Research Roundup

Boston Investment Conference Awardee Targets Lethal Cancer

Neuroblastoma is one of the deadliest childhood cancers, and its most virulent forms—those resistant to chemotherapy—account for 15% of all cancer deaths in children worldwide. But there is an exciting development in the global effort to tackle this devastating illness. Boston Children’s researcher Roberto Chiarle, MD, is ready to bring new treatments for the disease to clinical trial.


Dr. Chiarle’s strategy is to reengineer patients’ naturally occurring immune cells to target a specific protein—anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK)—that’s both unique to such cancer cells and required for their survival. In preclinical models, he has shown that these hypercharged immune cells, known as ALK.CAR-T cells, can home in on and kill the hardest-to-treat forms of the disease even when spread in multiple organs.

Dr. Chiarle’s approach uses ALK as a molecular tag for destruction, ensuring that ALK-positive cancer cells are efficiently detected and destroyed by ALK.CAR-T cells generated by the patient’s own immune system. In addition, the combination of ALK inhibitors and ALK.CAR-T cells generates an extremely potent cocktail of therapies against the same target, a powerful dual hit that tumors cannot survive. The specificity of ALK.CAR-T therapy also ensures the treatment will spare normal tissue. Moreover, because the ALK protein is also expressed by other types of cancers, Dr. Chiarle’s work could have far-reaching impact on a wide range of malignancies, including other solid tumors.

The Boston Investment Conference selected Dr. Chiarle as its 2022 awardee; funds from the November 1 conference will enable him to launch the crucial human trials needed to combat neuroblastoma and save lives. His critical work will pave the way to new treatments and offer fresh hope for children with cancer and their families.

Learn more about the Boston Investment Conference.