Dr. Lisa Wang, assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology at BCM, is director of the Osteosarcoma Program at the Texas Children's Cancer Center. Her research focuses in part on metastatic osteosarcoma, which has a survival rate of less than 25 percent.

"There really have been no advances in treatment and survival for this type of cancer in the last 30 years," Wang said. "There is an urgent need to develop novel therapies for patients with metastatic osteosarcoma."

Multidisciplinary team approach

A recent $3.7 million grant over three years from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas brings together experts in pediatric oncology, molecular cancer biology, genomics, proteomics, immunotherapy and cancer animal models who are committed to studying and treating osteosarcoma.

"Their expertise will be applied to three projects that alone have intrinsic importance to the field of OS research, but together will contribute even more to the discovery, analysis, preclinical and clinical testing of novel therapeutic targets for metastatic osteosarcoma," Wang said.

Three projects

Project 1 will generate novel mouse models of metastatic OS to investigate critical genetic events important for metastasis (spreading of cancer to other organs in the body). Project 2 will utilize high-throughput sequencing to identify novel biomarkers of metastatic potential and to potentially identify new therapeutic targets. Project 3 will focus on immunotherapy to treat osteosarcoma. Specifically, it will evaluate the treatment potential of HER2-specific T-cells, which have been shown to have a potent anti-tumor effect in animal models. The protein HER2 is expressed in about 60 percent of osteosarcoma tumors.

Wang is collaborating with researchers at Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Texas A&M University.

She also received a $1.125 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to research the role of the gene RECQL4 in the development of osteosarcoma and other bone diseases, such as osteoporosis.

This project will study patients with Rothmund-Thomson syndrome (RTS), a human genetic disorder. RTS patients have a higher incidence of osteosarcoma, and researchers have found that they have mutations in the gene REQCL4. In this study, Wang will collaborate with Dr. Brendan Lee, BCM professor of molecular and human genetics, on research using mouse models with REQCL4 deficiency to develop a better understanding of the role of the gene in bone disease and bone cancer.

"This will allow us to discover novel ways to improve the treatment of osteosarcoma and osteoporosis in the general population," Wang said.