Memorial Sloan Kettering Establishes Tow Center for Developmental Oncology to Better Understand and Treat Cancers that Affect Children and Young Adults

 Cancer biologist and pediatric oncologist Alex Kentsis leads The Tow Center for Developmental Oncology.

Cancer biologist and pediatric oncologist Alex Kentsis leads The Tow Center for Developmental Oncology.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) announces the establishment of The Tow Center for Developmental Oncology (TCDO). TCDO will bring together the unique expertise of researchers and physicians from across MSK and empower them to pursue translational research projects to develop fundamental insights into the molecular mechanisms of young-onset cancers — those affecting children and young adults — and therapeutic approaches for their definitive therapy and control. The goal of this collaborative effort will focus on making transformative advances for both understanding and treating childhood and young adult cancers.

Made possible with generous support from The Tow Foundation and other donors, TCDO will be led by Alex Kentsis, MD, PhD, Associate Attending Physician at MSK Kids — the pediatric cancer program at MSK — and Associate Member in the Molecular Pharmacology Program at the Sloan Kettering Institute. Dr. Kentsis is a highly collaborative and innovative cancer biologist and pediatric oncologist who is recognized internationally for his contributions to childhood cancer biology and oncology.

“Historically, research into cancers that affect children and young adults has been insufficient, and treatments have largely been limited to approaches that model those of adult-onset cancers. Thanks to recent discoveries, however, we now know that cancers affecting children and young people are caused by distinct developmental mechanisms rather than by happenstance or by a life-long accumulation of DNA mutations due to aging,” said Dr. Kentsis. “At TCDO, we seek to define this developmental biology and use the resultant knowledge to fundamentally improve the way we treat and prevent cancers in children and young adults.”

Dr. Kentsis will oversee a team of researchers and physicians from across MSK, including MSK Kids, led by Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, the Human Oncology & Pathogenesis Program, led by Charles Sawyers, MD, and the Sloan Kettering Institute, led by Joan Massagué, PhD — ensuring that the TCDO benefits from a wide range of experience and expertise and ultimately leads to new discoveries and treatments for pediatric and young-onset cancers. TCDO will focus on both basic and translational research with an emphasis on generating key insights into the fundamental biology of young-onset cancers, how developmental processes are specifically disrupted to cause cancer, and work to develop definitive therapies for cancers that affect children and young adults.

“Under the leadership of Dr. Alex Kentsis, The Tow Center for Developmental Oncology will lead the nation in discovering the causes of these cancers and developing improved treatments for pediatric patients and young adults battling cancer,” said Dr. Kung, Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at MSK Kids. “At a time when we are facing multiple threats to research into rare cancers, TCDO will serve an important purpose — combining the latest scientific discoveries from the laboratory with the deep expertise of the physician investigators at MSK Kids to develop more effective and less toxic treatment options.”

In addition to leading new and innovative research efforts, Dr. Kentsis and the leadership team will support the recruitment of diverse scientists, the development of new shared resources, and funding of interdisciplinary research projects.

“Our knowledge of young-onset cancer biology will not only advance molecular pathology and therapy for young people but for many varied human cancers, since childhood and young adult developmental cancers involve essential mechanisms that can help us understand how all cancers develop and spread,” said Dr. Kentsis. “We are enthusiastic about the potential for scientific discovery to understand and treat childhood cancer.”