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Funding Type: St. Baldrick's Scholar
Institution Location: Houston, TX
Institution: Baylor College of Medicine affiliated with Texas Children's Hospital, Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children's Cancer and Hematology Clinic
High-risk neuroblastoma is an aggressive cancer of very young children with less than 50% overall survival. Current therapy includes high-dose chemotherapy and radiation, which has long-term toxic side-effects. Despite these intensive therapies, neuroblastoma commonly relapse. This relapse is the primary cause of death from neuroblastoma due to disease spread, drug-resistance, and toxicity. As the David's Warriors St. Baldrick's Scholar, Dr. Agarwal is focusing her research on developing effective therapeutic approaches to target those tumor cells which escape initial treatment and regenerate drug-resistant disease. Recently, Dr. Agarwal's team discovered a chemotherapy-resistant, highly tumorigenic sub-population of cells in neuroblastoma tumors. These cells escape initial therapy and may cause aggressive, drug-resistant relapsed disease. Furthermore, they found that specific epigenetic enzymes maintain this cell sub-population by activating key genes. These epigenetic modifiers can be successfully targeted with novel epigenetic inhibitors, currently under pre-clinical trials. These exciting findings suggest a new epigenetic therapeutic approach for high-risk neuroblastoma. This grant supports efforts to uncover the mechanisms controlling neuroblastoma tumorigenicity and relapse, and develop an effective targeted approach for high-risk neuroblastoma. This grant honors the memory of David Heard who battled neuroblastoma and pays tribute to the amazing spirit with which he lived, embracing life until the very end.