Pediatric Oncology Fellow Receives Top Merit Award for Research in Rhabdomyosarcoma
|Fernanda Irene Arnaldez,
Fernanda Irene Arnaldez, MD, is the recipient of this year’s Brigid Leventhal Merit Award for her research project, “Identification of TNK2 as a critical kinase in rhabdomyosarcoma through a loss of function shRNA screen” (Abstract 9511). Dr. Arnaldez, a fellow in the Pediatric Oncology Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), will present her research findings during the Pediatric Oncology II Oral Abstract Session, Monday, 8:00 AM-11:00 AM, S504.
The Brigid Leventhal Merit Award is presented to the fellow with the highestranked abstract submitted in the field of pediatric cancer research, as determined by the Scientific Program Committee. The award’s namesake dedicated her career to young patients battling cancer and was the pioneer in children’s oncology research at The Johns Hopkins University.
Determining TNK2 Function in Rhabdomyosarcoma
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a malignant tumor of skeletal muscle lineage that primarily affects children and adolescents. Although significant progress has been made in the treatment of localized tumors, patients with metastatic disease continue to have poor outcomes, Dr. Arnaldez explained in an interview with ASCO Daily News. “Using a loss-of-function inducible shRNA screen, we have identifi ed that TNK2 participates in rhabdomyosarcoma cell growth, particularly in the alveolar subtype. We observed decreased tumor growth in the presence of TNK2 knockdown both in vivo and in vitro in a specific manner,” she said.
Although several groups have pointed out potential mechanisms by which TNK2 affects cancer growth in other contexts (e.g., prostate cancer), the biologic mechanisms of TNK2 function in rhabdomyosarcoma remain obscure, Dr. Arnaldez explained. “Work in our lab and others has taught us a lot about pathways that are relevant in the rhabdomyosarcoma context, such as MET and IGF. We want to establish whether TNK2 fits in one of the known signaling networks active in these tumors or if there are different pathways that we have not fully described yet,” she said.
Further work by Dr. Arnaldez and her team to fully characterize the molecular mechanisms involved in these findings is ongoing. Beginning this month, Dr. Arnaldez will continue this research as an assistant clinical investigator in an intramural research program at NCI.
A Significant Foundation, A Promising Future
Born in Argentina, Dr. Arnaldez came to the United States in 2005 as a pediatric physician pursuing her dream of becoming a physician–scientist. “I feel blessed that I had the access to see not only how medicine is practiced in other places in the world—particularly in the United States—but also science,” she said.
Dr. Arnaldez attributes much of her experience and success in the fi eld to ASCO. In 2010, she received her fi rst ASCO Merit Award; in 2011, she received a Conquer Cancer Foundation of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Young Investigator Award and participated in the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)/ASCO Workshop: Methods in Clinical Cancer Research. This year, Dr. Arnaldez participated in the ASCO Leadership Skills Seminar. “ASCO has been—and continues to be—a key organization in my career,” she said.
Despite the obvious differences between her work in Argentina and the United States, for Dr. Arnaldez, the practice of medicine demonstrates parallels regardless of her location on a map. When it comes to the strength of the human spirit and battling disease, she believes there are no boundaries. “Human beings are all remarkably the same. It’s really touching to see how you can connect on a human level that transcends any cultural differences.”