Funded by the 2015 V Foundation Wine Celebration
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a connective tissue cancer with features of skeletal muscle, and the most common soft tissue cancer of childhood and adolescence. While most children with the embryonal variant of rhabdomyosarcoma are cured, there is a sub-group of children with high-risk features, making their chance of survival less than one in three. One hypothesis underlying these high-risk features is that there are rhabdomyosarcoma stem cells that can persist in the body despite current standard therapy. A goal of our research laboratory is to identify the cellular pathways that contribute to this persistence of rhabdomyosarcoma stem cells. Over the past several years we have observed that some cellular pathways active during normal skeletal muscle development have been hijacked by embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma cells. We even think that these development pathways communicate with one another to support and reinforce rhabdomyosarcoma stem cells. Our aim in this project is to understand how these cellular pathways communicate with one another, whether they can be inhibited by gene manipulations or pharmacologic agents, then test combinations of these treatments in rhabdomyosarcoma cells in culture and in laboratory mice. We hope to someday translate these findings to clinical trials, opening the door to new treatments for children with this disease.