Kyle MacQuarrie, MD, PhD, an attending physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, received an ‘A’ Award Grant from the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for $800,000 to support his research on rhabdomyosarcoma tumor cells and their resistance to chemotherapy.

Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive pediatric cancer of the muscle, is treated with chemotherapy. Some patients respond well to chemotherapy, but others experience a relapse with tumors that are much more resistant to the treatment. Previous research has focused on identifying individual genes that cause resistance, but new insights have led to thoughts that rhabdomyosarcoma tumor cells are affected by the way the parts of the cell nucleus are organized. 

To better understand chemotherapy resistance in rhabdomyosarcoma cells, Dr. MacQuarrie’s research will investigate the level of the organization in the cells’ nucleus over time, rather than comparing cells with no resistance to those that are resistant. Specifically, he will look for differences in various aspects of organization of the nucleus, and then link those differences to the ability of tumor cells to survive chemotherapy treatment with the aim to find at least one new approach to making the cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy. One of the techniques Dr. MacQuarrie will use to study the changes in the cells’ nuclear organization is partial wave spectroscopic microscopy, which has been used successfully to better understand the resistance of adult tumors to chemotherapy. Before Dr. MacQuarrie’s work, partial wave spectroscopic microscopy was largely confined to tumors of adult origin. 

Dr. MacQuarrie holds the Sharon B. Murphy, MD and Steven T. Rosen, MD Research Professorship in Cancer Biology & Chemotherapy at Lurie Children’s and is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The award period for his ‘A’ Award Grant is February 2024–February 2028. 

Pediatric research at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is conducted through Stanley Manne Children’s Research Institute.