Alex Kentsis, MD, PhD, decided to study rhabdoid tumors because they remain one of the most lethal childhood cancers. Rhabdoid tumors affect mainly infants and young children and can be found in the kidneys, liver, soft tissue, and brain. Most children diagnosed with a rhabdoid tumor that cannot be completely removed through surgical do not have effective treatment options. As a pediatric oncologist and investigator at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Kentsis is working to understand the biology of this cancer, with a special emphasis on the genetic make-up of these tumors.
His research will focus on DNA sequences called transposons that can potentially move within cell genomes. Almost half of the human genome is made up of DNA derived from ancient transposons, but their activity in tumor cells is not understood. Researchers do know that when gone awry, they can potentially disrupt the normal workings of a cell. Dr. Kentsis has found that in rhabdoid tumors, some of these transposons appear to be mobile with potential contributions to tumor’s growth and survival in response to chemotherapy. Understanding of mobile DNA in rhabdoid tumors could ultimately help to lead to new treatments.