Nicholas Chiorazzi, MD
Head, Center for Experimental Immunology
Main Area of Research
Unlocking mysteries to fight leukemia.
A Story of Hope
THE CLL RESEARCH AND TREATMENT PROGRAM
Part of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, the CLL Research and Treatment Program offers a unique environment where CLL researchers and clinicians work together to develop the best evidence-based treatment. The program, headed by Nicholas Chiorazzi, MD, and Kanti Rai, MD (a pioneer in CLL research for more than 40 years) currently offers more than a dozen clinical drug trials that are being tested against the disease.
Early in his career, Nicholas Chiorazzi, MD, conducted research at Harvard in the laboratory of Baruj Benacerraf, MD, who a few years later shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his role in identifying the role of the MHC genes in immunity. Dr. Benacerraf figured out how T cells talk to B cells and others through MHC genes. Next, Dr. Chiorazzi was dispatched to The Rockefeller University, where he worked with yet another famous immunologist, Henry Kunkel, MD, studying human B cells in autoimmune diseases. In 1987, he came to North Shore University Hospital as head of Rheumatology. In the last few years, Dr. Chiorazzi and his colleagues have figured out the structure of the B-cell receptor that triggers CLL and have sequenced the genes responsible for determining the shape of this rogue antibody. These findings could lead to new treatments and ways to follow the disease course. It turns out that those who weather the disease (some people live for decades while others have a more aggressive course) have mutations in the shape of the antibody. “Immune system mutations is what you want,” explained Dr. Chiorazzi. “It gives the body more possibilities.”
The scientists spend their days making antibody shapes (that look like different versions of a hand) and isolating molecules that bind to the hand. They are trying to identify substances that could alter the CLL process. In fact, they have two new markers that make it easier to provide patients with a more exact prognosis and such markers may eventually guide treatment decisions. Virtually all of Dr. Chiorazzi’s research has been carried out in humans. Working with Kanti Rai, MD, he formed a comprehensive CLL Research and Treatment Program.
Funding Future Research
- Investigate developing a drug regimen including drugs that kill CLL cells at the time of birth as well as when they are mature (as is the current approach).
- Take advantage of understanding the common shape of antibodies in CLL in order to make drugs directed at those common shapes.
- Develop therapies that block interaction of CLL cells with the internal environment of our bodies, building on multiple findings over the past 3 decades.