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November 2010 Issue

Carolyn Lutzko, PhD
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A Key Link in the Chain: Hoxworth Researcher Strives to Translate Cell Therapies Into Patient Treatments

By Katie Pence
Published November 2010

Carolyn Lutzko, PhD, says she is a translator by trade.


But her job doesn’t technically involve languages.


Lutzko, who began in her role as associate professor and scientific director of the Cellular Therapy Laboratory at Hoxworth Blood Center in July, says the interpretation in her job comes when she relays important research discoveries to clinicians and translates new cell therapies from something that works on a lab bench into a safe and effective treatment for patients.


"The whole goal of my research program is to develop more treatment options for patients,” she says. "I need to think scientifically to do my research but also must be able to explain the impact of our findings to physicians. It’s my job to be able to take what works in laboratory experiments, ‘translate’ it into procedures that can safely be applied to patients and work with physicians to get it to patients who need it.”


Lutzko, also serving as scientific director of the Cell Processing and Manipulation Laboratory and the Novel Development Core at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, says most of her expertise lies with developing cell therapies from different sources including blood, bone marrow or pluripotent stem cells—cells that can reproduce any cell type in the body.


"While stem cells from blood or bone marrow have been used to treat patients for decades, there are new therapies being developed to expand this type of therapy to other diseases,” she says.


Lutzko says pluripotent stem cell technology involves stem cells that can be artificially derived from any cell in the body by inducing the expression of four specific genes.


"This is a second area of interest for me, but there are challenges when working with these so-called induced pluripotent stem cells,” she continues. "Part of our research is looking at the current limitations to find out how to make the cells more durable and reliably reprogram them into cells that can safely be used for therapies.”


Lutzko says by studying these stem cells, researchers hope to one day use them for generating cells for clinical applications, such as transplantation.


"One way we can use this to our advantage is by creating ‘designer transplants,’” she says. "In any transplant, there is a risk of rejection because the immune system of the host produces cells that fight the foreign transplanted tissue, making the patient endure immunosuppressive therapies that could have nasty side effects.


"We want to be able to develop cells and tissues for transplant from the patient’s own stem cells, preventing transplant rejection and avoiding the requirement of immunosuppressive drugs for patients.”


In addition to this tailored form of treatment, Lutzko says researchers are looking at ways these cells can aid in the development of cell- and drug-based therapies  for cancer, blood, lung and heart disease, among other illnesses.


"If we can successfully find ways to control these stem cells, we may be able to change the way health care is delivered from the inside out.


"It’s transforming our scientific discoveries into safe and effective therapies that can improve lives.”


More About Lutzko:

Carolyn Lutzko, PhD, came to the University of Cincinnati from Children's Hospital Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, where she was assistant professor of pediatrics and cell and neurobiology as well as the director of the human pluripotent stem cell core.


"There are so many strengths at Children’s and Hoxworth,” she says. "The work being done at both facilities is so complementary of one another. I hope to build the bridge between the two to take advantage of the strengths of both facilities and create the best possible outcome for patients.”


In her spare time, Lutzko has been enjoying the Ohio summer and fall. Her weekends have been spent identifying local birds, insects, wildlife and fossils with her family.


"After living in a desert for the past 11 years, we are thoroughly enjoying the abundant wildlife and fall colors,” she says.


Lutzko also says she’s starting to prepare for a colder winter than what California brought.


"I’m used to it—I’m originally from Canada—but my twins Teri and Diana, both 7, are going to be in for a surprise.”


More Collaborative Stem Cell Research:


Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Hoxworth Blood Center have identified a novel signaling pathway in hematopoietic stem cells—cells from which all blood cells are made, or "mother cells”—which influences their mobilization and stability between bone marrow and blood.


The study, published in the Sept. 26 issue of Nature Medicine, showed that pharmacological inhibition of a signaling pathway triggered by epidermal growth factor receptors increased the mobilization of hematopoietic stem cells in mice. A specific inhibitory drug of this pathway, already approved for the treatment of some cancers, has been shown to pharmacologically reproduce the genetic mouse model data.


This finding provides a scientific basis for enhancing the effectiveness of autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplants—or transplants where the recipient donates his or her own stem cells prior to the procedure. 


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