Pediatric Cancer Program

Solid tumours constitute a particular challenge in paediatric cancers because there are presently few treatment options. Unlike adult cancers, cancers affecting children often come with few mutations and are driven by chromosomal aberrations. As a result, despite there being breakthoughs over recent years for childhood blood cancers, there is currently still no treatment option for metastatic solid tumours among children. This means that researchers face unique challenges that may require different approaches, along with a greater emphasis on collaboration and the cross-pollination of ideas, to stop and prevent tumour growth.

Our lab focuses on the unique connections between the foetal compartment and cancer — Similar to cancer, the placenta grows and proliferates rapidly inside the womb of a mother. It invades and integrates into neighbouring tissues, establishes a complex and elaborate vasculature and evades the mother’s immune system. By studying the placenta, we believe we can learn a lot about tumours.

We focus on the identification, characterization, and exploitation of glycosaminoglycans (GAG) and other secondary modifications of proteins as therapeutic and diagnostic targets in pediatric solid tumors. One of such GAG is a malignancy-associated oncofetal chondroitin sulfate (ofCS) modification. We have shown that most solid pediatric and adult tumors re-express this unique type of GAG that is normally restricted to the placenta and that an evolutionarily conserved malaria protein could be harnessed to target various types of childhood and adult cancers. Such work has succeeded in fighting back and sometimes eliminating breast, prostate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma tumours in pre-clinical testing, along with treatment-resistant bladder cancer.

By using this oncofetal approach, we not only aim to stop and potentially destroy cancer cells, but also to investigate possible diagnostic tools for early disease detection. For example, a simple blood test could alert clinicians to the presence of the sugar modification found on most cancer cells and the foetal environment. Additionally, our team dives deeper into studying the environmental triggers which lead to the increased expression of ofCS on cancer cells.

The Daugaard Lab Pediatric Cancer Research Program is proudly sponsored by:
– Stand Up To Cancer-St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Cancer Dream Team
– St. Baldrick’s Foundation Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award