Award will be used to develop new therapeutic options for metastatic osteosarcoma

Leading cancer researcher Alex Huang has received a $450,000 Basic Science grant from Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation to study targeted approaches for effectively eliminating metastatic osteosarcoma.

“We’re very excited to study an important cancer that occurs in adolescents, young adults and children,” said Huang, who is a professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center. “We are now on the cusp of clinical trials, and look forward to offering hope to young patients with metastatic osteosarcoma in the near future.”

Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that frequently occurs in children undergoing rapid growth. When the cancer spreads to places such as the lungs, the outcome can continue to be dismal despite intensive efforts over the last three decades of improving chemotherapy and surgical options. Lung osteosarcoma metastasis responds poorly to conventional chemotherapy, accounting for most of the mortality related to the disease. Huang’s research will mitigate this clinical challenge by understanding how macrophages, a subtype of immune cells, support osteosarcoma growth in lung tissues.

Huang, who is also the Theresia G. & Stuart F. Kline Family Foundation chair in pediatric oncology and the associate director of pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship program at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, focuses on strategies to activate the immune system to fight disease. His research advancements in the area of osteosarcoma offers improved treatment for a vulnerable population of young people fighting cancer.

“What we have found in animal models and studies is that osteosarcoma cells can survive in lung tissue because of a subtype of immune cells called microphages, that support the tumor growth,” said Huang. “By targeting the supportive cells in the lungs, we can effectively eliminate metastatic osteosarcoma.”

Huang plans to eventually employ FDA-approved immune modulators as an effective therapeutic approach for pulmonary osteosarcoma metastasis. Success in this effort will provide a foundation for exploiting cell adhesion signaling as a concept for immunotherapy approaches against an otherwise deadly disease afflicting children and adolescents that have no alternative therapeutic options.

Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation has raised more than $43 million for pediatric cancer research since its inception. Over the last 35 years, survival rates for childhood cancer have risen from 10 percent to 80 percent because of research developments.