Osteosarcoma is a primary bone cancer affecting approximately 400 children and adolescents in the United States each year. Current treatment for this cancer is usually extensive surgery followed by chemotherapy. Even with aggressive treatment, the survival rate is just 60-70%. Further, about 40% of patients with osteosarcoma experience metastatic (cancer that has spread) or recurrent disease. For these patients, the survival rates are even lower. New, more targeted approaches to treatment are needed to improve outcomes for patients with this cancer.
Recently awarded a Young Investigator grant by CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, Meenakshi Hegde, MD at Baylor College of Medicine is hoping her research on the body’s immune system, specifically T-cells, will lead to new treatment options. The job of the body’s immune system is to fight off disease, in this case, cancer. Thus, when an abnormal, or mutated, cell is created, the body should recognize it as different from the rest and eliminate it. When that doesn’t happen, diseases occur.
In osteosarcoma, the cancerous cells contain proteins that should not be present, causing the tumors to grow. Presence of these proteins varies from tumor to tumor and sometimes within a single tumor. Dr. Hegde hypothesizes that killing tumor cells using T-cells that recognize a single protein will result in the survival of tumor cells that do not express this protein leading to tumor recurrence after therapy. She plans to engineer T-cells, that are designed to target the two proteins most commonly expressed in osteosarcoma, with the goal of decreasing the risk of tumor recurrence.