Alice Soragni awarded $2.5 million to develop lab-grown mini tumors for rare tumors

Cancer cells

Dr. Alice Soragni of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has received a $2.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop lab-grown mini tumors that can help identify treatments for rare types of neuroendocrine cancer. The grant is a joint partnership with Dr. Patricia Dahia, a leading expert in neuroendocrine tumors at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The five-year grant will support Soragni’s efforts into creating miniature tumor organoids models of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas, two rare catecholamine-secreting, neural crest-derived tumors originating from adrenal or extra adrenal paraganglia. These cancers can be benign or malignant, and it is often impossible to determine who is at risk for progression and metastasis. Even if the cancer doesn’t metastasize, it can have serious symptoms due to the excessive secretion of hormones.

Treatment options for these types of tumors are limited and, despite their genetic diversity, there are few personalized approaches. Advances in this area are dampened by a scarcity of research models to help uncover biological mechanisms that facilitate clinical outcome prediction and reveal molecular vulnerabilities which can be explored for therapeutic purposes.

In collaboration with Dahia, Soragni and her team will create organoid models to replicate the full-functioning, catecholamine-secreting structures of tumors so they can better study their behavior, investigate tumor markers, and drug screen to identify potential new therapies.

“Being able to create models of these rare tumors in the lab can not only help us better understand the molecular and functional diversity of pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas, but also contribute to identifying pathways that can be targeted for therapy,” said Soragni, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA.