Cornering a Cancer-Connected Autoimmune Disease

Originally published in Bench to Bedside, the CHOP Research monthly publication

I composed this original article and related behind-the-science human interest blog post based on interviews with the investigators.

Excerpt:

It is certainly not good news for children to get a double whammy of both cancer and autoimmune disease. Unfortunately, for a small subset of children with neuroblastoma, a common childhood cancer of the peripheral nervous system, an extremely rare autoimmune disorder called OpsoclonusMyoclonus Ataxia Syndrome (OMAS) comes along for the ride. The overactive immune response is believed to be triggered by the cancer.

But there is a twist.

“Patients with neuroblastoma who have OMAS have better outcomes, in terms of their tumor, than patients with neuroblastoma who don’t have OMAS,” said Jessica Panzer, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist and attending physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who is studying this disease.

That pattern leads Dr. Panzer and other researchers to wonder: Is it possible that OMAS is a case of the body’s immune system finding a successful defense against cancer (but taking it a little too far against healthy cells)? And could we learn safe ways to harness its ability to help more children with neuroblastoma, or even other cancers?

These are among many long-term questions on the distant horizon for researchers who study this little-understood autoimmune disease. First, they need to understand the basics.

Dancing Eyes Brought a Research Team Together

Originally published on Cornerstone, the CHOP Research Blog

I composed this story as a complement to the above article highlighting the science of this team’s collaboration.

Excerpt:

It started at the end of a long day. Jessica Panzer, MD, PhD, then just a few weeks into her pediatric neurology residency at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, was about to go home. Instead, she was called to the emergency room to consult on a 3-year-old girl who could barely walk. What happened then opened up new questions in her budding research career.

Not long after that, Miriam Rosenberg, PhD, started on a convergent path when her own 19-month-old daughter got sick. The toddler first developed problems with excessive drooling and stumbling while she walked. Within a few months, she had a sudden onset of more severe symptoms — unable to walk, severe tremor, unable to feed herself. Dr. Rosenberg and her husband brought their child to the nearest hospital.

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