Bernasconi Lab

Pediatric sarcomas account for about 15% of pediatric cancers. These sarcomas often display a highly aggressive behavior with early tendency for development of metastasis. Although current treatment regimens, including surgery and chemotherapy, can achieve good response rates, the relapse rate is generally high with extremely poor prognosis. The significant toxicity associated with current chemotherapies generates late side effects, a major complication in pediatric oncology.

Our aim is to improve existing therapies for pediatric solid tumors and to devise novel therapies, with a particular focus on rhabdomyosarcoma.

The treatment of tumors in children must meet specific needs, as chemotherapeutic agents can lead to significant long-term consequences. It is therefore the aim of our research to optimize existing therapies by targeting them to the tumor, sparing normal tissues and minimizing long-term side effects.

One strategy we are following is targeted drug delivery by decorating drug-loaded nanoparticles with cancer-specific ligands that promote tumor accumulation and decrease toxicity for patients. We are developing approaches based on two well established technologies: lipid nanoparticles (liposomes) and silica nanotubes.. Both liposomes and silica nanotubes can be loaded with chemotherapeutic agents. We collaborate with the group of Prof. Jean-Olivier Durand at the Institut Charles Gerhardt in Montpellier, who is an expert in mesoporous silica nanoparticles; and with Prof. Paola Luciani at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry of University Bern.

Another approach is the development of CAR T cells therapy for rhabdomyosarcoma. Since 2018, our laboratory focuses on this personalized immunotherapy, in order to enhance the patient's immune system to attack the tumor. We have investigated rhabdomyosarcoma surfaceome in order to identify optimal targets for CAR T cells. We are currently conducting in vitro and in vivo experiments to test CAR T for RMS.