Leukemia Research Foundation News

Researcher Spotlight: Irum Khan, MD

Title: Assistant Professor of Medicine, Associate Program Director, Hematology/Oncology Fellowship

Institution: University of Illinois at Chicago

Leukemia Research Foundation grant: $100K awarded in 2019-2020

Research focus: Acute myeloid leukemia

Her research

Dr. Khan’s research focuses on the role of FOXM1 in acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

FOXM1 is a transcription factor that regulates genes. It is often overexpressed in AML patients who do not respond to chemotherapy and inactive in patients who respond well to chemotherapy.

Based on this information, Dr. Khan and colleagues theorized that inhibiting FOXM1 could increase the effectiveness of treatment in chemo-resistant patients.

Since 2019, their research has focused on finding novel ways to target and genetically manipulate FOXM1. In 2021, the team made a significant discovery.

They identified a protein, AKT, that seems to have a codependent relationship with FOXM1 in patients that do not respond to therapies. They found that turning off AKT results in the suppression of FOXM1 and vice versa.

“Identifying this relationship between FOXM1 and AKT may open new possibilities in overcoming AML drug resistance and improving outcomes for AML patients,” stated Dr. Khan.

Their research also proved for the first time that turning off FOXM1 in AML patients can improve the effectiveness of venetoclax, a newer oral drug used to treat blood cancers.

What’s next

Dr. Khan was recently awarded a Clinician Scientist Development Grant from the American Cancer Society, which will help fund her research for the next four years.

“This grant from the American Cancer Society will help us continue to build off the research funded by the Leukemia Research Foundation in 2019-2020,” said Dr. Khan. “We’ve made so much progress these past few years and have a good understanding of what is causing drug resistance at the cellular level. Our next steps are to find ways to target these mechanisms to overcome drug resistance and improve survival outcomes.”

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