Carol J. Thiele, Ph.D.

Carol J. Thiele, Ph.D.
Deputy Chief
Senior Investigator
Head, Cell and Molecular Biology Section
CCR Deputy Director

Dr. Thiele leads a research program which develops novel therapies for children with solid tumors using state-of-the-art biologic and genomic analyses of tumors and normal counterparts. She pioneered studies using retinoids to “target” the MYCN oncogene and control tumor growth. These led to clinical studies which showed that retinoids improved outcomes for children with high-risk neuroblastoma.

Her section has developed pre-clinical models and genetically engineered mice (GEMs) to study mechanisms of neuroblastoma tumorigenesis and assess novel therapeutic interventions. Ongoing studies are aimed at understanding epigenetic/chromatin based mechansims to re-program and differentiate neuroblastoma tumor cells.

Areas of Expertise

1) pediatric tumors, 2) neuroblastoma, 3) retinoids, 4) epigenetics, 5) signal transduction pathways, 6) neurotrophins

Contact Info

Carol J. Thiele, Ph.D.
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 10 - Hatfield CRC, Room 1W- 3940 (office)
Bethesda, MD 20892-1928
Ph: 240-858-3849


Cell and Molecular Biology Section

Every year approximately 700 cases of neuroblastoma (NB) and 210 cases of Ewings' sarcoma (EWS) are diagnosed in children less than 20 years of age. Half will fail conventional therapy. Despite the progress made in the development of clinical/genetic-based staging systems for NB and EWS the prognosis for patients with unfavorable disease remains dismal. The focus of the Cell and Molecular Biology Section has been to develop a comprehensive understanding of the biology of peripheral neuroectodermal tumors cells. We do so by developing in vitro and in vivo modeling systems that will enable genetic interrogation of the biologic systems of tumor cells and their normal counterparts. The insights gained from these studies serve as a platform for the development of novel therapies for the treatment of children with these diseases.

A number of genetic alterations have been identified in neuroblastoma tumors which are thought to contribute to tumorigenicity. Despite these genetic alterations, retinoids (derivatives of Vitamin A) are capable of arresting cell growth, inducing differentiation and suppressing tumorigenicity. Thus by activating alternative intracellular signaling programs we may be able to bypass genetic defects and restore growth control and induction of differentiation.

Panel 1:  KNCR-GFP labeled neuroblastoma cells growing in vitro Panel 2:  retinoic acid treatment arrests tumor cell growth and induces differention

Project I: The BDNF/TrkB/PI3-Kinase/AKT Pathway Is Important in the Survival and Metastatic Capability of NB Tumor Cells.  The specific aims of this project are:

  1. To identify and characterize the molecular mechanisms mediating these processes; and
  2. To evaluate the therapeutic potential of targeting downstream signaling intermediaries of the PI3-Kinase/AKT pathway to enhance chemosensitivity and inhibit metastasis and angiogenesis. 

Project II: Clinical, Histopathologic and Genetic Evidence Indicates that Alterations in the Regulation of Normal Development Contribute to NB Tumorigenesis.  The specific aims of this project are:

  1. To identify and characterize NB tumor-initiating cells/cancer stem cells;
  2. To identify the epigenetic pathways dysregulated in NB by using chemical and siRNA screens to identify comounds that target these epigenetic pathways; and
  3. To study the epigenetic mechanisms regulating NB differentiation by using chemical and small molecule screens to identify agents that stimulate differentiation.

CBMS Research Data

  CHLA-LAN-5 neuroblastoma cell growth in vitro - Note neuroblastoma cells are motile and clumps of cells aggregate. Cells continue to proliferate until the entire bottom of the flask is confluent.

  CHLA-LAN-5 neuroblastoma cells treated with retinoic acid in vitro. -  Note neuroblastoma cells growing in clumps, disperse and begin to extend short extensions. By 48hrs cells have ceased to proliferate and the extension of processes increases. Subsequently cells begin to re-aggregate and the clumps are tethered to each other and the bottom of the flask by longer neuritic-like extensions. In a “tug-of-war” like fashion the clumps of cells move around the flask and aggregate into even larger balls of cells. 


