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William Weiss M.D., Ph.D. 
Funded: 07-01-2017 through 06-30-2018
Funding Type: Research Grant
Institution Location: San Francisco, CA
Institution: University of California, San Francisco affiliated with UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital

Half of neuroblastomas are high-risk neuroblastoma, with poor survival. Understanding abnormalities that drive high-risk neuroblastoma (drivers) enables development of therapies against specific drivers. Until 2015, we had identified drivers for half of high-risk neuroblastomas. Recently, most remaining high-risk neuroblastomas were shown to have high levels of TERT, a protein that helps chromosomes replicate. It is still not clear how a protein that helps chromosomes replicate could drive cancer. Perhaps TERT is needed for neuroblastoma tumors to grow, but is not driving the tumor. To distinguish these possibilities, Dr. Weiss is testing whether TERT can drive neuroblastoma in human stem-cell models. In Dr. Weiss' system, stem cells generated from normal human blood or skin cells, are differentiated to form a cell type called neural crest, from which neuroblastoma is derived. He is introducing known drivers into these cells to generate a model for neuroblastoma. Some known drivers (MYCN) lead to neuroblastoma, while others (ALK) do not. Dr. Weiss is using this model to test whether TERT is a driver, or is required for neuroblastoma in the context of other drivers (ALK). Successful completion will generate a model to evaluate whether therapy directed against TERT could help children with neuroblastoma. This grant is generously supported by the Amanda Rozman Pediatric Cancer Research Fund created in memory of Amanda Rozman and honors her courageous battle with neuroblastoma by funding promising new to improve the efficacy and number of treatments available for relapsed and refractory neuroblastoma.