For Immediate Release
February 1, 2012
Erica Neufeld
(240) 235-2201

Grant Awarded to Scientist Investigating
Cancerous Cell Survival in Children
Researcher at University of Michigan Focused on Ewing Sarcoma

Bethesda, MD – CureSearch for Children's Cancer today announced a $150,000, two-year grant through The Nick Currey Fund to a researcher at the University of Michigan seeking to understand metabolic changes in Ewing sarcoma in order to develop and test new treatments for this type of bone cancer.  The researcher, Elizabeth R. Lawlor, MD, PhD, is the Russell G. Adderley Professor of Pediatric Oncology and an Associate Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Pathology at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Lawlor's research is funded through the Nick Currey Fund at CureSearch for Children's Cancer.  Established by Ralph and Nancy Currey in memory of their son, Nick, who died in November 2005 after a 14-month battle with cancer, the Nick Currey Fund's purpose is to support research to find a cure for the disease that took Nick's life – Ewing sarcoma. The Currey family hopes that research supported by the Nick Currey Fund will hasten the arrival of the day when no young person's life ends prematurely because of Ewing sarcoma.

Ewing sarcoma is the second most common type of bone tumor in children and adolescents, often affecting the pelvis, tibia, fibula, and femur, but it can also begin in the soft tissues. This cancer most often occurs in adolescents, with nearly half of cases arising when the patient is between the ages of 10 and 20.

While most patients with Ewing sarcoma respond to treatment, nearly a third with localized disease and almost all patients with metastases relapse after their initial remission.  Although the reasons for relapse are complex and not yet completely understood, it is believed that in at least some cases, there are cells in the original tumor that survive despite highly toxic doses of chemotherapy. Understanding how these cancer cells survive is a primary focus of investigation in many research laboratories around the world, including Dr. Lawlor's.

Dr. Lawlor's lab previously identified that Ewing sarcoma cells have an abnormal response to stressful environments. Specifically, unlike normal cells, Ewing sarcoma cells survive when deprived of oxygen. In collaboration with her colleague, Jeff Martens, PhD, an Associate Professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan, Dr. Lawlor's group has discovered that suppression of the potassium ion channel Kv1.5 is, at least in part, responsible for this abnormal cell survival. Kv1.5 is a type of protein in cells that moves potassium out of cells.  Armed with this information, Dr. Lawlor hypothesizes that restoring expression of the Kv1.5 channel in Ewing sarcoma cells may inhibit their resistance to cell death and lead to better outcomes for patients. 

To conduct this study, Dr. Lawlor and her team will study both normal and cancer cells to understand the mechanisms of Kv1.5 channel suppression in Ewing sarcoma. “Cell death under conditions of stress requires that potassium ions move out of the cell. In cancer this is often blocked, leading to abnormal cell survival. If we can understand how this response is disrupted in Ewing sarcoma, we can develop tools to reactivate it. Ultimately, our goal is to use this knowledge to prevent survival of the most therapy-resistant cells and thereby prevent tumor relapse.”

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CureSearch for Children's Cancer is a national non-profit foundation whose mission is to fund and support children's cancer research and provide information and resources to all those affected by children's cancer.  CureSearch raises funds for promising research conducted at more than 175 hospitals in the United States, participating in National Cancer Institute sponsored clinical trials conducted by the Children's Oncology Group. CureSearch also funds other clinical, basic and translational research so that researchers can understand all aspects of children's cancer, from its causes to its consequences.

Christine Bork
Email Christine
(800) 458-6223

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