UK receives $6.25 million research grant, gift for post-cancer ailment

ctruman@herald-leader.comMay 16, 2012 

The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center has received $6.25 million to fund research of myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood and bone marrow disorder that can be caused by radiation or chemotherapy treatments.

The Edward P. Evans Foundation is giving a $5 million grant. The remaining $1.25 million is a gift from an anonymous donor.

The announcement was made Wednesday just before Dr. Mark Evers, director of the cancer center, gave his state of the cancer center address.

Dr. Michael Karpf, UK vice president for health affairs, called it "a transformational gift" that will further Markey's standing not only as a regional cancer center but as a "national recognized leader in cancer care."

Evans was a Virginia businessman and Thoroughbred owner who raced and sold horses in Lexington. He developed myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, after undergoing radiation treatment for prostate cancer and ultimately died of it. His will specified the creation of a foundation with the goal of funding research.

MDS can be caused by exposure to chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Patients who have received treatment for breast or prostate cancer are at a higher risk for the disease. That's why the Markey Center hopes to develop strategies to catch MDS before it develops.

MDS has become a bigger problem as more powerful cancer-battling strategies gave patients longer life spans, Evers said. Cancer researchers are finding that chemotherapy and radiation have effects on the body that can manifest five to 10 years after the patient has stopped the treatments.

Markey scientists "are really leaders in looking at the effects of chemotherapy on normal tissues," he said.

UK's researchers will seek biological markers for MDS that can be identified before beginning any type of cancer treatment. The ability to predict those at higher risk for the disease will allow doctors to better tailor cancer treatments to reduce risk.

Among those who suffered from MDS, a group of diseases that involve dysfunction of the bone marrow and how the body produces blood cells, were astronomer Carl Sagan and writers Roald Dahl and Susan Sontag.

Once immature blood cells affected by MDS die, infection, anemia or bleeding may occur. MDS can progress into leukemia and is largely untreatable.

Although the MDS Association said there is no known number for how many Americans suffer with MDS, it estimates that 7,000 to 12,000 cases are diagnosed each year, primarily in people older than 60. MDS research is taking place at a number of cancer research centers.

Karpf credited Evers, who has been at Markey for three years, with moving the center forward quickly in terms of research and recruitment of top scientists.

"You don't become a greater cancer center without a greater cancer leader," he said.

Cheryl Truman: (859) 231-3202. Twitter: @CherylTruman.

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