Battling a rare children’s bone cancer
As the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) expands its disease research into pediatric rare diseases, it has had the opportunity to collaborate with Karen Pollok, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Preclinical Modeling and Therapeutics Core for the Indiana University (IU) Simon Cancer Center.
Pollok focuses her research on osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer most often diagnosed in patients younger than 40 years old, working with tumor cells from Tyler Trent and other patients. Trent was a Purdue University student and sports superfan who died on January 1, 2019, after a long and valiant fight against osteosarcoma. He was passionate about cancer advocacy and donated his tumor tissue for research.
From Trent’s tumor tissue, Pollok created the TT2 cell line, which is one of several patient cell lines Mary Mader, vice president of molecular innovation, and Anna Geisinger, senior research associate, both at the IBRI, are working with to identify novel combination therapies to target osteosarcoma.
“What makes this project different than some of our other research is the access we have to clinicians and patients,” said Mader. “Big pharma and some biotechnology companies don’t have the kind of direct access we do through our collaboration with researchers at the IU School of Medicine.”
Geisinger added, “Sometimes we get feedback directly from parents of patients about how much this research is needed to improve treatment for their kids. It makes me feel like I’m doing something truly life-changing to hear that kind of feedback directly from parents.”
Mader and Geisinger are using the IBRI’s molecular biology tools to screen combination therapies that inhibit CDK4/6, enzymes that are important to cancer cell division. Their goal is to generate in vitro, meaning in a controlled environment, safety and efficacy data that could help IU School of Medicine researchers design a clinical trial based on what is learned.
“It’s motivating to have an opportunity to work with something as valuable as the TT2 cell line. To know that even after Tyler is gone, he is still doing so much good for other families is tremendous,” said Mader. “As a parent, you want to know that people are out there working in a community like this to help each other.”