Research Spotlight: Po Hien Ear, PhD

Although the number of small bowel neuroendocrine tumors (SBNETs) has sharply increased over the last several decades, new treatments have lagged far behind their increasing incidence. The lack of new treatment options stems from a limited number of experimental SBNET cell lines derived from patients—many of whom present with metastatic disease—and models that can be used for drug testing. 

Po Hien Ear, PhD of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, is working to bridge the gap between the rate of SBNETs and viable treatment options by developing experimental preclinical models of small bowel NETs. With support from a 2019 Basic/Translational Science Investigator Award from NANETS, funded by NETRF, Dr. Ear is leading a research project in her laboratory to develop a new strategy to grow and maintain SBNET cells in small clusters called spheroids. 

Her research involves isolating SBNET cells directly from resected patient tumors and growing  the spheroid clusters in large enough numbers to be used to screen the potential anti-tumor properties of hundreds of therapeutic compounds. From there, she plans to inject the spheroids into animal models where she can image the tumor cells and track their metastasis. She can also test the effectiveness of anti-tumor drugs in these models.

Since launching her project, Dr. Ear and her colleagues have used spheroids to screen a collection of 175 drugs. Currently, they have identified 21 potential anti-cancer drugs for further study.

“These results identified known drugs for SBNETs and new categories of anti-cancer drugs,” says Dr. Ear. “We continue to invest our effort to develop new mouse models for testing our leading candidates. Overall, these advances will accelerate the process of drug discovery for SBNETs.”