International gathering of experts to share retinoblastoma breakthroughs

February 16, 2005

Experts in the fields of retinoblastoma research and treatment will gather to update colleagues on the latest developments in these fields during a two-day symposium April 28-29 at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

The symposium, "Retinoblastoma: From Bench to Bedside," will include topics about the treatment of retinoblastoma, the molecular basis of this potentially fatal cancer and new laboratory models to test novel therapies prior to clinical trials. Clinicians will also discuss state-of-the-art therapies for this catastrophic childhood cancer.

Retinoblastoma is the third most common cancer in infants after leukemia and neuroblastoma (nerve cancer). Retinoblastoma that has spread outside the eye is among the deadliest childhood cancers, with an average survival rate of less than 10 percent. Successful treatment of this disease often includes removal of one or both eyes.

The symposium is a watershed event because it occurs at a time of great excitement in the field of retinoblastoma studies, according to Michael A. Dyer, Ph.D., assistant member of St. Jude Developmental Neurobiology. Existing treatments have improved, and breakthroughs have occurred in understanding the molecular signals that drive cells to become cancerous. Also, the recent development of mouse models by Dyer's laboratory and several other laboratories allows St. Jude researchers to test potential new drugs that might be valuable additions to the limited number of agents available to doctors treating children with this cancer.

Previously, mice carrying the mutation in the retinoblastoma (Rb) gene that causes the disease did not survive, since the gene was expressed throughout the body and caused cancer. Dyer's laboratory developed the first mouse model in which the mutation occurs only in the retina, which permitted the use of the model for testing new drugs to treat this cancer.

"This symposium is historic because of the people it brings together at a single site to discuss breakthroughs and state-of-the-art treatments in retinoblastoma," said Dyer, an organizer of the symposium with Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, M.D. (St. Jude) and Matthew Wilson, M.D. (University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, Memphis).

Symposium speakers include some of the world's leading researchers, including Alfred G. Knudson Jr., M.D., Ph.D., a senior researcher at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia.

"Dr. Knudson is internationally recognized for his 'two-hit' theory that explains how a cell accumulates mutations before becoming cancerous," Dyer said. "And he predicted the existence of tumor-suppressor genes."

Barrett G. Haik, M.D., (University of Tennessee and chief of Ophthalmology at St. Jude) will make introductory remarks at Thursday morning's opening of the symposium.

Other internationally recognized speakers scheduled for Thursday morning are David Abramson, M.D. (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York); Brenda L. Gallie, M.D. (Hospital for Sick Children, University of Toronto); Murali Chintagumpala, M.D. (Baylor College of Medicine, Houston); Manuela A. Orjuela, M.D. (Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, New York), and Thomas Merchant, D.O. (St. Jude).

Guillermo Chantada, M.D. (Hospital de Pediatria JP Garrahan, Buenos Aires) will discuss challenges that developing countries face when using limited resources to confront the disease.

The afternoon session, which will focus on mouse models and the genetic basis of retinoblastoma, includes a presentation by Anton Berns, Ph.D. (The Netherlands Cancer Institute), a pioneer in the development of mouse models of human cancers. Other experts in the molecular basis of cancer include Dyer, Rod Bremner (Toronto Western Research Institute), Julien Sage, Ph.D., (Stanford Medical School) and Gerard Zambetti, Ph.D. (St. Jude).

The Friday morning session will include roundtable discussions on future directions of retinoblastoma research, specifically translational research (J. William Harbour, M.D., Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis) and cooperative studies among institutions (Anna T. Meadows, M.D., Children's Hospital of Philadelphia).
-end-
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Founded by late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tenn., St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world. No family ever pays for treatments not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. St. Jude is financially supported by ALSAC, its fundraising organization. For more information, please visit www.stjude.org.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

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