Richard J. Jones, PhD
Richard Jones, PhD is a Research Instructor in the Lymphoma/Myeloma Department at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center. In addition, he is a member of the Lymphoma Research Foundation's (LRF's) Mantle Cell Lymphoma Consortium (MCLC) and a recipient of an LRF postdoctoral fellowship.
As a PhD student in the UK, Dr. Jones became interested in cancer and lymphoma and originally focused on developing therapeutic strategies to inhibit the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV), which causes tumors in the throat as well as stomach cancers. EBV is also a causal agent in lymphoid tumors such as Burkitt's Lymphoma and Hodgkin's lymphoma. "While we have progressed much in developing new treatments for these two diseases, the development of chemotherapy resistance and treatment side effects indicates we need to understand more about the biology of lymphomas," he said.
During his PhD studies, Dr. Jones spent a short period of time teaching science. He asked his students to draw a picture of what they thought a scientist looked like and what they thought a scientist did. "Many of the drawings contained images that you would expect 12 year old children to draw, like government research or aliens," he said. "But one picture was very different and caught my eye, and to this day is the reason I now work on cancer and lymphoma. The picture was of the student who drew herself as a scientist having found the cure for cancer, and in the background there was a graveyard, with her as a young girl missing her mom, who had died of cancer. I still have this picture today and I know that we need to do more to help families stay together and not be separated by lymphoma."
"If we can understand the mechanisms that lymphomas use to grow and develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs, then we can use this basic knowledge to develop treatments which are highly effective, but minimize side effects," he said.
Today Dr. Jones works to understand how cancer cells use glucose and cholesterol for growth, and thereby develop drugs that target these pathways in lymphoma. "For many years we have heard about how changes in the DNA of cells contributes to the development of cancer, and how these changes can be brought on from environmental factors as well as the genes we inherit from our parents," he said. "We can now measure these changes in cancers by studying the sequence of the DNA and target drugs to the cancer cells specifically while leaving normal cells alone. However, we now know that cancer cell DNA is only a small part of the puzzle and the metabolism of cancer cells is important." Cancer cells have a high metabolic rate, which means they use large amounts of glucose and cholesterol for growth. "My research focuses on the role of LDL and HDL cholesterol and how it enhances the growth of lymphoma and myeloma cells," he explained. "We have found that patients with advanced lymphoma have the ability to move cholesterol into the lymphoma cells and use this to enhance the growth of the cancer. By understanding the transport of cholesterol into the lymphoma cells we can use drugs such as statins, Pimozide and Glyburide to block this and enhance standard chemotherapy regimens."
The LRF fellowship enabled Dr. Jones to continue working on the development of a new avenue of cancer therapeutics that is highly targeted to the specific biology of the lymphoma cells. "The funding provided me with a base from which to continue my career," he said. Working in a lab at MD Anderson, Dr. Jones sees men, women, boys and girls whose lives are impacted by lymphoma every day. "My best advice to any newly diagnosed lymphoma patient would be to see and obtain treatment in a University-based medical practice," he said. "This will allow access to the most up-to-date treatments and direct access to clinical trials, which will ensure patients have the best care with which to beat their lymphoma."
As a member of LRF's MCLC, Dr. Jones finds it to be a great benefit to meet with both clinicians and basic scientists in the same forum. "Laboratory-based researchers don't get to see what treatments are the most effective in patients or the side effects chemotherapy drugs have, so the bringing together of both clinicians and basic researchers helps bridge the gap in knowledge between the bench and the bedside," he said.
Dr. Jones is continually reminded of the little girl in the UK who lost her mom. "Seeing how people are affected by lymphoma every day, and how they are not just as a number or statistic on paper, reinforces how doing basic research into the causes of lymphoma can have a positive effect on the lives of patients," he said.
To learn more about the LRF research program, or the research and investigators supported by the Foundation please click here.
To read about other Featured LRF Researchers, click here.