Realizing Futures

Behind the Science Q & A with Dr. Michael Hogarty

Funding Lifesaving Research with Dr. Michael Hogarty

We’d like you to meet Dr. Michael Hogarty, Basic Science Research Grant recipient from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. These types of grants fund work that is the basis for childhood cancer research, helping to move science in the direction of improved treatments and eventually finding a cure. Dr. Hogarty’s research work addresses the critical problem that most lethal childhood tumors are resistant to available treatments and defining which drugs should work best.


The Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation is looking forward to the new hope offered by the work of Dr. Hogarty.


What interested you in studying neuroblastoma?

I became fascinated by neuroblastoma because of its extremely unusual and varied clinical behaviors. Sometimes, even as a localized tumor that hasn’t spread, it can be highly aggressive and hard to cure with our most intensive therapies. Other times, it can spread widely throughout the body yet still go away on its own with little or no treatment whatsoever. While these behaviors are unusual, they are not totally unpredictable, and we are continually learning how to use clinical information (like age and stage) and biological information (like what specific genetic mutations a tumor has) to determine how aggressive a tumor is likely to be. This also helps us determine how strong a child’s treatment needs to be to achieve a cure. Understanding the key features that predict these different behaviors is fascinating and to me, and continues to teach us a great deal about cancer in general.


Share your thoughts on why you think it’s important to fund pediatric cancer research.

In pediatric oncology, we don’t take care of young people that have adult cancers. In general, the types of cancers that adults and children get are almost entirely distinct. For this reason, we cannot exclusively study adult cancers and expect to learn enough to meaningfully impact outcomes for children with cancer. Pediatric cancers are also less frequent than adult cancers, yet because they happen to very young people, the losses to society when a child dies of cancer are immense. This same relative rarity makes investing in pediatric cancers less appealing to the pharmaceutical industry since the cost of drug development is vast and the market for an approved pediatric drug might be very small in comparison to the market for a successful adult cancer treatment. For these reasons, philanthropic support provides a far greater proportion of the driving force in pediatric cancer research, and we could not make the advances being made without this investment.


What is your proudest accomplishment so far in regards to your research?

I’m continually impressed by how open the pediatric cancer research communities are to sharing information, insight, and materials to help improve outcomes for children with cancer. My mentor, Garrett Brodeur, encourages trainees to be generous collaborators, more focused on the scientific good that might be achieved by our collective efforts rather than on who is in line for recognition. For these reasons, I’m most proud of my work in the international neuroblastoma community to advance translational research efforts into this relatively rare tumor, particularly our efforts within the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) to share patient data and tumor specimens for this purpose. Through this platform, we have shared >24,000 tumor samples in support of >200 approved protocols and projects to investigators in 15 countries (and growing) over the past 20 years!


How has the support from PCRF allowed your research to be successful?

The investment PCRF is making in our work is generous both in dollar amount and in the length of time the support covers. This provides our team with the resources needed for our investigations to proceed more or less unabated for multiple years. This may seem trivial but it isn’t, since seeking additional investments via grant applications draws time and energy away from our more important work. The research we are pursuing with PCRF support addresses the critical problem that most lethal childhood tumors become resistant to available treatments. The paradox is that these cancers endure the most stress of any cells of the body: growing where resources are low, spreading to less hospitable body parts, and resisting treatments specifically chosen to kill them. Work from our lab shows that these cancers don’t survive because they don’t create stress signals, they survive because they have developed powerful ways to block their stress signals. This keeps them alive but also makes them entirely dependent on continually blocking these signals. We study neuroblastoma and are developing laboratory tools that identify the specific survival protein a tumor uses. Many new drugs are being developed that inhibit these survival proteins quite selectively, so our work will allow us to use a precision medicine approach to identify the most appropriate drug for any particular tumor.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I enjoy reading, mostly literary fiction but also non-fiction here and there as well. I also like to see live music whenever possible and am a big fan of music festivals (I attend the Austin City Limits 3-day festival every other year). I also enjoy craft beer quite a bit and am interested in the process of brewing (zymurgy), the industry itself, and of course, sampling the end product- I’m particularly fond of a small brewery called Tired Hands nearby in Ardmore, PA!


Learn more about Dr. Michael Hogarty, our impact, and the future of curing childhood cancers.

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When you are young and healthy, it never occurs to you that in a single second your whole life could change. – Annette Funicello