Three years ago, eighteen year old Natalie Wolf discovered a lump on her side, which her doctor said was benign. She didn’t like the looks of it so she insisted it be removed. The day before she moved into the dorms at the University of Minnesota to begin her freshman year, she received a call saying that the mass was found to be cancer.
Not knowing the kind of cancer she had she moved into her dorm and started school. Two weeks later she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma and moved home to begin her battle with sarcoma. Natalie took a year off of her studies and underwent surgery and chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Brenda Weigel.
The next fall Natalie again enrolled in the University as a freshman and also applied to work in the lab of Dr. David Largaespada acclaimed cancer researcher and Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development at the University. Unlike most sarcoma patients Natalie has had the experience of being a researcher as well as a patient. This gives her a very unique perspective on the impact of research. She is, according to Dr. Largaespada, a talented researcher beyond her years. Since working his lab, Natalie has had two articles published on which she was listed as an author, an extraordinary achievement for an undergraduate.
While working hard to cure cancer she also pursues her education as a student at the University of Minnesota. She continues to be involved with Rein in Sarcoma. You can view Natalie on our “From Never Heard of It, Caught it Early” video. She had definitely had “never heard of it” and we hope she caught it early.
At a recent Rein in Sarcoma meeting both Natalie and Dr. Largaespada spoke of her sarcoma journey and how that led her to do important cell research. It was quite inspiring to see the two of them together with a common purpose to cure cancer and sarcoma cancers.
In his remarks Dr. Largaespada commented, “On behalf of the Masonic Cancer Center (MCC) at the University of Minnesota, I thank the KWRIS for it’s ongoing support of sarcoma research at the University of Minnesota. Sarcoma research in the Masonic Cancer Center wouldn’t be nearly so vibrant if not for the support of the KWRIS. In my lab, we’ve developed a new method for finding cancer genes. This approach uses the Sleeping Beauty transposon system. Using this method, we’ve uncovered dozens of novel genetic drivers of two forms of sarcoma called Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors (MPNSTs) and Osteosarcoma (OS).
These results have suggested new ways to treat MPNST and OS. We’re testing these new methods in tissue culture cells and mouse models. We are in an especially good position to test new therapies for Osteosarcoma at the University of Minnesota by working with our clinical colleagues in the Vet School, who treat canine patients with OS and our clinical colleagues working with human patients. I’m optimistic about near term successes. Working with trainees has been one of the best things about doing cancer research at the University of Minnesota. As you heard Natalie Wolf has been working in my lab and already has co-authors two publications and has a bright future. Natalie has been cancer free for two years and we can look forward to the day when all sarcoma patients experience a good outcome like Natalie’s.”