Home » Grants help fund research into potential new treatments for common childhood cancers
March 31, 2010 – Baylor College of Medicine
Recent grants to Baylor College of Medicine doctors will support research into new therapies for two of the most common childhood cancers.
Dr. Chrystal Louis, assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology, received two grants for her research into the effectiveness of combining immunotherapy with low-dose chemotherapy for patients with neuroblastoma that has either recurred or is not responding to standard treatment.
The $100,000 and $50,000 grants, respectively, from nonprofits Team Connor Cancer Foundation and Cookies for Kids’ Cancer will help fund a new clinical trial expected to start enrolling patients this summer at Texas Children’s Cancer Center.
“Although this trial focuses on children with neuroblastoma, the results could help other children and adults with hard to treat cancers by allowing scientists to understand new ways to use chemotherapy with immunotherapy in order to fight disease,” Louis said.
Previous research has shown that some patients with recurrent neuroblastoma benefit from immunotherapy during and after standard treatment. Similar to the vaccines given to babies and children to fight childhood illnesses, tumor vaccines can help teach immune cells to recognize and destroy cancer cells, Louis explained.
Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumor seen in children but causes about 15 percent of childhood cancer deaths each year.
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer also gave $35,000 to Dr. Karen Rabin, assistant professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology, for research into novel treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common childhood cancer.
“There have been some exciting recent discoveries about gene mutations that occur in a subset of pediatric ALL patients who have poorer survival,” Rabin said. “These mutations can be targeted by new treatments developed to block the genes that are activated by these mutations.”
Changes to the genes JAK2 and CRLF2 activate a signaling pathway that promotes cancer in these leukemia cases, but the new treatment under study blocks that signaling, Rabin explained. The potential treatment may also have fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy combinations that are given for ALL because it acts selectively on this signaling pathway rather than indiscriminately killing all dividing cells, she said.
The grants to Rabin and Louis were among the first awarded by Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, which was launched in September 2008 by Gretchen and Larry Witt after their son Liam was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. The goal of the national non-profit organization is to raise funds for research through the concept of local bake sales.
“Our focus is on funding the most promising clinical trials that will get to children as quickly as possible,” Gretchen Witt said. “We hope these grants mark the start of a long relationship with Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer Center to provide more options against this insidious disease that preys on the most innocent members of our society, our children.”
Team Connor was created by Joy and Tait Cruse, who lost their son Connor to neuroblastoma in 2009.