Translating childhood cancer molecular and immunologic vulnerabilities into novel therapies.
Treatment options are limited for many children whose cancer is disseminated at diagnosis or has recurred after upfront therapy. This is particularly true for children with high-risk neuroblastoma. Our highly collaborative research program aims to translate laboratory findings on childhood cancer's molecular and immunologic vulnerabilities, particularly solid tumors, including neuroblastoma, into clinical trials of potentially new and innovative therapies. These novel therapies stand to decrease treatment-related side effects and improve survival rates.
Neuroblastoma is a rather heterogenous solid tumor malignancy, and approximately half of those children and adolescents diagnosed with this form of cancer go on to have outstanding survival. The other half, however, receive the most intensive therapies available to children with cancer, but only about 50% of them will survive. Our research is focused on early identification of those children who are unlikely to respond to upfront treatment so that new and innovative therapies can be implemented as quickly as possible.
Specifically, our collaborative research efforts center on discovering the molecular and immunologic vulnerabilities of neuroblastoma and leveraging those findings into clinical trials that may one day change the course of upfront therapies for children with high-risk solid tumor malignancies.
As part of this endeavor, St. Jude has joined the New Approaches to Neuroblastoma Therapy (NANT) consortium, a National Cancer Institute–funded clinical trials consortium in North America that is based at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. NANT accelerates the translation of laboratory-based neuroblastoma research into early-phase clinical trials. As Scientific Chair of the NANT consortium, Dr. Park leads the prioritization and development of novel clinical trials. This includes the development of a platform for which all children who are enrolled in a NANT clinical trial will receive full molecular and immunologic characterizations of their tumors to determine the best treatment approach and to capture the evolution of these features during therapy.
This project will also generate information on how children with neuroblastoma respond to different treatments so that more predictive biomarkers can be developed. Investigators from North America and Europe will collaborate on developing this innovative platform which will house all the molecular and immunologic data that can be harnessed to develop clinical trials and look at trial outcomes.
Additional research focuses on the development and implementation of cellular therapy trials for children who have cancer. We will form a collaborative network with institutional researchers, including those in Bone Marrow Transplantation & Cellular Therapy, Oncology, Developmental Neurobiology, Diagnostic Imaging and Surgery to combine our understanding of the molecular aspects of various forms of pediatric cancer, tumor microenvironments and the immunologic states of children receiving intensive treatment. We will combine this knowledge with our understanding of the immune system to develop potentially novel and more effective cellular therapies for children with cancer.
Dr. Julie Park is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist who is interested in developing and advancing new approaches to childhood cancer therapy. Dr. Park received her MD from the University of Vermont and completed residency training in pediatrics at the University of Washington. Dr. Park then completed a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
She has been funded as a Fellow for the Leukemia Society of America at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and an investigator on NCI and NIH grants. As a Member of the St. Jude Faculty and Chair of the Oncology Department, Dr. Park is interested in discovering the molecular and immunologic vulnerabilities of solid tumor malignancies, such as neuroblastoma, and using this information to inform clinical trials centered on novel therapies for children with relapsed or refractory high-risk tumors.