Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research

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).

New cancer therapy programs in pediatrics, including drug development, effectiveness of new agents-translational research for solid tumors, and sarcomas such as osteosarcoma.

Targeting and optimizing cancer therapy to individuals, including 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. Using gene profiling helps identify genes and proteins that indicate whether or not an individual will respond to the planned therapy.

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) currently has no cure. In patients 15 years of age or younger, malignant brain tumors represent approximately 22 percent of all pediatric cancers and are associated with the most significant cancer morbidity. Understanding the complex mechanisms involved in GBM progression and finding therapeutic agents that interfere with these complex processes remains an intense focus of the Wells Center investigators.

Neuroblastoma, the third most common pediatric cancer, is responsible for approximately 15% of all childhood cancer deaths and is the most common cancer diagnosed during the first year of life. The research team has recently developed humanized neuroblastoma mouse models to screen new therapies for high-risk neuroblastoma and establishing a 3-dimensional neuroblastoma culture system to investigate therapy responses at the molecular level.

Studies focus on identification of cellular defects leading to chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), a major concern for children who survive cancer treatments. These patients can have neuropathy (pain, numbness) issues for life. These studies include the development of novel agents (treatments) that will prevent or correct CIPN in children as well as identifying genetic risk factors.

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.

Principal Investigators
Million annually in research funds

Featured News

Hope for healing

Cancer treatments are becoming more effective and survival rates are increasing, but many patients suffer from neuropathy after being treated by chemotherapy.  There is no effective treatment for the condition, which can be so severe that cancer treatment must be stopped. Scientists at the Wells Center and their collaborators are working to help.

Bench to bedisde

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.

Principal Investigators

Mark R. Kelley, MS,  PhD

Mark R. Kelley, MS, PhD

Betty and Earl Herr Professor of Pediatric Oncology Research
Steve Angus, PhD

Steve Angus, PhD

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
D. W. Clapp, MD

D. W. Clapp, MD

Chair, Department of Pediatrics
Melissa L. Fishel, PhD

Melissa L. Fishel, PhD

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Rachel A. Katzenellenbogen, MD

Rachel A. Katzenellenbogen, MD

Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Karen E. Pollok, PhD

Karen E. Pollok, PhD

Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Mohammad R. Saadatzadeh, MS,  PhD

Mohammad R. Saadatzadeh, MS, PhD

Associate Research Professor of Pediatrics
Jingwu Xie, MS,  PhD

Jingwu Xie, MS, PhD

Jonathan and Jennifer Simmons Professor of Pediatrics