Children's Hospital Los Angeles Researcher Earns Competitive Grants for Work in Neural Tumors
Shahab Asgharzadeh, MD, Searches for Gene-Based Answers to Life-Threatening Pediatric Brain Tumors and Neuroblastoma
LOS ANGELES (September 22, 2011) – Shahab Asgharzadeh, MD, a physician-scientist in the Cancer Program at The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, has received two competitive grants to continue his research aimed at finding gene-based treatment solutions for two deadly pediatric cancers that originate in the nervous system.
Dr. Asgharzadeh's investigations are focused on medulloblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumor occurring in childhood, as well as neuroblastoma, which develops from nerve tissue outside the brain and is the most common cancer in infants. "If we can develop improved methods of risk assessment and treatment planning, we can give children a better chance of survival and long-term quality of life," he said.
Dr. Asgharzadeh was awarded a $720,000, four-year grant beginning in January from the American Cancer Society for "Prognostication of Medulloblastomas Using Gene Networks"—a project that ranked No. 1 in ACS's Tumor Biology and Genomic Study Section.
In his studies, he is employing gene expression profiling—the measurement of the activity and patterns of thousands of genes at once—in an effort to identify which medulloblastomas will respond to treatment without using radiation. Research has shown that radiation can wreak significant damage on development of the brain—the younger the child, the more serious the potential harm.
"We still can't determine which children will react negatively to radiation treatment and which won't," said Dr. Asgharzadeh, a neuro-oncologist in the Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases. "If we can identify those children who don't need radiation to be cured, we can avoid its side effects."
Dr. Asgharzadeh's second grant—a three-year, $1,100,000 award from the Department of Defense Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program for "Studies of the Tumor Microenvironment in Pathogenesis of Neuroblastoma”—targets this childhood cancer of the nervous system that forms outside the brain.
His team’s earlier work using microarrays revealed, surprisingly, that the immune system can promote tumor growth in children with aggressive neuroblastoma. “Understanding the early events of how the immune cells are co-opted to help the tumor cells is crucial in reversing the immune system so that it fights cancer cells,” he explained. His teams have established a neuroblastoma model that can be used to identify therapeutic agents that promote eradication of tumor cells by the immune system.
Dr. Asgharzadeh has also played a significant role in ongoing studies of the National Cancer Institute’s TARGET (Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments) project in neuroblastoma.
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