These researchers have dedicated their careers to finding new treatments and cures for people with cancer.
Patients with rare tumors face unique challenges while conquering cancer. Many neuroendocrine tumors, which begin in hormone-producing nerve cells found throughout the body’s organs, are uncommon and understudied. Because there are gaps in research on neuroendocrine tumors, patients often struggle to find doctors who know how to care for them. Bahar Laderian, MD, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic, is ready to help. She is researching ways to better understand and treat rare tumors, particularly paragangliomas and pheochromocytomas.
Dr. Laderian's work is building hope for patients who feel invisible.
“When patients come to me, they are so happy I know about their disease. Paragangliomas and pheochromocytomas are rare and can be vicious. There are not enough FDA-approved therapies for these patients, and that can be scary,” says Dr. Laderian. “We still need more treatment options available for patients.”
Using support from a 2019 Conquer Cancer Young Investigator Award (YIA), Dr. Laderian is exploring why succinate dehydrogenase (SDH) gene mutation gives rise to paragangliomas and pheochromocytomas in the adrenal medulla (the inner part of the adrenal gland, located above the kidney) but not in the adrenal cortex (the outer region of the adrenal gland).
“We’re getting some interesting, monumental results that we hope to share publicly very soon. Analysis is still ongoing," says. Dr. Laderian. “If it were not for Conquer Cancer donors, I would not have been able to do these experiments, as rare tumors rarely receive the attention of pharmaceutical companies.”
Beyond her gratitude to donors, Dr. Laderian draws inspiration from the patients in her care. Many of her patients experience some relief knowing that Dr. Laderian is dedicated to improving treatment for rare cancers.
“I have a patient with a rare tumor. She was so happy to have found a doctor who knows about her cancer that she wrote me a letter of appreciation,” says Dr. Laderian. “It makes me smile every time I see her.”
Although Dr. Laderian’s studies are ongoing, she’s optimistic about the broader outcomes of research in the rare cancer space. Cleveland Clinic was designated as a pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma center of excellence by Pheo Para Alliance international group less than one year after Dr. Laderian joined their team. She is preparing to launch a clinical trial at Cleveland Clinic to better understand slow-growing metastatic pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas. Research for less common cancers can help doctors build better treatments for more common cancers, ultimately benefitting patients everywhere.
“After a year of research supported by my YIA grant, I’m able to conduct experiments that many physicians do not have a chance to perform. I’ve also learned to combine research projects, arriving at better understandings of these understudied, rare tumors," says Dr. Laderian. “For patients, the future will be bright.”