Home » St. Baldrick’s Grants Support Children’s Cancer Research at Baylor, Texas Children’s Cancer Center
Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Cancer Center physician-researchers have received funding from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for four projects; three focused on finding or developing novel treatment approaches for childhood cancer and another to develop a cancer research and screening program in Africa.
Dr. Nino Rainusso, assistant professor of pediatrics – oncology at BCM, received a three-year, $330,000 2013 St. Baldrick’s Scholar award for his research on osteosarcoma, the most common bone cancer in children. His research is aimed at identifying, characterizing and selectively eliminating a sub-population of tumor cells, known as cancer stem cells. It is believed that this population of cells may drive the process of metastasis formation in children with osteosarcoma.
“Many osteosarcoma patients die from metastatic tumors that have spread to the lungs. We believe that strategies that target and destroy cancer stem cells will impair the ability of tumor cells to spread and survive in the lung. We hope that this approach may significantly improve the survival of children diagnosed with osteosarcoma,” Rainusso said.
Dr. Karen Rabin, assistant professor of pediatrics – oncology, received a one-year, $115,000 renewal of her St. Baldrick’s Scholar grant that was initially awarded in 2010. Her project focuses on leukemia in children with Down syndrome, who are at higher risk of developing leukemia and suffer from more complications during treatment of the disease. Rabin and her colleagues are seeking to identify the genetic basis for the increased risk of leukemia in children with Down syndrome. They are also investigating why children with Down syndrome have more problems with potentially life-threatening infections during treatment for leukemia and trying to develop strategies to prevent these infections.
St. Baldrick’s Scholar awards, geared toward early career investigators pursuing innovative research, are funded for three or more years.
Dr. Mireya Paulina Velasquez, a clinical postdoctoral fellow in pediatric hematology/oncology, received a two-year, $114,263 St. Baldrick’s Fellow award for her research on treatment for blood cancer. Hematological malignancies remain the leading cause of cancer death in patients under age 20. With support from this grant, Velasquez and her research colleagues will conduct preclinical studies to optimize cancer treatment using T cells, a component of the patient’s own immune system.
Cancer treatments involving the infusion of T cells that recognize and target CD19 (a molecule present in many blood cancers) have shown promise in early clinical studies but not all patients benefit from this treatment. This new approach will produce special CD19-specific T cells that will be redirected, along with unmodified T cells, to CD19-positive blood cancer cells.
St. Baldrick’s Fellow awards are for new doctors training to specialize in pediatric oncology research. St. Baldrick’s Fellows are funded for two years, with an optional third year for those needing more time to complete a promising research project.
Dr. Joseph Lubega, a clinical postdoctoral fellow in pediatric hematology/oncology, received a three-year, $325,750 St. Baldrick’s Foundation International Scholar award for his work to develop blood or saliva tests for detecting and monitoring Burkitt’s lymphoma in Africa. Burkitt’s lymphoma is the most common children’s cancer in Africa, and the most rapidly growing human cancer – with the tumor doubling in size every 24 hours. Minimally invasive tests with rapid turnaround for detecting Burkitt’s lymphoma are critical for early diagnosis.
“Many children in Africa die of cancer without seeing a doctor. Yet this cancer can be cured, especially if detected early,” said Lubega, who will be returning to his home country of Uganda to implement the program. “This grant is unique because it will enable me to seek ways to improve the chance of cure for tens of thousands of children in the least privileged countries of the world, and it will support my transition back to Africa, where I will participate not just in research and providing care for the children but, even more critically, help train others in the field.”
St. Baldrick’s also awarded a $96,604 extended Consortium Research Grant to support the Texas-Oklahoma Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (TOPNOC), focusing on pediatric brain tumors. One of the major obstacles in pediatric brain tumor research is the limited number of patients and tumor samples at a single institution. By forming a consortium of prominent pediatric neuro-oncology cancer centers in Texas and Oklahoma, researchers are pooling tumor samples and scientific expertise to conduct innovative, biology-driven clinical trials to improve survival in children with brain tumors.
Texas Children’s Cancer Center is a joint program of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital and is the pediatric program of the NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine.
St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a volunteer-driven charity committed to funding the most promising research to find cures for childhood cancers and give survivors long and healthy lives. For more information about the foundation, including information on organizing a community event, visit the St. Baldrick’s Foundation website at www.stbaldricks.org, visit our news archives for more articles about how the St. Baldrick’s Foundation is helping patients at Texas Children’s Cancer Center, or discover how to connect with St. Baldrick’s on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Vimeo.
July 16, 2013
Baylor College of Medicine
by Dana Benson
This article first appeared on bcm.edu