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.