Identifying new therapeutics and approaches to drug delivery
Genomic analyses have revealed that medulloblastoma is an extremely heterogeneous disease, with at least 4 distinct subtypes that differ in terms of mutations, gene expression, epigenetic changes, and patient survival. Despite this heterogeneity, most medulloblastoma patients currently receive the same therapy. A major goal of our research is to discover new therapeutic strategies that are tailored to specific medulloblastoma subgroups. To this end, we have assembled a large panel of patient-derived xenografts and are using them for high-throughput drug screening. Working with experts in genomics and computational biology, we are using statistical and mathematical tools to understand the relationship between molecular alterations and drug responses. These studies not only highlight new targeted therapies for medulloblastoma, but also provide insight into drug response biomarkers and help prioritize agents for clinical trials.
In addition to identifying therapeutics, we are also exploring novel approaches to drug delivery. A major obstacle to treating brain tumors is that the majority of small molecule drugs are not able to cross the blood brain barrier, and those that do are often pumped out by multi-drug transporters. To solve this problem, we are collaborating with bioengineers with expertise in nanotechnology. By encapsulating drugs in nanoparticles and delivering them directly to the central nervous system, we hope to increase the concentration of drugs in brain tumors and reduce the concentrations in other tissues, thereby mitigating systemic side effects. We have already identified several drugs that are effective at killing medulloblastoma cells in vitro; if we can develop strategies for effective delivery of these drugs to tumors, we can markedly improve outcomes for medulloblastoma patients.