Focused on Unlocking the Rules to Tumor Growth

Supported by the MGH Research Scholar Award program, the genetic research of Andrea McClatchey, PhD, is helping people with a rare tumor syndrome and making discoveries that will allow scientists to better understand cancer.
Focused on Unlocking the Rules to Tumor Growth
Andrea McClatchey, PhD, Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar
Andrea McClatchey, PhD, Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar

Andrea McClatchey, PhD, had always loved biology and anatomy, but James Gusella, PhD, of Massa­chusetts General Hospital, helped her find a focus for her passion.

Dr. McClatchey was working as a lab technician for Dr. Gusella. He recognized her talent when she rapidly visualized complicated patterns in DNA gels. He asked her to think about entering a doctoral program.

Twenty years later, Dr. McClatchey has her own lab, but often shares ideas with Dr. Gusella, director of the Center for Human Genetic Research. At Mass General there are many collaboration opportunities. Mass General has the largest hospital-based biomedical research program in the United States and attracts many of the world’s brightest medical researchers.

But researchers venturing into new areas of investigation may face funding challenges. That’s why the MGH Research Scholar Program is essential. With support from the Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar Award, Dr. McClatchey can move forward with her research.

“Pat and I are thrilled to be part of the launch of the MGH Research Scholar program. We believe that philanthropists have to do more to support these bright scholars — espe­cially in this time of limited and declining government funding,” Mr. Eston says. “We hope the funding that Dr. McClatchey receives will complement support from MGH, help her explore her ideas and develop important solutions that will benefit many over the years to come.”

Using Genes to Find Connections Between Diseases

Dr. Gusella, was the first to clone the NF2 gene and name its encoded protein Merlin.  Mutations in NF2 cause neurofibromatosis type 2, a rare tumor syndrome that runs in families.  People with this syndrome develop benign tumors in the skull and along the spinal cord. Even with surgery, the tumors almost always return. The tumor growth greatly affects quality of life and lifespan.

But researchers venturing into new areas of investigation may face funding challenges. That’s why the MGH Research Scholar Program is essential.

Dr. McClatchey has shown that the NF2 gene is essential to build normal tissues like the skin, liver and kidney.  But in patients with a mutation in their NF2 gene, such tissue doesn’t seem to know when to stop building.  By studying how the protein Merlin normally functions to build tissues, Dr. McClatchey and her colleagues are discovering important rules that cancer cells break while forming tumors.

Dr. McClatchey used some funding from the Patricia and Scott Eston MGH Research Scholar Award to write a grant seeking support to investigate a particular type of tumor neurofibromatosis type 2 patients develop around nerves related to hearing. Her hunch from her research is that some drugs currently being tested to treat these tumors may not be the right ones.

She remembers her reaction to winning the award — “I was teary. I was thrilled and I was humbled,” she says.

“Dr. McClatchey is dedicated to solving the mysteries behind neurofibromatosis type 2. Through her research, she has opened the door to helping people with this rare tumor syndrome and she is also making discoveries that will allow scientists to better understand cancer and help even more people,” says Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak, PhD, co-chair of the Mass General Research Scholars Award Committee.

 

Andrea I. McClatchey, PhD
Massachusetts General Hospital
Professor of Pathology, Harvard Medical School
Assistant geneticist, Center for Cancer Research
The McClatchey laboratory focuses on understanding how cells organize their outer membrane or cortex, which, in turn, determines their identity, behavior, and interface with the extracellular environment. Cancer cells exhibit defective membrane organization and therefore interact inappropriately with other cells and with their environment. Our research stems from a longstanding interest in understanding the molecular basis of neurofibromatosis type 2 (NF2), a familial cancer syndrome that is caused by mutation of the NF2 tumor suppressor gene. The NF2-encoded protein, Merlin, and closely related ERM proteins (Ezrin, Radixin, and Moesin) are key architects of the cell cortex.