Phase Two Neuroblastoma Project - meet the team

In 2017 aPODD and ENEA launched an ambitious drug repurposing project aiming to identify new treatments for neuroblastoma. Drug repurposing is the process of discovering new therapeutic uses for exising drug. In this project we are investigating drugs, already  approved for other diseaeses, to test whether any could be used to treat neuroblastoma. We hope we can quickly identify new treatments as repurposing an exisiting drug is generally quicker and cheaper than discovering a new one.

Phase one of the project  involved a collaboration with UK-based company, Healx, which has strong expertise in machine learning and artifical intelligence.  The scientists at Healx have applied their skills and computational-based technologies to draw a shortlist of potential drug candidates. 

Phase two of the project is now underway at the Translational Cancer Center, University of Lund, Sweden. In the lab of Dr Daniel Bexell, a renown expert on neuroblastoma experimental models. It’s here that the compounds, identified by Healx, are now being experimentally tested. The work will be conducted by Dr Bexell’s collaborator, Dr Kristina Aaltonen, a senior scientist in his group.

We have asked Daniell Bexell (DB) and Kristina Alltonen (KA) to share more information about their research group and the planned exepriments for the aPODD-ENEA project:


Dr Daniel Bexell

Dr Daniel Bexell

1)     Could you please tell us about your scientific background?

DB: I am a trained MD with a PhD in experimental neuro-oncology. I started working with neuroblastoma during my post-doc and I have continued with this as principal investigator in our research lab Molecular Paediatric Oncology at Lund University.

KA: I have been an assistant researcher in the Bexell group since April 2018. I have an MSc in Medical Biology and a PhD in genetics. Following my PhD, I have been working at the Lund University since 2010 either as an assistant researcher or as a post doc. Before joining the Bexell group I mainly worked in breast cancer research, but I have also been involved in several collaborative projects in other cancer types. I became an Associate professor in experimental oncology in May 2017.

2)     What led you to work on Neuroblastoma?

We want to improve treatments for aggressive tumours such as Neuroblastoma and believe that working with childhood cancer is one of the most important and rewarding research areas to be involved in. We hope that the work we do will contribute to better outcomes for the children that suffer from this disease. In particular we hope that the patient-derived xenograft (PDX) models developed in our lab will give new insights into how tumours can be targeted in the most effective way with as little side effects as possible. 

3)     Could you tell us more about your research team and the expertise gained in neuroblastoma research?

There are currently seven members in the lab. We have developed novel models (patient-derived xenograft models) of neuroblastoma which resemble patient tumours to a very high degree. Therefore, it is likely that the therapeutic response in these models will be similar to the clinical situation. Right now, our focus is to understand mechanisms behind treatment resistance and metastasis and to find novel therapeutic strategies against high-risk neuroblastoma. 

Dr Kristina Alltonen

Dr Kristina Alltonen

4)     Could you please describe the planned experiments and the overall goal of the project?

The overall goal of the project is to investigate new possible treatments for Neuroblastoma. By working with drugs that have already been approved for other diagnoses, we hope that the road from experimental research to the clinic can be shortened. Healx has identified which drugs to test in phase one and it’s now our role, in this collaboration, to test 13 drugs in three of our PDX models. The cells, in these models, originate from three different patients with neuroblastoma and we believe that the results from these experiments will give us information about how patient tumour cells will respond to the different drugs. 

5)     What do you think it is the most promising line of research for neuroblastoma?

Understanding spatial and temporal heterogeneity in neuroblastoma appears to be very important to improve current treatment. We are just beginning to understand this but there is still much to do.

6)     Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

We hope that we will continue with neuroblastoma research and that we have better treatment strategies. Hopefully, our close collaboration with the clinicians will lead to improved treatments for children with neuroblastoma.

We thank Daniel Bexell and Kristina Aaltonen for their time and we are looking forward to hearing from them at them at the end of the project!