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.