Project Description

Dr. Lingling Chen
Emerging Research Grant
– Rhabdomyosarcoma

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

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Dr. Lingling Chen of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is tackling the the most common soft tissue tumor in childhood, Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS).  Over the last 40 years, the treatment has been largely unchanged, consisting mainly of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Children who have high risk disease and fail front line treatment have extremely poor 5-year survival outcomes. New treatment options are desperately needed.

The immune system is equipped to recognize tumors as foreign and can be utilized to eliminate cancer. Tumor cells, however, are smart and evade immune detection by exploiting mechanisms that our normal cells use to prevent self-harm – a process known as adaptive immune resistance. Immunotherapy drugs such as checkpoint blockade agents (i.e. nivolumab: anti-PD-1 antibody, and ipilimumab: anti-CTLA-4 antibody) “remove the brakes” from T-cells, activating the immune system and enabling it to recognize tumor cells as invaders. Success with these drugs has been seen in adult cancers such as melanoma and renal cell carcinoma, but not so much in pediatric sarcomas. Her hypothesis is that pediatric sarcomas, specifically RMS, are maintained by a tumor niche that suppresses the immune system: the homeostasis is tipped towards immune suppression, allowing for RMS to escape immune detection and proliferate.

The objective of her research is to investigate the tumor microenvironment of RMS by profiling the immune cells that reside in the tumor and studying their interactions with each other and tumor cells. This information will help us understand the mechanisms by which RMS escape immune detection and be key to the development of successful treatment regimens that can harness the immune system as anti-tumor therapies.

Dr. Chen was featured in Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation’s social media posts about Women in Science!

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Some people say that children make up 10% of our cancer population, but they are 100% of our future! ~ Dr. Alex Huang, Case Western