About Lillian Guenther

photo of Lillian Guenther

Dr. Lillian Guenther’s career is marked by a dedication to scientific inquiry and discovery in pediatric oncology. She joins St. Jude from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and will be a faculty member in the Division of Molecular Oncology. Guenther’s journey in medicine is one that has benefited from the convergence of clinical care and scientific discovery. Dr. Guenther earned her undergraduate degree at Brown University and her MD degree from SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. During medical school she completed a research fellowship at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute/National Institutes of Health (NIH), which led to her engagement with osteosarcoma biology. Her exploration into this area facilitated a passion that has shaped her personal research work in osteosarcoma for many years. Dr. Guenther completed her fellowship under the mentorship of Dr. Kimberly Stegmaier at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she subsequently was an Instructor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an Attending Physician at Dana-Farber and Boston Children’s Hospital. With a clinician-scientist background, Guenther’s work has translational aspects in which patients help focus her research efforts and her laboratory work challenges the way she thinks about patients. Her goal is to steer focused research efforts that lead to novel therapeutic developments for pediatric bone sarcomas.

Research summary

Osteosarcoma is a tumor with an incredibly complex genome, marked by mutations and diverse chromosomal rearrangements. Such genomic heterogeneity contributes to unique molecular drivers in individual tumors that can present challenges to effective treatment. Dr. Guenther’s ongoing research, which uses genome-scale CRISPR screening in cancer cell line models to examine critical non-mutated genes in the osteosarcoma cancer genome, has revealed that different elements of the DNA damage cascade may be important in different subsets of osteosarcoma. As the complex genome underlying osteosarcoma tumors seeks to replicate and proliferate, the DNA damage response cascade may play a critical role. A major theme of Dr. Guenther’s work at St. Jude will seek a deeper understanding of these DNA damage-related targets in osteosarcoma.

A major focus of the early efforts in the Guenther laboratory will be the preclinical validation of one such target, which is a helicase enzyme involved in replication stress response. Based on preliminary data, Dr. Guenther hypothesizes that osteosarcoma tumors that are more dependent on this gene may be more sensitive to certain types of DNA damage response or checkpoint inhibitors. Dr. Guenther’s work will concentrate on validating these findings in a variety of murine models and PDXs available at St. Jude. The validation of these models may lead to an understanding of whether this is a potential niche for osteosarcoma treatment in some patients.

The Guenther laboratory will also exploit genomic screening technologies in other ways, such as the identification of drug-drug combinations and drug-resistant mechanisms to targeted agents in bone sarcomas. The goal of this research is to validate novel combination strategies using in vitro and in vivo models, potentially leading to clinical trials.

The theme of Dr. Guenther’s research at St. Jude will center around the investigation of promising osteosarcoma dependency genes, including those involved in DNA damage repair. By understanding how these genes influence disease progression, she hopes to find ways to harness cancer cell vulnerabilities that will transform osteosarcoma treatment.

Open positions

Dr. Guenther is actively recruiting motivated, inquisitive individuals for her laboratory. Click the links to explore available opportunities.