Modifying the Future for Children with Brain Tumors

How does a gene “decide” to set off a chain reaction that leads to cancer? Scientists at Lurie Children’s and Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University are now looking for answers deep within the cell to a tiny structure called chromatin. They hope to reverse the cancer-causing message to the gene long before it starts on a path to cancer.

“Chromatin consists of DNA condensed with certain proteins inside the cell nucleus. It determines whether the gene turns on or off,” explains Rishi Lulla, MD, Hematology, Oncology, Neuro-Oncology & Stem Cell Transplantation at Lurie Children’s, who is Co-Principal Investigator on this project. “We have increasing evidence that altered chromatin biology is a central feature of cancer development and progression. Our aim is to learn how chromatin can be modified in order to treat the most challenging brain tumors in children. Targeting this mechanism is a relatively new strategy that has been gaining interest in pediatric neuro-oncology.”

The multidisciplinary team is using a bedside-to-bench-to-bedside approach. “We are using clinical observation and patient samples to drive basic science investigation, which will then inform the development of novel clinical trials,” says Co-Principal Investigator Amanda Saratsis, MD, Neurosurgery, Lurie Children’s. “Our initial research focuses on pediatric high grade glioma and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma because children affected by these brain tumors are in dire need of improved treatment options and outcomes.”

Drs. Lulla and Saratsis are collaborating on this project with scientists from Northwestern Medicine, including experts in Neurology, Neurosurgery, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. Their work will be accelerated through generous philanthropic support from the John McNicholas Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

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