CBMS Group 2014

The CMBS Section 2014

NIH Scientific Focus Areas:
Cancer Biology, Chromosome Biology, Developmental Biology, Genetics and Genomics, Stem Cell Biology
View Dr. Thiele's PubMed Summary.

Selected Key Publications

  1. Liu Z, Zhang X, Lei H, Lam N, Carter S, Yockey O, Xu M, Mendoza A, Hernandez ER, Wei JS, Khan J, Yohe ME, Shern JF, Thiele CJ.
    Nat Commun. 11(1): 911, 2020. [ Journal Article ]
  2. Sun M, Veschi V, Bagchi S, Xu M, Mendoza A, Liu Z, Thiele CJ.
    Cancer Res. 79(19): 4937-50, 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  3. Chen L, Alexe G, Dharia NV, Ross L, Iniguez AB, Conway AS, Wang EJ, Veschi V, Lam N, Qi J, Gustafson WC, Nasholm N, Vazquez F, Weir BA, Cowley GS, Ali LD, Pantel S, Jiang G, Harrington WF, Lee Y, Goodale A, Lubonja R, Krill-Burger JM, Meyers RM, Tsherniak A, Root DE, Bradner JE, Golub TR, Roberts CW, Hahn WC, Weiss WA, Thiele CJ, Stegmaier K.
    J Clin Invest. 128(1): 446-62, 2018. [ Journal Article ]
  4. Liu Z, Thiele CJ.
    Cancer Cell. 32(3): 273-5, 2017. [ Journal Article ]
  5. Veschi V, Liu Z, Voss TC, Ozbun L, Gryder B, Yan C, Hu Y, Ma A, Jin J, Mazur SJ, Lam N, Souza BK, Giannini G, Hager GL, Arrowsmith CH, Khan J, Appella E, Thiele CJ.
    Cancer Cell. 31(1): 50-63, 2017. [ Journal Article ]

Dr. Thiele received her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of California, Los Angeles. She completed her postdoctoral research as a Cancer Research Institute and a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Fellow at the NCI. Dr. Thiele was one of the founding editors of Cell Death & Differentiation, and has served on the editorial boards of Cell Death & Differentiation, Cancer Research and Molecular Cancer Therapeutics. Dr. Thiele was Chair of the AACR Women in Cancer Research and has a long-standing interest in developing programs so that young scientific investigators can realize their potential. As the Chief of the Cell and Molecular Biology Section in the Pediatric Oncology Branch, Dr. Thiele's scientific interest is in the field of cancer biology with a special emphasis on pediatric neuroectodermal tumors and neuronal development. She has been involved in the organization of the Advances in Neuroblastoma Research Association (ANRA). Her research strives to understand molecular mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of neuroblastoma tumors and utilizes insights gleaned from these studies to develop novel therapeutic strategies for pediatric tumors.

Name Position
Sam Chen Postbaccalaureate Fellow (CRTA)
Saki Clarke Postbaccalaureate Fellow (CRTA)
Kenneth Lieuw M.D. Clinical Collaborator
Zhihui Liu, Ph.D. Staff Scientist
Ming Sun Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Man Xu Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)



  • Veronica Veschi, MD, PhD - 2017 AACR Aflac Scholar-in-Training Award
  • Veronica Veschi, MD, PhD - 2017 17th CCR-FYI Colloquium-Outstanding Oral Presentation            

          Veronica Veschi receives the 2017 CCR-FYI Colloquium Award for Outstanding Oral Presentation


Advances In Neuroblastoma Research 2016 – Best Abstracts​

  • Deblina Banerjee - Reactivation of cAMP PKA pathway is an early even that relieves EZH2-mediated epigenetic suppression in High-Risk Neuroblastoma (HR-NB)

Advances In Neuroblastoma Research 2014 - Best Abstracts

  • ​Carol Thiele, Zhihui Liu - Whole Genome Screen to identify genes targeting MYCN driven embryonic tumors - Neuroblastoma model