Lisowski ’04 Spends Summer Researching Childhood Leukemia

Laura Lisowski ’04 presented the findings of the gene therapy research she completed as part of the Abbot Scholars program. Last summer, Lisowski interned at the National Institute of Health, where she worked in a lab that was investigating the development of Leukemia in a group of children being treated for the immune disorder XSCID. With the cooperation of the National Institute of Health, Lisowski was able to continue her research at Andover, examining a suspected leukemia-causing insertion site in the DNA of primates. Lisowski did not find the retrovirus vector in the gene she was examining and thus concluded with some certainty that the cause of Leukemia in the gene therapy patients was not the insertion of the retrovirus into the gene she was examining. Lisowski volunteered in university laboratories during the summer between her Junior and Lower years, where she was assigned to various projects in microbiology. Lisowski had developed a keen interest in gene research, and was searching for an internship in a project directly connected to the human context of DNA research. She interned in the lab of Dr. Cynthia Dunbar, a practicing physician, at the NIH headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. By working with Dr. Dunbar, Lisowski was able to witness the potential human impact of the research she was doing. A resident of Washington state, Lisowski spent the summer living at a hotel in Bethesda, spending long hours working in the NIH lab and taking advantage of the NIH’s resources and opportunities. The project to which Lisowski contributed is at the forefront of genetic research. In 2002, scientists at the Necker Hospital in France treated 11 children suffering from X-SCID, a life-threatening disease in which infants are born without a functional immune system. The French researchers introduced retroviruses with therapeutic genes into the patients. While nine responded successfully to the procedure, the other two developed Leukemia. The Leukemia in the X-SCID patients has brought a halt to gene therapy research until the exact cause of it can be determined. The NIH scientists injected primates, which have a very similar genome to humans, with empty vectors to determine whether it was the retroviruses or another factor that caused the Leukemia. The NIH sent Lisowski samples of DNA extracted from the primates, allowing her to examine a particular gene that the NIH scientists suspected to be connected with the development of Leukemia. Lisowski’s findings add one more piece to the massive puzzle of gene therapy, which could one day change the way we treat disease. Lisowski’s project is part of the Abbot Scholars Program, which gives PA seniors the opportunity to peruse independent projects and to present their findings to the PA community in a public forum. Lisowski was assisted by faculty advisor Jeremiah Hagler, a PA instructor and visiting scholar in molecular biology.