Evans Foundation Grant Establishes New Center at Columbia for Myelodysplastic Syndromes

December 15, 2021
Stavroula Kousteni, PhD

Stavroula Kousteni, PhD

With a grant from the Edward P. Evans Foundation, the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) will establish the Edward P. Evans Center for MDS, a new Center dedicated to the study and treatment of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). The new Center will build upon the dedicated MDS program at Columbia University, a longstanding program of excellence that has served as a national leader in MDS research. Under the leadership of Stavroula Kousteni, PhD, professor of physiology and cellular biophysics, the HICCC is poised to accelerate the Evans Foundation’s mission to discover novel ways  to treat MDS. Joining Dr. Kousteni, Azra Raza, MD, professor of medicine and director of the MDS clinical program at Columbia University, will act as the clinical director of the Edward P. Evans Center at Columbia.

Dr. Azra Raza

Azra Raza, MD

MDS is a malignant disease that attacks bone marrow stem cells. Diseased cells spread through a patient's bone marrow and limit the body's ability to create healthy blood stem cells, which can cause anemia, lowered immune response and an inability to form blood clots. Each year, more than 40,000 individuals are diagnosed with MDS and roughly one-third will develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a severe and rapidly progressing form of blood cancer.

Since its establishment in 1984, the Edward P. Evans Foundation has supported numerous priorities and initiatives, beginning its support of collaborative and transformational MDS research in 2011. With the shared goal of bringing more investigators into the fight againt MDS, this new grant will promote collaborative research,  support pilot projects, and establish an Edward P. Evans Fellowship program and seminar and retreat series. In addition, the grant will support an Edward P. Evans professorship. These efforts will come together with the aim to attract and support top MDS researchers and clinicians, building on Columbia’s expertise in MDS research and care. Joining Dr. Kousteni and Dr. Raza in establishing the new Center are prominent researchers and clinicians from across the HICCC, including, Drs. Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD; Emmanuelle Passegué, PhD; Adolfo Ferrando, MD; PhD, Aaron Viny, MD; and James Manley, PhD.

Together with the Evans Foundation, the HICCC aims to carry forward new treatments and improved outcomes for patients, with the goal of finding a cure for MDS. The HICCC is home to one of the strongest programs in the nation dedicated to MDS, and has been designated as a national center of excellence by the MDS Foundation. Driving Columbia’s success has been the commitment of outstanding faculty and the use of cutting-edge research technologies—genomics, CRISPR gene editing for therapeutics, artificial intelligence, single cell analysis at the DNA, RNA, and protein levels, and more— along with critical partnerships and collaborations across CUIMC such as the Center for Precision Cancer Medicine and the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative.

The Edward P. Evans Center at Columbia will expand and create novel MDS programmatic efforts at the HICCC, bringing new opportunities for research and education into the field. Relying on the MDS tissue bank established by Dr. Raza at CUIMC, already the largest of its kind in the world, the new center will lead investigational therapies and clinical trials to gain crucial insights into how MDS arises in the body and how it transforms to AML, taking into account not only mutations that occur in bone marrow cells but also how aging and their environment plays a role. The new center will build on these insights to propose new therapies aimed at treating MDS or preventing its transformation.

“Establishing the new Evans Center provides us with a tremendous opportunity to understand MDS pathogenesis and the biology of its progression better by studying its stages of transformation from multiple angles, and we are very grateful to the Evans Foundation for this opportunity. We’ll be able to take advantage of the multidisciplinary expertise of our faculty, our MDS sample repository, and novel therapeutic translation approaches that include targeting signals in the bone marrow microenvironment that nourish MDS cells,” says Dr. Kousteni.

“Our vision is to identify the MDS cell that arises in the body, and understand it deeply by mapping its trajectory in disease development and transformation to AML, studying it in its environment in the bone marrow and whole body as well as during aging. We are poised to provide this holistic approach and ideally equipped to undertake this ambitious effort of bringing a new era of hope for MDS patients.”