Pediatric Cancer Research Gets a Boost from St. Baldrick's Foundation

Leading cancer researchers, Alex Huang MD, PhD, and Yamilet Huerta, MD have been awarded $186,405 in grants from the St. Baldrick's Foundation to conduct pediatric cancer research.

Alex Huang, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and co-leader of the Hematopoietic and Immune Cancer Biology Program of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, received funding support for summer fellow grants to support the next generation of pediatric oncologists. The St. Baldrick's Foundation 2018 Summer Fellowship supports two students on two separate projects being conducted in Huang's laboratory.

"These projects will have a direct translational impact for novel cancer immunotherapies," said Huang, who is also the Theresia G. & Stuart F. Kline Family Foundation chair in pediatric oncology and the director of pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship program at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital.

The first project, in collaboration with Agne Petrosiute, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics and pathology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, will explore how common pediatric solid tumors respond to the immune system. "We'll focus on brain and spinal cord tumors called medulloblastoma, and how the tumor cells use a specific protein, IRF2BP2, to modulate immune functions," added Huang. "The second project will study how other tumors in childhood cancer, such as osteosarcoma in the bones, use molecules on their surfaces to recruit nearby cells and metastasize."

Yamilet Huerta, MD, pediatric hematology/oncology fellow at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital and member of the Huang Lab at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, was awarded one of only seven fellow grants in the country to study acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which is the second most common leukemia of childhood and is a difficult disease to treat. Huerta is the fourth fellow from the Huang Lab to receive this recognition since 2009. Huerta's research will support the use of targeted immunotherapy in future clinical trials to treat AML.

"Unfortunately, despite available chemotherapies and stem cell transplants, the prognosis of a child with recurrent or refractory AML remains poor," said Huerta. "My research investigates the mechanism by which AML cells can be killed by a novel immunotherapy technique. We genetically engineer T cells that are capable of binding specific AML cells, and at the same time, 'engage' other T cells to mount an immune response that kills cancer cells."

The St. Baldrick's Foundation is a volunteer and donor powered charity committed to funding research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives. The Foundation is the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants and awarded new grants totaling more than $2 million in its summer grant cycle to support the brightest minds in the pediatric cancer field. The round of grants supports both fellows and summer fellows at 27 institutions across the U.S. The Foundation has given CWRU School of Medicine and UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital more than $1 million to support childhood cancer research.