The International Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Foundation (iCMLf) has awarded the prestigious Rowley Prize to Michael Deininger, M.D., Ph.D. Deininger’s selection as the 2019 awardee was announced in February. Formal presentation of the prize occurred at an international scientific conference in Bordeaux, France, earlier this month.
Deininger is a professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Hematology and Hematological Malignancies at the University of Utah. He leads the Center of Excellence in hematology and hematologic malignancies at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). This group encompasses physicians, scientists, students, and support personnel working collaboratively to advance research and training in hematology and develop new approaches to treat blood diseases, including blood cancers.
“This recognition is presented each year to an individual who has made an outstanding lifetime contribution to our understanding of the biology of CML,” according to iCMLf’s website. Deininger received the prize for his critical contributions to understanding the biology of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a type of blood cancer arising from the bone marrow. According to the American Cancer Society, about 15 percent of all new cases of leukemia are due to CML. Nearly 1 in 500 people will be diagnosed with CML in their lifetimes.
Deininger’s work focuses on the role of tyrosine kinases, enzymes that regulate important cell functions such as cell growth and survival that can contribute to cancer. In CML, cancer cell growth is driven by BCR-ABL1, an abnormal tyrosine kinase specific to the leukemia cells. Deininger and his collaborators established that blocking BCR-ABL1 with specific inhibitors killed CML cells while sparing normal healthy cells. This work provided the basis for the clinical development of BCR-ABL1 inhibitors, a new class of drugs that transformed CML from a lethal condition into a manageable disease. If treated properly, most CML patients can now expect an almost normal lifespan and good quality of life. Deininger is committed not only to applying this research advance to other kinds of blood cancers, but also to ensuring that patients in any community can have access to these targeted treatments.
“We are delighted that iCMLf has recognized Dr. Deininger’s efforts and tireless dedication. His accomplishments have had a major positive impact on the lives of countless patients,” said Mary Beckerle, PhD, Huntsman Cancer Institute’s CEO.
The Rowley Prize is named after Janet Rowley, MD, a scientist whose discoveries helped to unravel the biology of leukemia. Her work led to the identification of the BCR-ABL1 tyrosine kinase in CML, and similar abnormalities in other leukemias, forming the basis for major advancements in the treatment of blood cancers. “For me, Janet Rowley was a role model, mentor, and friend,” Deininger says. “Receiving this award in her name is a privilege, a true honor, and a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of giants.”
Deininger is the first person from Utah to be recognized with this honor.