NIH Awards $2M to Study Bone Marrow Failure

Additional grant from Department of Defense expands scope of study

Scientists at Albany Medical College have been awarded a four-year, $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study severe aplastic anemia, a type of bone marrow failure.

A rare but serious disease, severe aplastic anemia occurs when stem cells in bone marrow can’t make enough new blood cells for the body, causing symptoms like fatigue, weakness, unexplained bruising, and frequent infections. It can increase the risk of serious blood conditions like leukemia, and if left untreated, can cause an irregular heartbeat, heart failure, or other life-threatening conditions.

“Immunosuppressive therapies, bone marrow transplantation, and other current treatments aim to suppress inflammation, which is known to be associated with bone marrow failure,” explained Kate MacNamara, PhD, professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbial Disease, who is leading the research. “These treatments can help young patients but aren’t as effective for elderly patients and can lead to increased susceptibility to infection.”

Using mouse models, the scientists will test the hypothesis that encouraging inflammation to resolve and to repair itself – rather than preventing it from occurring – could be an ideal therapeutic strategy for bone marrow failure. Titled “Improving Inflammation Resolution to Mitigate Acquired Bone Marrow Failure,” the study is funded by the NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Separately, the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program awarded Dr. MacNamara a three-year, $733,500 Idea Development grant, under the Bone Marrow Failure Research Program, for a study titled, “Harnessing RvE1 to Treat Bone Marrow Failure.”

With support from this grant, Dr. MacNamara and her team will collaborate with Albany Medical Center pathologist M. Kristina Subik, MD. They’ll investigate bone marrow samples from patients with aplastic anemia to confirm the presence of macrophages, a type of immune cell that has been found to persist in bone marrow during disease and may contribute to disease.

Ultimately, the researchers hope their studies will provide insight into how inflammation resolves in bone marrow. “These collaborative studies are the critical first steps toward developing novel therapies for bone marrow failure and could also lead to a new understanding of other diseases characterized by prolonged and non-resolved inflammation,” said Dr. MacNamara.