Dr. Katharine Offer – Emerging Research Grant
Neuroblastoma is one of the most common solid tumors in children with the majority of patients having metastatic disease at diagnosis. Two of the most frequent sites of metastases in neuroblastoma are the bone and bone marrow. Exosomes are small membrane-bound packages of proteins and genetic material that are released by cancer cells and are able to travel throughout the body and communicate with tissues where metastases occur. The interactions between exosomes and the tumor micro-environment may hold the key to understanding why neuroblastoma spreads to these specific organs.
Dr. Katharine Offer is a pediatric hematology/oncology fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine working in the Laboratory of Dr. David Lyden. With the help of the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation she is working to determine how exosomes help neuroblastoma tumor cells spread to the bone and bone marrow, inhabit these sites, and grow. By identifying specific proteins contained in neuroblastoma exosomes, and better understanding the signaling pathways that they affect in target cells, it may be possible to interfere with these processes and prevent metastases from occurring. Exosomes can also be detected in body fluids, and are at increased levels in the blood of patients with cancer.
Another goal of Dr. Offer’s research is to analyze exosomes in the blood and bone marrow of neuroblastoma patients. Proteins identified in the exosomes of patients with bone and bone marrow disease can potentially be used to develop blood tests that allow physicians to predict neuroblastoma metastasis and relapse earlier. This will hopefully enable these patients to receive earlier risk-stratified therapies and improve their survival.