Pediatric low-grade astrocytomas (PLGAs) are the most common brain tumor of childhood, affecting thousands of children across the world. Unfortunately, growth of theses tumors even with current standards for treatment (surgery, radiation and chemotherapy) often leaves patients with devastating and life-long impairments. Our goal is to develop new treatments that give kids with PLGAs a chance for more normal lives. We are working to develop novel, effective PLGA therapies that target and kill only tumor cells while leaving normal cells unharmed. To attain our goal, we must understand the basic biology of how normal brain cells transform into tumor cells.
One important feature of PLGAs is that they are collectively made up of lots of different types of tumors, with different underlying processes that make them grow. Cancer cells frequently have mutations or ‘errors’ in the DNA sequences (genes) that signal cells to grow. We and others have found PLGAs to have mutations in a number of different genes that can be used as targets for new treatment approaches. Excitingly, new therapies to target these mutations, for example BRAF, already have been translated into the clinical care of children with PLGAs. However, much work still needs to be done to help us understand how best to use these drugs, how to overcome resistance and how to target other mutations that cause PLGAs.
Our goal is to work as a team to find better treatments that are less toxic and more effective so that every child can live cancer free with a chance to achieve their dreams.
A Kids’ Brain Tumor Cure (AKBTC) established the Pediatric Low-Grade Astrocytoma (PLGA) Program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in 2007 with the mandate to find more effective, less toxic treatments and a cure for children battling brain tumors. AKBTC recently joined with the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF) to become the PLGA Fund at PBTF, and is thus optimally positioned to provide the kind of research support that is necessary to make cures a reality. Our super-charged agenda to identify targeted drug therapies for pediatric brain cancer is stronger than ever.
Guided by founders Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, Clinical Director (2007 – 2018) and Charles Stiles, PhD, Scientific Director (2007 -2018), the Dana-Farber PLGA program became the standard for research and care of pediatric brain tumors at one the nation’s top-ranking pediatric cancer hospitals. The program has initiated landmark projects including the international tissue bank, the invention and launching of three new clinical diagnostic tests based on discoveries by program researchers, and 4 national clinical trials—more clinical trials for this disease than ever before. Each of these efforts has kick-started additional funding, as well as national and international collaborations.
In 2018, leadership passed to Daphne Haas-Kogan, MD, Clinical Director (2018) and Rosalind Segal, MD, PhD, Scientific Director (2018) who built on the tremendous base that Drs. Kieran and Stiles established over the past eleven years. Drs. Segal and Haas-Kogan oversaw the expansion of the program to eight multidisciplinary research groups of structural, chemical, and metabolic biologists, and genome scientists, and a clinic that sees on average more than 90 new patients each year.
In 2019, Pratiti (Mimi) Bandopadhayay, MBBS, PhD, became the overall Director of the PLGA Program at Dana-Farber. Mimi is a pediatric neuro-oncologist and scientist within the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at HMS, and an associate member of the Broad Institute of MIT. She is a member of the clinical pediatric neuro-oncology team at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital that cares for children with brain tumors. Her research applies integrative genomic approaches to identify targetable drivers of pediatric brain tumors and characterize resistance mechanisms. Mimi is assisted in guiding the Dana-Farber PLGA program by an internal executive committee. Please see our “Leadership” page under the “Team” tab for more information about the committee.
As we go forward, we are forever grateful to all of our leaders, past and present, for their tireless dedication and expert guidance.