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Announcing the Winner of CLL Society’s First Ever Young Investigator Research Program Award: Dr. Christine Ryan on the Topic of Richter’s Syndrome

In science and medicine, information is constantly changing and may become out-of-date as new data emerge. All articles and interviews are informational only, should never be considered medical advice, and should never be acted on without review with your health care team.

In January 2022, CLL Society formally announced the launch of a new Research Program that is devoted to supporting underfunded areas of bench and translational science to make progress in the following four critical areas of unmet needs for those diagnosed with CLL / SLL:

  • Disease progression after receiving both a B-cell receptor inhibitor and venetoclax (double refractory disease)
  • Richter’s transformation
  • The need to strengthen or reconstitute the impaired immune system
  • Curative therapies

CLL Society’s Research Program aims to providing emerging scientists with substantive grants that will help to grow and develop a new generation of lab scientists committed to solving the unmet needs of the disease. Read more about CLL Society’s Research Program here.

About the 2022 Young Investigator Award Recipient

This year, we are excited to introduce you to the recipient of CLL Society’s 2022 Young Investigator Award, Dr. Christine Ryan. Her research proposal was titled, “BH3 Profiling to Identify Novel Vulnerabilities in Richter’s Syndrome.” Dr. Ryan obtained her medical degree at Stanford University. She is currently a senior hematology/oncology fellow specializing in CLL / SLL and lymphomas at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston under the mentorship of Dr. Matthew Davids.

Richter’s Syndrome and Why it Remains an Unmet Need for those with CLL / SLL

We sat down with Dr. Ryan to discuss the focus of her research, learn how she first became interested in the field of medicine and CLL / SLL, and have her explain the focus of her research. Here’s what we learned:

  • Richter’s Syndrome (RS) is also sometimes referred to as Richter’s transformation. This condition can develop in those with CLL / SLL when their disease transforms into an aggressive lymphoma.  
  • RS has a very poor prognosis overall, with most patients only surviving less than a year after their diagnosis. So, advancements in new and effective therapies are severely needed.

What exactly is BH3 Profiling and Why is it Important for Understanding Richter’s Syndrome?

  • Normally cells die through a process called apoptosis, which is when cell death occurs as a normal and controlled part of cell growth and development. We know that apoptosis is regulated by different proteins in the body. Some of these proteins promote cell survival, while others promote cell death.
  • Both types of proteins are present in all cells, and normally there is a balance that occurs between both types of the proteins. However, in RS, the malignant cells are very smart about tricking the normal cell survival/death process and have become highly dependent upon the survival proteins that allow them to live longer than they are supposed to.
  • BH3 profiling assesses which specific survival proteins the malignant RS cells are depending upon to stay alive.
  • Dr. Ryan hopes that by gaining a better understanding of exactly which proteins the malignant RS cells are dependent upon, someday targeted therapies can be used to block the proteins that are promoting malignant RS cell survival so that RS can be treated more effectively.
  • By better understanding the biology of Richter’s Syndrome overall, researchers can then hopefully look at how certain targeted drug therapies might affect Richter’s Syndrome through performing new clinical trials.

Please watch the interview between CLL Society’s Director of Scientific Affairs and Research, Robyn Brumble, RN, MSN and Christine Ryan, MD.

CLL Society’s Research Program will continue to award one new Young Investigator Award annually to the applicant whose research proposal received the overall highest-ranking score from our Research Review Committee. The recipient of the annual award will be given a $150,000 grant to support their efforts. 

CLL Society is one of the only blood cancer organizations whose Research Program is dedicated solely to funding CLL / SLL research, and we hope to continue growing our Research Program to fund more and more CLL / SLL specific research efforts each and every year. CLL Society relies on the generous donations and support from our community to fund all programs and services. Please consider supporting our efforts today!