Childhood cancer is second only to breast cancer in terms of potential life-years lost due to human cancers, because of the young age of onset of these diseases. The underlying principle of BC Cancer’s pediatric and young adult cancer research program is that combining basic research into the biology and genetics of childhood cancers with cutting-edge therapeutic approaches such as immunotherapy will deliver new and more effective therapies for patients, while minimizing toxic side effects of therapy. We are using a variety of “omics” approaches including proteomics, metabolomics and mRNA translatomics to identify new targets for therapy in high-risk pediatric and young adult cancers. These approaches take advantage of established expertise at the BC Cancer Research Centre, and complement genomic analysis that is already being performed on these tumour types at our institute and through national and international collaborations. For example, analysis of the cell surface proteome (the so-called “surfaceome”) is allowing us to identify new plasma membrane-expressed proteins for antibody-directed and T cell based targeted immunotherapy in these tumours. This work is combined with our expertise in cancer biology, such as the role of mRNA translation in protecting tumour cells from potentially lethal stresses of the tumour microenvironment. We postulate that stress adaptation confers therapy resistance to childhood cancer cells, and increases their capacity for metastatic dissemination. Targeting such pathways therefore has great potential for reducing metastasis in these diseases, which remains the single most powerful predictor of poor outcome for childhood cancers. We are also testing the relevancy of newly identified targets found in pediatric cancers for expression and applications to adult malignancies. For example, NTRK fusions, which we initially discovered in rare pediatric sarcomas, have now been identified in diverse adult malignancies, leading the pharmaceutical industry to develop specific inhibitors of NTRK kinases that have recently been approved in North America and Europe. We are extending these types of studies to additional childhood cancer tumour types, through new and existing collaborations, to improve patient care not only in BC but also nationally and internationally.
Goals of BC Cancer’s pediatric and young adult cancer research program
The goal of BC Cancer’s pediatric and young adult cancer research program is to develop a world class program in pediatric oncology research from basic mechanisms to pre-clinical models to clinical trials based studies, in an effort to reduce the burden of disease in high-risk childhood and young adult cancers. To make this happen, we realize that we need to team with the best childhood cancer researchers in the world. Indeed, the program already benefits from considerable involvement in national and international collaborative networks. These include the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program at BC’s Children’s Hospital, the Terry Fox Research Institute PRecision Oncology For Young People program (PROFYLE), a cross-Canada multi-institution network for precision oncology in pediatric and young adult cancers, the Stand Up 2 Cancer/St. Baldrick’s Foundation Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Dream Team, the Cancer Moonshot Pediatric Immunotherapy Discovery and Development Network (PI-DDN), and established networks with centres such as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Seattle Children’s Hospital, and Technical University Munich for the development and implementation of optimal immunotherapeutic strategies for childhood and young adult cancers. These networks provide superb opportunities for us to integrate our multi-omics approaches with international expertise in the field to further develop new targets for therapeutic intervention for these diseases.
Who are we?
BC Cancer’s pediatric and young adult cancer research program is located at the BCCRC, and is led by Dr. Poul Sorensen. The program has assembled a great team of trainees for all over the world, and junior scientists such as Dr. Michael Lizardo, an expert in modeling human osteosarcoma, and Dr. Chris Hughes, an expert in proteomic (i.e. the protein landscape) of human tumours. We are closely linked with the BCGSC Proteomics Core Facility, led by Dr. Gregg Morin, who is involved in many of our high-throughput protein studies. We also work closely with other investigators within the BCCRC, such as Drs. Connie Eaves, Sam Aparicio, Shoukat Dedhar, and David Huntsman. Interested parties are welcome to inquire.
Program leader: Dr. Poul Sorensen