$250K Grant Funds a Global Collaborative Research Study on Liposarcoma

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A unique collaborative study is expected to yield new insights into liposarcoma and its treatment, providing an important model for future research on rare cancers.

This study is designed to tackle several unanswered questions concerning the pathology and the biology of liposarcoma.

The Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative announced today that it is awarding a $250,000 grant to fund a global collaborative research study on liposarcoma. The unique project will be undertaken by a consortium of four investigators in three countries over the next two years. The announcement was made by Bruce Shriver, PhD, Co-Founder of the Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative and Dr. David Thomas, one of the study’s principal investigators, at the annual meeting of the Connective Tissue Oncology Society in Paris.

Liposarcoma accounts for 10-20% of all soft tissue sarcomas, which are rare cancers of the connective tissues. There are currently no effective systemic therapies for the disease, which can be highly lethal.

The aim of this study is the development of a coordinated program of translational research focused on well-differentiated and de-differentiated liposarcoma. Investigators will map the epigenetic and genetic landscape of these tumors, model and analyze the evolution of drug resistance and the process of de-differentiation common to liposarcoma, and develop useful preclinical animal models of liposarcoma.

Dr. Jordi Barretina explains: “This study is designed to tackle several unanswered questions concerning the pathology and the biology of liposarcoma. Ultimately, the expanded body of information and tools we expect to have in hand should inform the rational use of existing drugs and enable the development of new therapies for these difficult tumors.”

The study is part of a larger program of work with the ultimate goal of initiating a prospective clinical trial. The trial would use agents currently in early clinical development to target two key molecules (MDM2 and CDK4) that are overexpressed in liposarcoma tumors.

Global research collaboration can maximize and accelerate the impact of cancer research. According to Dr. Thomas, “Cancer research, traditionally in common cancers like breast, bowel and lung cancers, is founded on international collaboration. International collaboration has enabled major advances in the treatment of these cancers.”

While significant progress has been made in understanding and treating the most common cancers in recent decades, few discoveries have led to new treatment methods for sarcomas. Dr. Ola Myklebost explains: “Because sarcomas are rare, it is a challenge to collect a sufficient number of patients and samples treated in the same way so that systematic studies can be done. Therefore, research is frequently fragmented.”

“Fragmented” efforts by individual researchers around the world, combined with limited funding for research on rare cancers, can lead to frustratingly slow progress. But, according to Dr. Thomas, collaborative projects like this one may represent the future of rare cancer research: “No one hospital, region or country can provide enough patients or research expertise to single-handedly address the challenges of rare cancers. Developments in genomics, communications, and therapeutic advances over the past few years have provided impetus for greater collaboration in sarcomas--a process which is gathering momentum.”

Multidisciplinary teams are known to provide the best management of rare diseases like sarcoma and are often associated with better patient outcomes. Dr. Barretina expects collaborative research teams to provide similar advantages: “The outcome of research should be better when performed by a group of scientists with different backgrounds and expertise.”

Bruce and Beverly Shriver, Co-Founders of the Initiative, are enthusiastic about the study. "We hope that such collaborative studies will bring more effective and less invasive treatments from the research lab to the patient quicker than has been possible in the past. We also hope that the framework developed within this grant provides a mechanism and incentive for other sarcoma researchers to undertake similar international collaborative efforts."

The study will be conducted by a team of clinicians and scientists with strong individual track records in liposarcoma research. Investigators include:

  •     Robert Maki, MD, PhD: Section Chief for Adult Sarcoma Medical Oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He has a special interest in new therapies for the treatment of soft tissue and bone sarcomas, and is focused on new drugs to treat metastatic disease.
  •     Ola Myklebost, PhD: Group Leader at the Department of Tumor Biology, Institute for Cancer Research, The Norwegian Radium Hospital, and Professor at the Department for Molecular Biosciences at the University of Oslo. He and his group are using functional genomics to characterize mesenchymal oncogenesis, which is the process leading to formation of malignant connective tissue tumors, or sarcomas.
  •     Jordi Barretina, PhD: a research scientist working in the Broad Cancer Program with Dr. Levi Garraway. His scientific focus is on applying genomic and functional tools to the systematic analysis of the cancer genome, with a special emphasis on translational research.
  •     David Thomas, FRACP, PhD: currently a Victorian Cancer Agency Clinician Scientist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Dr. Thomas’ major research interests include the survival gap in AYA cancer, giant cell tumor of bone, the molecular biology of osteosarcoma and liposarcoma, and the germline and somatic genetics of adult-onset sarcomas.

This grant was made possible by the generosity of the family and friends of Wendy Landes ($200,000) and Dr. Laura Somerville ($50,000). Both Wendy and Laura are currently fighting liposarcoma.

Funding sources for sarcoma research are scarce, and advocacy groups play a key role in advancing research. The Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative is a small organization dedicated to increasing global public awareness of sarcoma, raising funds to award research grants, and providing support and timely information to sarcoma patients, their families, and medical professionals. This grant was approved through the Initiative’s unique peer-review process, a “rigorous yet nimble, rapid, and transparent review process” that Dr. Barretina sees as “an example of how to help accelerate sarcoma research.” A comprehensive experimental plan will be published in December’s issue of the Electronic Sarcoma Update Newsletter, and a study report will be published when the project is completed.


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