Brandon Gheller, PH.D. (Fellow)

Research Fellow


Project Title

Dietary Intervention for Clonal Hematopoiesis, Myelodysplasia and Leukemia

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick


Research Fellow


Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston, Mass.

My “Why”

My training in human nutrition has always made a point of focusing on prevention in addition to supporting treatment. The recent identification of clonal hematopoiesis as a condition that can assign cancer development risk in otherwise healthy people provided me a promising avenue to apply my nutritional science background to cancer prevention.

My Mission

The past successes of nutritional interventions in preventing disease such as the fortification of flour products with folic acid to prevent neural tube defects is remarkable and inspiring. As our understanding of how specific cancers initiate, it evolves the opportunity to develop prophylactic nutritional interventions and becomes excitingly more plausible.

Research Overview

Aging is a major risk factor for the development of blood cancer, such as leukemia, due to an increase in the dominance of ineffective blood stem cells. Blood stem cells are necessary for hematopoiesis. (The process of creating all the cells that constitute the blood system.)

Over 6% of all individuals 60 years of age and older who are otherwise free of blood disorders have clonal hematopoiesis. Clonal hematopoiesis is the dominance of ineffective blood stem cells that results in an increased propensity for blood cancer development and poor outcomes once cancer develops. This can be detected from a minimally invasive blood draw; therefore, it presents a truly pre-cancerous state that is easily detectable and in adequate time for intervention. Because the timeline from clonal hematopoiesis detection to disease is unknown, traditional therapies that have side effects, especially when taken for long periods— such as drugs—are not feasible.

I propose the use of dietary interventions as a sustainable and effective cancer preventative strategy to prophylactically treat people with clonal hematopoiesis. Using the zebrafish model—which shares many of the biological features that define the human blood system and allows for high throughput screening of treatments in a whole-body context—I will test dietary interventions to evaluate their influence on slowing clonal hematopoiesis.

I will also combine genome editing techniques to model clonal hematopoiesis along with cutting edge genetic and color cellular barcoding approaches to track the dynamics of individual blood stem cells in response to dietary interventions in real time.

Why Funding Matters

Funding gives me the financial freedom to focus on my cancer prevention research full time in a mentored setting. During this valuable time, I will develop into an independent cancer prevention scientist prepared to train the next generation.

My Hope

The goal of my work is to develop nutrition-based preventive treatments to be used after an individual is found to have a genetic predictor of cancer. The appeal of nutrition-based interventions is that they typically have less side-effects than traditional drugs and can be safely taken for long durations.