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Stroma Biology Identifies Heparin as a Differentiating Agent in Neuroblastoma

Duke University Medical Center
Gerard Blobe, MD, PhD
Grant Type: 
Reach Grants
Year Awarded: 
Type of Childhood Cancer: 
Project Description: 

Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in infancy, with advanced-stage patients having a low survival rate. Patients with neuroblastoma cells that more closely resemble normal cells (i.e. differentiated) and with tumors with more connective tissue (i.e. stroma) have a better survival rate.

Treatment with the drug, retinoic acid, which promotes differentiation, is used clinically in neuroblastoma, but additional differentiation therapies are needed. The neuroblastoma tumor stroma is thought to suppress neuroblast growth by releasing soluble differentiating factors. Here we have provided evidence that a number of proteins, termed proteoglycan co-receptors, are highly expressed in neuroblastoma stroma and when secreted from these stroma cells can induce differentiation. The clinical drug heparin, which is used as an anti-coagulation agents in patients, can mimic the effects of these proteoglycan co-receptors.

Project Goal
Here we propose to investigate whether heparin and its derivatives promote neuroblast differentiation to suppress proliferation and tumor growth in neuroblastoma cells and animal models of neuroblastoma. These studies will define the role of proteoglycan co-receptors in neuroblastoma pathogenesis while investigating the use of heparin derivatives as novel differentiating agents. The goal of these studies is the initiation of a clinical trial in neuroblastoma patients using heparin or a heparin derivative as a differentiation agent.