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Kurt Weiss, MD, Named 2021 OutSmarting Osteosarcoma Grant Winner

December 4, 2021

Dr. WeissKurt Weiss, MD, Associate Professor and Vice Chair of Translational Research, University of Pittsburgh Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Division of Musculoskeletal Oncology, was named the 2021 OutSmarting Osteosarcoma Grant Winner by the MIB Agents, a leading pediatric osteosarcoma nonprofit “dedicated to making it better for [their] community of patients, caregivers, doctors, and researchers through programs, education, and research.”

According to MIB Agents, the OutSmarting Osteosarcoma Grant is an annual research grant that began in 2017. Each year a grant of $100,000 is awarded to a project that will focus on moving research forward for osteosarcoma patients. Proposals may be for a new project or an ongoing larger project for which results can be expected in twelve months. The top three finalists for the OutSmarting Osteosarcoma 2021 grant were required to present their proposed work via webinar with the Scientific Advisory, OutSmarting 2021 Team, and the greater osteosarcoma community.

The Winning Proposal

Dr. Weiss’ winning proposal was titled, “Exploring Aldehyde Dehydrogenase and Androgen Receptor Actions to OutSmart Osteosarcoma Metastases.” The desired impact of this research is to understand the importance of aldehyde dehydrogenase 1A1 (ALDH) and the androgen receptor (AR) as they relate to osteosarcoma metastatic potential.

The proposal states that osteosarcoma is the most common primary bone cancer and mainly afflicts children and adolescents. There is a 1.5:1 male to female ratio. Despite aggressive treatments with surgery and chemotherapy, survival is only 60-70%, and these statistics have not improved in decades. Virtually all osteosarcoma deaths are caused by tumor cells that spread to the lungs, or pulmonary metastases.

The problem of osteosarcoma pulmonary metastases remains unsolved and presents the greatest barrier to improved survival. Dr. Weiss’ lab is dedicated to OutSmarting osteosarcoma pulmonary metastases, and developing biologically-intelligent treatments for osteosarcoma patients. The team anticipates that the experiments described in their proposal will suggest novel strategies to OutSmart osteosarcoma metastases that are grounded in solid evidence and can be quickly translated into clinical trials.

Click to see the award overview and full proposal.

The Backstory

When Kurt Weiss was only 15 years old, pain and swelling in his right leg led his mother to take him to the doctor. That’s when he was diagnosed with metastatic osteosarcoma. It eventually led his right leg to be amputated above the knee while he was an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame. The late Dr. Henry J. Mankin, a Pittsburgh native and the former Chairman of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard, performed the surgery and became a mentor to Dr. Weiss when he decided to dedicate his career to helping people with similar medical conditions.

“When diagnosing my patients with osteosarcoma or another terrible disease, I acknowledge that they are having a terrible day – maybe their worst day ever. But I had a pretty rotten day once upon a time and lived to tell the tale,” says Dr. Weiss. “The only thing you need to remember right now is that osteosarcoma is both treatable and curable.”

His experiences allow him to connect with patients on a deep level, and his honesty and positive attitude work wonders. He shares that he can do anything, just a little differently, and he hasn’t allowed a prosthetic leg to keep him from living.

Dr. Weiss and team continue to research osteosarcoma and work on new treatments in their lab. “The money from MIB provides hope,” he says.