Houda Alachkar, PharmD, PhD
Faculty Directory

Houda AlachkarPharmD, PhD

Houda AlachkarPharmD, PhD

Associate Professor of Clinical Pharmacy

Titus Family Department of Clinical Pharmacy

Houda Alachkar received her PhD in biomedical sciences from the Ohio State University and received her PharmD degree from Ohio Northern University. Alachkar received postdoctoral fellowship training in clinical pharmacology and pharmacogenomcis at the University of Chicago. In September 2015, Alachkar joined the USC School of Pharmacy as an assistant professor. The Alachkar lab focuses on applying genomic information to the identification and functional characterization of cancer targets, and in the preclinical and clinical developments of potential targeted therapeutic approaches, with particular interest in acute myeloid leukemia.

Areas of Expertise

  • Pharmacogenomics
  • Immunogenomics
  • Functional Genomics
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia
  • Experimental therapeutics
  • Education

    University of Chicago

    Fellowship

    Ohio State University

    PhD

    Ohio Northern University

    PharmD

  • Links
  • Research Focus

    The Alachkar Lab

    The revolution in sequencing technologies has given the momentum for the emerging genomics and personalized medicine era that led to great discoveries, particularly in cancer research. Translating these findings into the clinic, however, has moved at a much slower pace. It is evident that cancer pharmacogenomic variation, the somatic changes in cancer cells and germline variants in normal cells, influence the disease outcome and response to treatment. The Alachkar lab focuses on applying genomic information to the identification and functional characterization of cancer targets, and in the preclinical and clinical developments of potential targeted therapeutic approaches with particular interest in acute myeloid leukemia.

  • Selected Articles

    Clinical And Preclinical Characterization Of CD99 Isoforms In Acute Myeloid Leukemia

    Hermatologica
    Vijaya Pooja Vaikari, Yang Du, Sharon Wu, Tian Zhang, Klaus Metzeler, Aarif M.N. Batcha, Tobias Herold, Wolfgang Hiddemann, Mojtaba Akhtari, Houda Alachkar

    2019 In an effort to identify target genes in acute myeloid leukemia, we compared gene expression profiles between normal and acute myeloid leukemia cells from various publicly available datasets. We identified CD99, a gene that is upregulated in patients with acute myeloid leukemia. In 186 patients from The Cancer Genome Atlas - acute myeloid leukemia dataset, CD99 was overexpressed in patients with FLT3-ITD and was downregulated in patients with TP53 mutations.

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    Anti-FLT3 nanoparticles for acute myeloid leukemia: Preclinical pharmacology and pharmacokinetics

    Journal of Controlled Release
    Park M, Vaikari VP, Lam AT, Zhang Y, MacKay JA, Alachkar H.

    FLT3 receptor is an important therapeutic target in acute myeloid leukemia due to high incidence of mutations associated with poor clinical outcome. Targeted therapies against the FLT3 receptor, including small-molecule FLT3 tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) and anti-FLT3 antibodies, have demonstrated promising preclinical and even clinical efficacy. Yet, even with the current FDA approval for two FLT3 inhibitors, these modalities were unable to cure AML or significantly extend the lives of patients with a common mutation called FLT3-ITD. While FLT3 is a viable target, the approaches to inhibit its activity were inadequate. To develop a new modality for targeting FLT3, our team engineered an α-FLT3-A192 fusion protein composed of a single chain variable fragment antibody conjugated with an elastin-like polypeptide. These fusion proteins assemble into multi-valent nanoparticles with excellent stability and pharmacokinetic properties as well as in vitro and in vivo pharmacological activity in cellular and xenograft murine models of AML. In conclusion, α-FLT3-A192 fusions appear to be a viable new modality for targeting FLT3 in AML and warrant further preclinical development to bring it into the clinic.

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    Apolipoprotein C2 - CD36 Promotes Leukemia Growth and Presents a Targetable Axis in Acute Myeloid Leukemia

    Blood Cancer Discovery
    Zhang T, Yang J, Vaikari VP, Beckford JS, Wu S, Akhtari M, Alachkar H

    Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a devastating hematologic malignancy that affects the hematopoietic stem cells. The 5-year overall survival (OS) of patients with AML is less than 30%, highlighting the urgent need to identify new therapeutic targets. Here, we analyze gene expression datasets for genes that are differentially overexpressed in AML cells compared with healthy hematopoietic cells. We report that apolipoprotein C2 (APOC2) mRNA is significantly overexpressed in AML, particularly in patients with mixed-lineage leukemia rearrangements. By multivariate analysis, high APOC2 expression in leukemia blasts is significantly associated with decreased OS (HR: 2.51; 95% CI, 1.03–6.07; P = 0.04). APOC2 is a small secreted apolipoprotein that constitutes chylomicrons, very-low-density lipoproteins, and high-density lipoproteins with other apolipoproteins. APOC2 activates lipoprotein lipase and contributes to lipid metabolism. By gain and loss of function approaches in cultured AML cells, we demonstrate that APOC2 promotes leukemia growth via CD36-mediated LYN–ERK signaling activation. Knockdown or pharmacological inhibition of either APOC2 or CD36 reduces cell proliferation, induces apoptosis in vitro, and delays leukemia progression in mice. Altogether, this study establishes APOC2–CD36 axis as a potential therapeutic target in AML.

