In the fight against metastatic neuroblastoma, there is a newly discovered cellular agent, a traitor, assisting in the growth of cancerous tumors. But St. Baldrick’s researcher, Dr. Shahab Asgharzadeh, is trying to set it straight.
Dr. Asgharzadeh has discovered the presence of immune cells called “macrophages” within cancerous pediatric tumors. In their normal role in the immune system, macrophages usually consume germs, but in metastatic neuroblastoma they are coerced by the cancer cells to support tumor growth instead. Children who are diagnosed with neuroblastoma after 18 months of age have a higher rate of these macrophages and also have higher risk for disease relapse.
These findings shed light on the importance of the ‘tumor microenvironment,’ the cancerous and non-cancerous cells such as blood vessels and immune cells that make up the tumor. As it is, the macrophages’ presence in this microenvironment promotes growth of cancer cells, but Asgharzadeh’s team is now looking at how they can use this information to look for new treatments that will reverse the tumor-promoting effects of the macrophages and use them to fight against the cancerous cells.
Currently the team is looking at different combinations of immunotherapeutic treatments that shrink the tumor and engage the macrophages and other immune cells to help destroy the remaining cancerous cells. They hope to be able to propose a phase 1 clinical trail within two years that will test the safety, dosage and administration of a new treatment.
Through this research they have also developed a 14-gene signature using a combination of genes found in both macrophages and cancer cells, that predicts the survival outcome of children with high-risk metastatic neuroblastoma. The 14-gene signature will be evaluated in an upcoming Children’s Oncology Group Clinical trial.
As a St. Baldrick’s Research Scholar, Dr. Shahab Asgharzadeh has received multi-year support from the foundation, and said that this support is crucial in giving him the freedom and time to conduct his research. By participating or donating, you are helping Dr. Asgharzadeh save the lives of children diagnosed with cancer.