Dr. Cleyrat holds a doctorate in Medical Sciences, with a focus on Hematology/Oncology, from the University of Nantes (France). He has been using innovative techniques to understand the pathogenesis of myeloproliferative neoplasms for nearly a decade.


About Cecilia Arana Yi, MD

Cecilia Arana Yi, MD

Cecilia Arana Yi, MD

Cecilia Arana Yi, MD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, at the UNM School of Medicine. She received her medical degree from Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru and completed her residency at State University of New York. She completed fellowships in Hematology/Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Dr. Arana Yi practices at the UNM Cancer Center.


About the Grant

The Department of Defense supports the research reported in this publication under Award Number CA140408, Principal Investigator: Wilson, Bridget; Co-Principal Investigator: Cleyrat, Cédric. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Defense.


About the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 400-mile radius. One of the premier cancer centers nationwide, the UNM CCC has 128 board-certified oncology physicians, forming New Mexico’s largest cancer care team. It treats about 60 percent of adults and virtually all the children in New Mexico diagnosed with cancer — more than 10,000 people— from every county in the state in more than 135,000 clinic visits each year. Through its partnership with the New Mexico Cancer Care Alliance, an “exemplary national model for cancer health care delivery,” the UNM CCC offers access to more than 160 clinical trials to New Mexicans in every part of the state. Annual research funding of more than $72 million supports the UNM CCC’s 132 cancer scientists. Working with partners at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, and New Mexico State University, they have developed new diagnostics and drugs for leukemia, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, liver and pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, and melanoma; garnered 33 new patents and 117 patents pending; and launched 13 new biotechnology companies since 2010. Learn more at


UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center Contact Information

Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, 505-340-5929,
Michele Sequeira, UNM Cancer Center, 505-925-0486,


Tags: blood cancer, myeloproliferative neoplasms, Myeloproliferative Neoplasms MPN, Press Release Archive 2015, unmccc