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    Characterization of upregulated adhesion GPCRs in acute myeloid leukemia

    Translational Research
    Jiawen Yang, Sharon Wu, Houda Alachkar

    2019 The role of adhesion G protein-coupled receptors (aGPCRs) in cancer has become increasingly evident in recent years. Yet, data supporting the contribution of this family of genes to hematological malignancies, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are limited. Here, we use publicly available genomic data to characterize the expression of the 33 aGPCRs in patients with AML and examine whether upregulation of these genes is associated with the clinical and molecular characteristics of patients. Upregulation in one or more of eight aGPCR genes (ADGRB1, ADGRC2, ADGRD1, ADGRE1, ADGRE2, ADGRE5, ADGRG1, and/or ADGRG3) was significantly associated with shorter overall survival (OS) (median OS: 11.8 vs 55.4 months; P < 0.0001). This was also significant in multivariate survival analysis (hazard ratio: 1.73; 95% confidence interval 1.11–2.69; P = 0.015) after adjusting for age, molecular risk status, and transplant status. High expression of the eight aGPCRs was significantly associated with older age (≥60; P = 0.011). Patients with high aGPCRs expression were more frequently classified in the poor molecular risk status group and less in the good risk status group compared with patients with low aGPCRs expression (31% vs 17% P = 0.049 and 14% vs 28% P = 0.027, respectively). Via Ingenuity Pathway Analysis, we identified the interleukin-8 signaling pathway among the most activated pathways in patients with high aGPCRs expression. Overall, our data suggest that particular aGPCRs are frequently upregulated in AML and associated with poor clinical outcome. Future functional and mechanistic analyses are needed to address the role of aGPCRs in AML.

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    Characterization of Mutations in the Mitochondrial Encoded Electron Transport Chain Complexes in Acute Myeloid Leukemia

    Scientific Reports
    Sharon Wu, Mojtaba Akhtari & Houda Alachkar

    2018 Acute Myeloid Leukemia is a devastating and heterogeneous, hematological malignancy characterized by the uncontrolled proliferation of undifferentiated myeloid progenitor cells—blasts. Mutations in certain mitochondrial proteins, such as IDH2 have been shown to contribute to leukemogenesis.

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    Anti-CD99 scFv-ELP nanoworms for the treatment of acute myeloid leukemia.

    Nanomedicine
    Vaikari VP, Park M, Keossayan L, MacKay JA, Alachkar H

    CD99 is a transmembrane glycoprotein shown to be upregulated in various malignancies. We have previously reported CD99 to be highly upregulated and present a viable therapeutic target in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Currently, no therapy against CD99 is under clinical investigation. As a surface molecule, CD99 can be targeted with an antibody-based approach. Here, we have developed a new modality to target CD99 by engineering a fusion protein composed of a single-chain variable fragment antibody (anti-CD99 scFv) conjugated with a high molecular weight elastin-like polypeptide (ELP), A192: α-CD99-A192. This fusion protein assembles into multi-valent nanoworm with optimal physicochemical properties and favorable pharmacokinetic parameters (half-life: 16 h). α-CD99-A192 nanoworms demonstrated excellent in vitro and in vivo anti-leukemic effects. α-CD99-A192 induced apoptotic cell death in AML cell lines and primary blasts and prolonged overall survival of AML xenograft mouse model.

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    Deregulation of apolipoprotein C2 gene in cancer: A potential metabolic vulnerability

    Clinical and Translational Medicine
    Liu Y, Meng Y, Zhang T, Alachkar H

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    Midostaurin reduces Regulatory T cells markers in Acute Myeloid Leukemia

    Scientific Report
    Gutierrez L, Jang M, Zhang T, Akhtari M, Alachkar H.

    Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a heterogeneous hematological malignancy in which the only curative approach is allogeneic stem cell transplant (Allo-HSCT). The recognition and elimination of leukemic clones by donor T-cells contribute significantly to Allo-HSCT success. FLT3-ITD, a common mutation in AML, is associated with poor prognosis. Recently, midostaurin became the first FDA approved FLT3-inhibitor for pre-transplant patients with FLT3-ITD in combination with standard therapy. In addition to their multikinase activity which may affect T-cell signaling, FLT3-inhibitors induce apoptosis of malignant cells which may also enhance antigen presentation to activate T-cells. Considering the increased clinical use of these inhibitors in patients with AML, and the limited clinical benefit derived from their use as single agents, understanding how FLT3-inhibitors affect T cell population and function is needed to improve their clinical benefit. We examined the effect of four different FLT3 inhibitors (midostaurin, sorafenib, tandutinib, and quizartenib) on T cell populations in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) obtained from healthy donors and from patients with AML. Midostaurin exhibited a significant decrease in CD4 + CD25 + FOXP3+ T cell population and FOXP3 mRNA expression in healthy and AML PBMCs. Similarly, samples collected from patients with AML treated with midostaurin showed a reduction in Tregs markers. Interferon-γ(IFN-γ), tumor necrosis factor-α(TNF-α), and IL-10 levels were also reduced following midostaurin treatment. Considering the FDA approval of midostaurin for use in patients with AML in the pre-transplant setting, our finding will have important clinical implication as it provides the rationale for functional investigation of the use of midostaurin in post-transplant patients.

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  • Selected Media Appearances

    USC School of Pharmacy Study Sheds New Light on Targeted Drugs to Treat Acute Myeloid Leukemia

    USC School of Pharmacy

    Midostaurin reduces regulatory t cells markers, according to researchers in the Alachkar lab at the USC School of Pharmacy

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