V Foundation spurs pivotal research aimed at new epigenetic therapies.

V Foundation spurs pivotal research aimed at new epigenetic therapies.

The V Foundation is spurring Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s efforts to eradicate difficult-to-treat cancers through recent grants totaling $1.6 million awarded to two Dana-Farber investigators who aim to develop novel treatments known as epigenetic therapies. Rather than targeting cancer-causing genetic mutations directly, epigenetic therapies target specialized proteins that can turn off cancer-causing genes inside cells.

Kimberly Stegmaier, MD, vice chair of Pediatric Oncology Research and the Ted Williams Chair at Dana-Farber, will leverage her V Foundation Pediatric Cancer All-Star Award for research that aims to unlock the potential of a novel epigenetic therapy for neuroblastoma. This work builds upon Stegmaier’s recent discovery that a common form of high-risk neuroblastoma depends on a group of epigenetic proteins known as the SAGA complex to alter the expression of genes that are critical for neuroblastoma cell survival. Although drugs targeting SAGA are in development, none have been tested in neuroblastoma. The grant will enable Stegmaier to initiate critical preclinical testing of SAGA-targeted drugs for this disease.

Stegmaier also plans to identify effective drug combinations that can be used with SAGA-targeted inhibitors. The goal of this critical preclinical research is to validate the SAGA complex as an effective target, thereby accelerating SAGA inhibitors into clinical trials as a novel therapeutic approach for children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Sarah Johnstone, MD, PhD, will use her 2023 Women Scientists Innovation Award for Cancer Research, a V Scholar grant, to study two “architectural” proteins, BORIS and CTCF, which normally bind to and induce structural changes in DNA in order to regulate gene expression. BORIS and CTCF are commonly mutated in ovarian cancer, but how these mutations might affect DNA structure and gene expression to promote this cancer is unknown. Johnstone’s novel research will generate cellular models to study how BORIS and CTCF mutations impact DNA structure and subsequent gene expression, and then pinpoint the key therapeutic pathways involved. The goal is to identify urgently needed new therapeutic approaches for ovarian cancer, a cancer with high recurrence rates and standard-of-care treatment regimens that have remained unchanged for over two decades.

V Foundation Vice President of Grants and Research Kara Coleman, PhD, says, “We are proud to fund projects that will change the future of cancer research and improve patient lives. We are confident that Dr. Stegmaier and Dr. Johnstone’s work will help us achieve that goal. Both researchers have brought novel ideas to their respective fields, and we are thrilled that V Foundation grants will be instrumental in driving forward this lifesaving research.”

For more stories about the impact of philanthropy at Dana-Farber, please visit DanaFarberImpact.org.

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