The St. Baldrick’s Foundation has awarded $306,000 to David Libich, Ph.D., of UT Health San Antonio to further his studies of the childhood cancer Ewing sarcoma.
Dr. Libich, who has a background in structural biology, is an investigator with the university’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute. He is an expert in the use of a research technique called nuclear magnetic resonance.
Ewing sarcoma is an aggressive bone and soft tissue cancer that primarily affects children and adolescents. Patients often suffer severe side-effects from treatment and there are no second-line therapies for relapsed tumors.
“It is critical that we develop new and less toxic treatments for this cancer,” Dr. Libich said. “Ewing sarcoma is caused by a rearrangement of DNA resulting in an oncogenic fusion protein – a protein made up of two different proteins. This new protein, called EWS-FLI1, can turn on genes that should not be on, leading to the transformation of the cell into a Ewing sarcoma tumor.”
This fusion protein has features that make it very difficult to study, Dr. Libich said. It sticks to itself and does not have a structure. “A good analogy is that it behaves like a piece of cooked spaghetti,” he said.
Dr. Libich uses nuclear magnetic resonance to peer at the protein to understand exactly how the functions of the fused protein differ from the two parent proteins. “This information is critical for designing molecules (drugs) that will be able to affect the function of EWS-FLI1 and open new ways of attacking Ewing’s sarcoma,” Dr. Libich said.