Last year, CURE Childhood Cancer awarded more than one million dollars in new research grants to scientists at the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University.
One of the award recipients was Kelly Goldsmith, an MD in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the Aflac Cancer Center. Dr. Goldsmith is a graduate of the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine and completed her residency, fellowship and early attending years at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the premier neuroblastoma research center in the country. She joined the Aflac Cancer Center in 2009, after giving a lecture as part of the center’s Research Seminar Series and meeting with the staff.
“Children’s was the perfect place and fit for me as both a physician and a scientist,” said Dr. Goldsmith.
“One thing I really like about being here is the drive to translate from bench to bedside. I think that is such a huge focus, and here they are really trying to make that a reality.” Goldsmith continues to focus on neuroblastoma research at the Aflac Cancer Center, where her laboratory is working on determining how and why certain cells become resistant to chemotherapy, develop profiles of these cells and then develop alternative treatment options—bringing better drug therapies and hope to those with the most high-risk, difficult to treat types of tumors.
Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumor among children after brain tumors. While a low-risk tumor is highly curable, high-risk neuroblastoma tumors kill more than half the children suffering from the disease. “Children are most likely to die from recurrent disease because the cancer becomes resistant to chemotherapy,” said Dr. Goldsmith, who is also Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University’s School of Medicine.
“For this particular tumor, we have to figure out a better way to make the children chemotherapy- sensitive again, or to therapeutically target the tumor without harming normal tissues,” she continued.
Goldsmith and her team are working to identify the causes of chemotherapy resistance in neuroblastoma and test new treatment options. By screening tumors to determine optimal options of treatment and using combination therapies with these findings, ideally, goldsmith can help develop a less toxic and more tumor-specific therapeutic option for children with highly chemo-resistant solid tumors.
Goldsmith’s work is concentrated on the study of a family of proteins, BCL-2, which can either promote or prevent the programmed cell death (known as apoptosis) that is triggered by chemotherapy. Dr. Goldsmith’s research has found that BH3-only proteins can trigger apoptosis, and she and her team have determined that small chains of amino acids called BH3 peptides can mimic these proteins and kill neuroblastoma cells in test tube cells and mice. The goal of her work is to continue to isolate these cells in order to determine which drugs are best used in neuroblastoma treatment.
“But establishing the effectiveness against cancer cells in test tubes and live test subjects is just the first step in treating children with this disease,” said Dr. Goldsmith.
“The next phase of research requires fresh neuroblastoma tumor tissue, but demand is extremely high for the limited tissue available, so new techniques are needed to reduce the demand of tissue needed for experiments.” In order to address this need, Goldsmith worked with colleagues to adopt an improved method for screening and selecting human tumor samples used in their research. However, she needed expensive laboratory equipment in order to use this new method in her research.
Enter CURE, whose funding allowed goldsmith and her team to purchase a BIOTEK multiwell plate reader, which is crucial to carrying out this new method for identifying tissue samples as well as many additional planned studies and experiments.
“Because of CURE’s generosity and this new reader, I can focus on how effective these BH3 peptides are in killing neuroblastoma in actual human cells,” said Goldsmith.
“We can also combine these peptides with additional drugs already known to inhibit the proteins that help cancer cells grow and thrive. This will not only help us develop more tumor- specific, less toxic treatments for children with highly chemo-resistant neuroblastoma tumors, but ultimately, lead to a cure for this devastating disease.”