Dr. Kathryn Lemberg – Johns Hopkins University
CureSearch Young Investigator Award: 2019-2021
Focus: Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumor
Project Title: JHU395: A glutamine antagonist for malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor
Project Overview: Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumors (MPNSTs) are aggressive tumors that arise from the cells that normally support nerve function. Most cases are seen with the genetic syndrome neurofibromatosis type 1, but these tumors can also arise without a known cause or as secondary cancers in response to prior radiation therapy. MPNST is the leading cause of mortality in patients with neurofibromatosis type 1 and has a median overall survival in the pediatric population is only 30 months. MPNSTs are incredibly challenging to treat as they are complex and rare. Moreover, they tend to metastasize and do not respond well to chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Surgery is currently the best treatment option for MPNST, but due to the locations that tumors tend to develop, complete surgical removal is challenging. When surgery does not result in the complete removal of the tumor, outcomes are poor and 4-year event-free survival is only 30%.
Dr. Lemberg’s CureSearch-funded project aims to exploit a common characteristic of tumor cells to trigger their destruction. Tumor cells use energy differently than normal cells. To satisfy the high energy demand of tumor cells that are constantly growing and dividing, they are notoriously dependent on a protein building block called glutamine. Dr. Lemberg will attempt to block the ability to use glutamine in order to starve the tumors cells of an essential nutrient. Dr. Lemberg will test a novel glutamine antagonist, JHU395,in MPNST models to determine if it is a feasible treatment strategy. Through this project, Dr. Lemberg ultimately aspires to set a well-characterized, exciting new drug on the path to clinical trials in MPNST patients.
“Pediatric and young adult patients deserve more effective treatments with fewer side effects than have been classically available for these tumors,” said Dr. Lemberg. “As a Young Investigator I look forward to collaborating with others in the CureSearch community to successfully develop new medicines for sarcoma.”
Project Update: As of December 2021, Dr. Lemberg has performed evaluation of JHU395 glutamine antagonist activity in four genomically diverse human MPNST cell lines and developed a biomarker assay to assess the effectiveness of her therapy. She has also developed and tested a novel purine antimetabolite in MPNST cells and patient-derived xenografts in combination with JHU395 and demonstrated a synergistic effect, demonstrating the potential for this combination therapy.