Group leader: Dr Loretta Lau
Neuroblastoma is a common childhood cancer and is responsible for 15% of all cancer-related deaths in children. In some patients, neuroblastoma can be successfully treated with surgery. Unfortunately, in half of the children with neuroblastoma, the tumour is very aggressive and has spread to other parts of the body by the time they are diagnosed. Two out of three patients die from high-risk neuroblastoma.
Our team is currently focusing on studying "telomeres" in neuroblastoma. The research is a collaborative effort with the Children's Medical Research Institute's Cancer Research Unit.
Telomeres are special structures that protect the DNA of a cell. As part of normal ageing, telomeres get shorter and shorter to a point when the cell eventually dies. In contrast, cancer cells can grow indefinitely by maintaining the length of telomeres to achieve immortality. Studying telomeres in neuroblastoma tumours with different behaviours will help us understand why some, but not all, of these tumours behave so aggressively. Based on this knowledge, better treatments can be designed to improve the cure rate.
Our laboratory is using neuroblastoma cells cultured in the laboratory as well as tumours collected from neuroblastoma patients to:
- identify mechanisms used by these tumour cells to maintain telomere length
- investigate whether these mechanisms affect patient outcomes
- determine whether telomere length can be used as a marker to choose the most appropriate treatment for future neuroblastoma patients
- detect the genetic changes in relation to telomere maintenance mechanisms in neuroblastoma tumours.