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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Research

Faculty Profile: Elizabeth Eklund, MD, Professor of Medicine- Hematology and Oncology

Elizabeth Eklund, MD

Elizabeth Eklund, MD, professor of Medicine- Hematology and Oncology, and her team discovered a potentially new approach to treating Fanconi anemia, a rare bone marrow disorder. Recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the study showed that current solutions to treat infections in these patients may accelerate bone marrow failure and leukemia.

“This study suggests that protecting Fanconi anemia patients from repeated infections might delay bone marrow failure or progression to leukemia,” says Eklund, also a member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “Currently, these patients are given bone marrow stimulating growth factors when they develop infection. Our data suggests that these growth factors may be a part of the problem.”

Q&A

What are your research interests?
My main research interest is to understand how uncommitted stem cells in bone marrow become fully functional infection-fighting white blood cells. This process, which is referred to as myelopoiesis, is driven by growth factor signaling and gene regulation events that must be completed correctly, or bone marrow failure or leukemia may result.

I have been especially interested in identifying key processes that control cell division, program cell death, and acquire functional competence during myelopoiesis. These events tend to be strictly regulated and relevant to a switch from normal to leukemic blood cell development.

What is the ultimate goal of your research?
The goal of my research is to use our studies of the molecular mechanisms of myelopoiesis to develop novel translational approaches to leukemia. This is greatly facilitated by the opportunity to collaborate with other scientists here at Northwestern University, including leukemia researchers, individuals in high throughput screening and drug discovery, and translational clinical investigators. This multi-disciplinary approach is necessary to take observations from basic biology into patient care.

How did you become interested in this area of research?
I became interested in the process whereby uncommitted stem cells become mature cells with a highly specific function as an undergraduate. Specifically, I took courses as part of the honors track in biological sciences at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana that emphasized the biochemistry and molecular biology of developmental processes. Later, as a fellow in Hematology/Oncology at Indiana University, I was able to see how these basic questions and scientific approaches were highly applicable to the leukemia problem.

How is your research funded?
My research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). I was fortunate to be awarded NIH career development grants early in my career; this enabled me to develop a program that obtained R01 support. I also had the opportunity to obtain funding through the VA. This source of support has provided a clinical connection for my research through the years. I have benefited from the Translational Research Program through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. These awards are specifically designed to transition from a basic laboratory observation to a clinical trial. I recently obtained support for a completely new area of investigation through the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund. This grant has opened up a whole new area of investigations and collaborations relevant to bone marrow failure, immune deficiency, and leukemia.