Daniel Herranz Benito, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology, recently received an $800,000 grant from the V Foundation for Cancer Research to further research T cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (T-ALL).
Benito, who is also a resident researcher at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health, said this four-year grant will allow him to further his current cancer research in children and adults.
“We hope to unravel the mechanistic and therapeutic effects of histidine on T-ALL,” he said.
Benito said he has spent the past 12 years of his life studying T-ALL, a prevalent hematological cancer affecting both children and adults.
Histidine, an essential amino acid, has become a focal point of Benito’s research, as he said he and his team are still working to learn its effect on leukemia. Histidine is not naturally produced in the body and can be found in pork, beef, corn and grains diets.
“I was always interested in cancer, not just leukemia,” Benito said. “For my postdoctoral studies, I chose a lab focused on T-ALL because I was fascinated by the type of studies they were doing in that disease.”
He said the potential implications of this research for patients and their families are significant.
“If successful, our research could lead to easy-to-implement clinical trials in T-ALL using histidine-modified diets, which we hope could increase response (and) cure rates or reduce long-term comorbidities in patients,” Benito said.
Current treatment protocols involve multiple chemotherapy sessions encompassing various aggressive drugs. Benito recognized the need for a more targeted approach to treatment, leading him to focus on the role of histidine in the context of T-ALL.
He said previous data on the potential therapeutic implications of dietary histidine modulation in T-ALL have laid the groundwork for future research and leukemia treatment.
“(We have) strong preliminary data suggesting that modulating dietary histidine might have therapeutic implications in T-ALL,” Benito said. “We are still trying to figure out its impact on leukemia, and that’s precisely what this grant aims to investigate.”