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Changing tumor cell identity

Memphis, Tennessee, October 20, 2021

Scientist standing in front of a whiteboard and looking at camera.

Brian J. Abraham, PhD, St. Jude Computational Biology Department, helped lead research that showed how the vitamin A derivative retinoic acid rewires core regulatory circuits in neuroblastoma cells.

Retinoic acid is used to treat a type of cancer called neuroblastoma in children. The tumor results from blocking nerve cell development.

Scientists at St. Jude and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute studied the problem. They learned how retinoic acid changes tumor cells in children with high-risk neuroblastoma. The drug adjusts gene expression, including of a powerful cancer gene. Tumor cells stop multiplying and become mature nerve cells.

“The results show how a common neuroblastoma drug rewires circuits in tumor cells and causes a shift in cell identity,” said Brian J. Abraham, PhD, of St. Jude Computational Biology. “It also gives us another way to assess novel therapies in the future.”

This research appeared in Science Advances.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch.