Professor Louis Chesler is working to discover and develop new drugs for children’s cancers that respond poorly to existing treatment. His research involves the three most common solid tumours of children – neuroblastoma, a nerve tumour, rhabdomyosarcoma, a muscle tumour, and medulloblastoma, a brain tumour. He leads the Paediatric Solid Tumour Biology and Therapeutics Team at The Institute of Cancer Research.
Born in South Africa, Professor Chesler went to to complete his early scientific and medical training in the US, taking his Bachelor of Science (Honours) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his MD and PhD at Northwestern University and Medical School in Chicago. During this time he also worked for the US government’s National Institutes of Health and National Cancer Institute as an Intramural Fellow. In 1995, he joined the University of California, San Francisco, working as a paediatric oncology consultant and running a neuroblastoma research programme, before moving to the ICR in 2007 as a Senior Clinical Lecturer.
Professor Chesler was attracted to paediatric cancer research because of the potential for making a long-lasting contribution to children’s lives. “We have patients who go on to graduate high school, attend university and get married. Seeing them have their own children is amazing, the most rewarding of all,” he says.
Relapses are common with paediatric cancers and the high-dose therapies required for treatment in this situation can have serious side-effects including long term disability, organ dysfunction and even secondary cancers. Professor Chesler and his team are developing drugs specifically targeted at children’s cancers, as most drugs currently given to children were originally designed for adults: “The ICR is known for its excellent work in the development of novel targeted therapeutics for adult cancer, and we need to apply this expertise to children’s cancer.”
Professor Chesler hopes that a drug designed in his own laboratory will one day lead to clinical trials that will improve survival in paediatric cancer: “Our current work is on the right track to achieving that goal.”
“Ideally I would like to develop a one-a-day pill that would be free of side-effects and would be very effective against a children’s cancer. This sounds unrealistic but has already been achieved for an adult cancer. The drug imatinib is a one-a-day pill for adults that is effective and comes without the side-effects associated with previous treatments – we need an imatinib for children.”
He believes that the ICR’s close links with industry and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust has created a new model of efficiency for drug development. “This partnership is unique and allows me to devote most of my time to laboratory research while retaining significant clinical involvement on the paediatric oncology ward.”
Professor Chesler is a member of the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Association of Paediatrics and is on the editorial board for several peer-reviewed journals. Away from work, he enjoys visiting historic buildings and cultural sites in the UK, cycling and the outdoors.