Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Dr. Michael Ortiz is a physician-scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and his research focuses on improving the way we care for patients with Wilms tumor, the most common childhood kidney cancer. Clinical trials over the last several decades have greatly improved the overall survival of children with Wilms tumor. As a result, the majority of patients with Wilms tumor are cured using a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and often radiation. However, the cumulative toxicities from these life-saving treatments are often debilitating and for those children with high risk features or who relapse after treatment, the outcomes are much worse. We need better ways of predicting which patients will relapse so we can better treat them, and we need more targeted approaches to reduce the toxicities from our treatments.
Dr.Ortiz is making progress towards addressing both of these challenges through his research which is supported by the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. He and his colleagues studied the contents of the urine of children with Wilms tumor. They discovered that high urine levels of a protein called prohibitin at diagnosis was found in the majority of the patients who ultimately went on to relapse but none of the children with Wilms tumor who did not relapse. Depletion of prohibitin caused Wilms tumors to die whereas increasing prohibitin levels caused them to become resistant to chemotherapy. High levels of prohibitin specifically prevented cells from being able to die. As a result, Dr.Ortiz and his colleagues are evaluating novel targeted drugs that can specifically overcome ways in which Wilms tumors are resistant to dying. He is hopeful that this research will improve the survival of children with high risk Wilms tumors by identifying them before they relapse and allowing pediatric oncologists to intervene with more specific and less toxic treatments.