Searching for answers at the molecular level
Monika Davare, Ph.D., is an OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital researcher working to understand the molecular basis of how a specific type of childhood brain cancer grows. Her dream is to contribute to a body of work leading to new drug therapies that will save lives and improve the quality of life for cancer survivors. Three years ago, Dr. Davare joined the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, performing research work mentored by Brian Druker, M.D. In his lab, she and other researchers are studying causes and potential treatments of adult and childhood cancers. She is focused on the role of a specific gene—called ROS1—in the growth of medulloblastoma. Survival rates for this type of childhood cancer are less than 40 percent, and survivors may face long-term consequences of the toxic therapies necessary to save their lives.
Understanding why cancer patients respond differently to treatments has long been a challenge for researchers and clinicians. Today’s technologies remove geographic barriers to collaboration, enabling researchers at OHSU to share data with other scientists around the globe and analyze it collectively. They are looking for genetic mutations that will help them unlock the mysteries of medulloblastoma and lead to more effective therapies.
The growing body of genomic research indicates that medulloblastoma tumors fall into four basic categories delineated by age of the patient, the genes involved and the outcomes of the therapies. Dr. Davare uses this foundational knowledge to advance her work in the OHSU lab.
“Molecular dissections of tumors help us tease out what is going wrong in the cells, and then test potential drugs to treat the cancer,” she said. “That’s the essence of personalized medicine. That’s the dream. It will take scientists, physicians and philanthropists working together to find the solution.”
Researchers are making great strides in the field of molecularly targeted therapies. “We’re learning a lot about which genes are important to target for treating this kind of cancer in children,” Dr. Davare said. “I am very optimistic that our work will help improve both the prognoses and the lives of cancer survivors in the near future.”
Hyundai Hope on Wheels
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital has enjoyed a long history of support from Hyundai Hope on Wheels. The program’s grants fund research projects with the greatest potential to improve the lives of children battling cancer. The partnership started in 2008 with a grant to support Suman Malempati, M.D., and the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Developmental Therapeutics program. Since then, giving has steadily increased year after year. Many Doernbecher researchers have received generous funding from Hyundai Hope on Wheels, including Charles Keller, M.D., Peter Kurre, M.D., Bill Chang, M.D., Ph.D., and Monika Davare, Ph.D. In September 2014, Dr. Kurre will receive another Hyundai Hope Award totaling $250,000, bringing cumulative Doernbecher giving to $1,030,000. On behalf of everyone at Doernbecher, THANK YOU, Hyundai Hope on Wheels, for all you do for pediatric cancer research.