The Department of Pediatric Oncology is committed to promoting laboratory research, translational investigation, and clinical studies to better understand and treat childhood cancers.
A focus on translational research
Research across the continuum from laboratory research to clinical trials is most likely to contribute to the development of novel therapeutics. The Department's research focus accordingly spans cancer biology, leukemia research, sarcomas, neurobiology,
and chemical biology. Through our
pediatric oncology clinical partnership with Boston Children's Hospital — Dana-Farber/Boston
Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center — the Department is developing unique
pediatric clinical trials to improve the treatment and care
of children with cancer. Leading Dana-Farber's pediatric clinical trials program is
Steven DuBois, MD, MS. The Department's clinical trials portfolio includes investigator-initiated, cooperative group, and company-sponsored trials for a variety of cancers
at different stages of progression.
Attacking brain tumors
Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, and
Charles Stiles, PhD, co-chair of Cancer Biology, created the
Pediatric Low-Grade Astrocytoma Program at Dana-Farber. Believed to be the first coordinated effort focusing on low-grade gliomas, the program
has a five-year objective to identify a molecular target that can be affected with personalized therapy.
Rosalind Segal, MD, PhD, who is also a member of Cancer Biology, is studying the pathways by which extracellular stimuli (such as growth factors and cell-to-cell interactions) regulate development.
Segal and her group have demonstrated that neuronal precursors in the cerebellum migrate along a gradient of the growth factor brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The lab has identified critical intracellular pathways that allow this migration
and is identifying new ways in which these pathways can be selectively turned on or off. Recent studies have highlighted a role for the BDNF receptor in diverse metastatic diseases. Thus, Segal's studies may lead to new cancer drugs that block
cancer cell dissemination.
New approaches to sarcoma research
Charles Roberts, MD, PhD, is studying the role of the SWI/SNF protein complex in malignant rhabdoid tumors and other cancers. He is also investigating the mechanisms by which it controls cell growth. Roberts and his group found that aggressive cancers
that arise in mice deficient in the SNF5 gene lack widespread genome mutations. The changes that occur following SNF5 mutation are actually epigenetic alterations, which are potentially reversible and, therefore, have important therapeutic implications
for a wide variety of cancers.
Stuart Orkin, MD, is leading an effort to find new approaches to osteosarcoma, the most common primary bone tumor, using an engineered mouse model that mimics the human cancer.
His team, along with
Katherine Janeway, MD, seeks to define the pathways leading to metastasis and to identify novel agents that may promote differentiation of the cancer cells.
Advancing our understanding of neuroblastoma
Rani George, MD, PhD, performed a genome-wide analysis of neuroblastoma tumors and found multiple copies of a receptor tyrosine kinase gene, ALK, in up to 14 percent
of high-risk neuroblastomas. In collaboration with the Broad Institute, George sequenced ALK in 93 primary neuroblastoma tumor samples. She discovered five different mutations, with one mutation recurring in four cases.
Genomic approaches to drug discovery
Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, focuses on genomic approaches to drug discovery. With the Broad Institute, Stegmaier developed a new method of chemical discovery called gene
expression-based high-throughput screening (GE-HTS). This technique led to the discovery of chemicals that induce the maturation of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells and resulted in a clinical trial for patients with relapsed AML. Many malignancies
are believed to arise from the abnormal proliferation of cells and the failure of primitive cells to differentiate. For this reason, Stegmaier is focusing on the differentiation defect in two model diseases, AML and neuroblastoma.
Aneuploidy: attacking differences in cancer cells
David Pellman, MD, recently developed a genome-wide imaging approach to identify genes that are essential for abnormal cell division. His goal is to find genes that are not
necessary in normal cells, but are required for the survival of cancer cells. One way to distinguish cancer cells from their normal counterparts is the presence of too many centrosomes. These are cellular structures that initiate the cellular
machine that distributes the chromosomes in a dividing cell. This study identified a novel drug target, the kinesin HSET. Blocking HSET kills neuroblastoma cells with extra centrosomes, but spares normal cells. This information may impact the
treatment of leukemias and solid tumors, where increased centrosome numbers are common.
Chemical biology: a new frontier of multidisciplinary medicine
Loren Walensky, MD, PhD, is applying novel compounds to dissect and manipulate the cell signaling pathways that are integral in apoptosis in order to reactivate them
to overcome cancer. Walensky inserted a chemical "staple" into a natural but otherwise unstable cell-killing peptide. This reactivated the apoptosis cell signaling pathway in leukemia cells. When the stapled peptide was injected into mice, it
suppressed human-type leukemia. Compounds such as this one are now being used to study the interactions of proteins inside cells, giving scientists a "molecular toolbox" to study and to potentially treat cancer and other diseases.
Harnessing the immune system to fight cancer
William Nicholas Haining, BM, BCh, is identifying the molecular characteristics of T cells associated with immunologic protection. Using gene expression
profiling, Haining has demonstrated that all lymphocyte lineages in mice and humans use a common cell differentiation program during memory development. With Stegmaier, he has used GE-HTS to identify small molecules, genes, or soluble factors
that direct memory differentiation in naive human lymphocytes. These studies may lead to the discovery of new immunomodulatory drugs or vaccine strategies.
Aberrant signal transduction in cancer
Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, is studying the mechanisms through which the hypoxia-inducible factor pathway allows cells to adapt to hypoxia. He is also focused on how to therapeutically target hypoxic tumor cells. Kung has developed new ways to use noninvasive
imaging in order to assess molecular pathways within tumors, and has used these approaches to validate new therapies in mouse models. Kung leads the new
Dana-Farber Lurie Family Imaging Center and helped establish the Institute's
Center for Biomedical Imaging in Oncology