Four Investigators Awarded Childhood Cancer Research Grants From St. Baldrick’s

Oct 18 2018

Four Investigators Awarded Childhood Cancer Research Grants From St. Baldrick’s

Four scientists from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Cancer Center received grants from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to conduct research projects to improve outcomes for children with cancer.

The top private funder of childhood cancer research grants in the U.S., St. Baldrick’s awarded researchers and institutions around the nation a total of $19.1 million this year in what the charitable organization called “its biggest grant cycle of 2018.” In all, St. Baldrick’s has funded more than $253 million in childhood cancer research grants since 2005.

Michael Leibowitz, MD, PhD, received a three-year grant to test new strategies to make cellular immunotherapy a more effective treatment for tumors of the bones, muscles, and other parts of the body known as solid tumors. Cellular immunotherapy programs a patient’s own cells to destroy tumors by recognizing a single marker on a tumor cell. It’s been effective in treating some pediatric blood cancers, in which the tumor cells all express the same marker.

Solid tumor cells, however, may each express a different marker, making cellular immunotherapy far less likely to be effective. Dr. Liebowitz is focused on improving a cellular process to destroy tumor cells that express many different markers called “epitope spreading.” His grant-funded project will test ways to enhance epitope spreading in pediatric solid tumors to increase cellular therapy’s likelihood of success in destroying tumor cells.

Jennifer Kalish, MD, PhD, will build on a three-year grant she received in 2015 to continue her research on the genetic disorder Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome (BWS) for an additional year. BWS affects thousands of children, with 25 percent of those children developing cancer, most often liver and kidney cancer. Other types of cancer may also occur, but it’s unclear why children develop these cancers. Dr. Kalish is studying the genetic changes that cause cancer in children with BWS in a large group of patients and will now have more time to gather and analyze data on the disorder.

Garrett Brodeur, MD, received a one-year grant to develop more efficient, less toxic cancer therapy to treat children using nanomedicines to deliver a potent novel drug called SN22 to the most aggressive cancer tumors. Dr. Brodeur plans to use his research findings to bring the nanomedicines he is developing to Phase 1 clinical trials for different solid tumors in children.

Nanomedicines take advantage of the fact that aggressive tumors tend to have leaky blood vessels, making it easy for the delivery system to enter a tumor while avoiding most normal tissue. Packaging drugs into nanomedicines delivers much more of the drugs to the tumor and less to the patient’s body.

Sogol Mostoufi-Moab, MD, received a one-year grant to investigate why childhood cancer survivors treated with radiation have a higher risk of developing diabetes, which can lead to chronic health problems later in life such as heart disease.

Insulin is an important hormone that can be affected by cancer treatment, but it’s unclear how young cancer survivors develop diabetes. For the first time, Dr. Mostoufi-Moab is examining the effects of radiation and chemotherapy cancer treatments on insulin production and blood sugar in childhood cancer survivors between ages 15 and 30.

Her study will measure glucose breakdown and insulin secretion, and she will use mathematical modeling to evaluate the body’s handling of fat to understand why cancer therapy is associated with diabetes in children. With this knowledge, scientists can test ways to prevent diabetes in cancer survivors and avoid chronic health problems.