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Molecular Oncology and Experimental Therapeutics

The Pediatric Molecular Oncology and Experimental Therapeutics research team is focused on translating the basic science understanding of genes and protein mechanisms into new therapeutic modalities while developing better models for tumor studies and a greater understanding of tumor biology. The group puts emphasis on all types of pediatric cancers and related tumors, including sarcomas (osteosarcoma and rhadbomyosarcoma). Basic and preclinical studies facilitate clinical trials as well as understanding mechanism of the diseases.

Areas of Focus

The current areas of research for the Pediatric Molecular Oncology and Experimental Therapeutics include DNA repair, epigenetics, signaling pathways, oncoproteins, tumor suppressors, angiogenesis and development of novel therapeutics, tumor-microenvironment interaction, and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN).

  • Pediatric precision medicine
    Personalized cancer therapy entails targeting and optimizing treatments to the patient. This includes clinical pharmacology of anti-cancer drugs, genetic assessment of each patient’s ability to tolerate treatment and identification of genetic biomarkers in DNA and proteins that predict therapy response.
  • New cancer therapy
    Researchers in the Pediatric Molecular Oncology and Experimental Therapeutics research program are working on developing and optimizing new drugs to treat patients with cancer.
  • Pediatric sarcoma
    Active studies on a number of sarcomas have a focus on relapsed osteosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma. These highly aggressive tumors are in the bones or in tissue around the bones. Novel tumor models are being developed directly from tumor samples donated by young patients at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health.
  • NeurofibromatosisType 1 NF1 tumors
    Ongoing research in the molecular oncology program involved subsets such as malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST).
  • Glioblastoma multiforme GBM
    Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a cancer with no known cure. In pediatric patients 15 years of age or younger, malignant brain tumors represent approximately one-quarter of all pediatric cancers and are associated with the most significant cancer morbidity. Researchers at the Wells Center are focused on understanding the complex mechanisms involved in GBM progression and finding therapeutic agents that interfere with these complex processes.
  • Cancer treatment toxicity
    Investigators are working to identify cellular defects that lead to the the toxicity of cancer treatments. In many people who survive cancer, treatment-related damage can result in lifelong issues such as neuropathy (pain, numbness, hearing loss). This is a major concern for children who survive cancer treatments.
  • Human papillomavirus HPV
    HPV is a common infection that affects more than 75 percent of the adult population and is typically acquired during adolescence and early adulthood. Nearly 5 percent of cancers worldwide are caused by HPV. Based on their association with cancer, different types of HPV are categorized as high-risk or low-risk. The molecular oncology research group studies the protein partnerships that drive cancer development and progression in certain high-risk HPV viral oncogenes.
8 Principal Investigators
12 Trainees
6 million annually in research funds

Featured News

A portrait of a smiling man.

Advancing Inventions

In 2020, Mark Kelley, PhD, was appointed to serve on the IU Ventures Investment Committee. IU Ventures nurtures the IU entrepreneurial ecosystem through venture support, investment and events. Kelley, himself an IU entrepreneur, will help assess investment opportunities from IU-affiliated entrepreneurs and advise IU Ventures in its decision-making process.

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Wade Clapp, MD

Bench to bedside

D. Wade Clapp, MD, and his team of scientists are among the world’s foremost experts on neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a rare and potentially fatal genetic condition. Clapp’s work has lead to several of clinical trials and improved quality of life for children with NF1 and their families.

Improving Outcomes

Researchers will soon be testing a new approach to treating glioblastoma. The treatment may attack cells that are resistant to treatment, increasing life expectancy and reducing the amount of chemotherapy needed.

Passion and purpose

Early losses led to a career in cancer research for Melissa Fishel, PhD. Now, she uses this inspired purpose to uncover the mysteries of cancerous cells by developing improved model systems.

Novel discovery

Pancreatic cancer is notoriously resistant to chemotherapy, giving it one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. A recent study led by Jingwu Xie, PhD, revealed an important mechanism that could lead to new therapies targeting this resistance.

Meet Rachel Katzenellenbogen, MD

Meet the newest member of the Pediatric Molecular Oncology and Experimental Therapeutics research group at the Wells Center. Rachel Katzenellenbogen, MD, studies the mechanisms of human papilloma virus that contribute to the development of cancer.