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ALSF Announces 2011 ‘A’ Awards To Researchers In San Francisco Area

Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California at San Francisco receive prestigious awards to examine childhood cancers

Wynnewood, PA (December 2011) – Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer (ALSF) today announced the recipients of the ‘A’ Award, a groundbreaking pediatric cancer research grant designed to jumpstart the careers of promising scientists in the pediatric cancer field. Michelle Monje, MD, PhD of Stanford University and William Gustafson, MD, PhD of the University of California at San Francisco were chosen from nearly 30 applicants as the 2011 recipients of the grant which totals $375,000 over the course of three years. Dr. Monje’s research will target Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) while Dr. Gustafson will examine neuroblastoma.

The ‘A’ Award joined a prestigious line of medical and nursing grants from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation in 2009. The award was created in an effort to find the best and brightest young researchers and encourage them to build life-long careers in the pediatric cancer field. The Foundation believes that young researchers are integral components of finding new treatments and cures, and by providing support for their research these investigators will utilize their talents toward pediatric oncology.

Dr. Monje, an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neuro-Oncology at Stanford University, will focus her research on DIPG, a highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumor. DIPG is the second most common malignant brain tumor in children and the leading cause of pediatric cancer death with a survival time after diagnosis of less than a year. Monje and her team have developed the first published experimental model system to study DIPG and have thus discovered molecular factors that drive tumor growth. Now, they will use this experimental model system to test therapeutic strategies combining two drugs to target both the cells responsible for tumor initiation and those responsible for tumor expansion. If successful, Monje would seek to translate her findings into a clinical trial for children battling DIPG.

Dr. Gustafson will examine high-risk MYCN amplified neuroblastoma, a deadly form of childhood cancer which frequently becomes resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. In his research, Dr. Gustafson will develop models of this high-risk disease for pre-clinical testing, and he will utilize cutting-edge chemistry to direct targeted therapy against the Aurora A protein, known to be critically important both in driving cell growth and in maintaining high MYCN levels. Through these studies, Dr. Gustafson will ultimately work toward novel and clinically tolerable therapies which target drug-resistant neuroblastoma.

Along with the funds provided to ‘A’ Award recipients, the award will also include access to ALSF’s Scientific Advisory Board for periodic consultation and a choice of reference books to enhance the researcher’s personal pediatric oncology library. New in 2011, the Foundation will also give recipients the choice of equipment to aid in their research (up to $10,000 value), funding to attend one medical conference of their choice and the opportunity to meet other ‘A’ Award recipients to collaborate and share ideas.

The ‘A’ Award will mark the final grants allocated from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for 2011. However, the Foundation will begin accepting applications for its newly announced Bridge Grant program for NIH childhood cancer research applications that received excellent scores but did not receive funding on December 15, 2011. In an effort to keep the projects of these researchers on track while they reapply for funding, ALSF’s Bridge Grant will provide $100,000 over a 12 month period. Applications will be taken on a rolling review basis with a deadline of January 9, 2012 or until capacity is reached. A total of three grants will be funded in this cycle, with a second cycle planned for the summer of 2012.

For more information on the ‘A’ Award, Bridge Grants or Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s grant program, visit: www.ALSFGrants.org.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation 2011 ‘A’ Award Recipients

Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

A Combinatorial Approach to Target the Tumor-Initiating and Transit Amplifying Cellular Subpopulations in Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG)

Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) is the second most common malignant brain tumor in children and the leading cause of pediatric cancer death. We have developed the first published experimental model system to study DIPG, and using this have discovered some of the molecular factors that drive DIPG tumor growth. We now propose to use our mouse model system to test a therapeutic strategy combining two drugs. The purpose of this proposal is to develop a strategy that will target two types of cells in the tumor – those responsible for tumor initiation, and a distinct population responsible for tumor expansion. If efficacious, we would seek to translate the findings quickly to a clinical trial for children suffering from DIPG.

William Gustafson, MD, PhD, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

Blockade of p53 and Aurora A in Therapy Resistant Neuroblastoma

High-risk MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma is typically responsive to therapy at diagnosis, becoming resistant to chemotherapy/radiation at relapse. Mirroring human disease, the well established TH-MYCN model of neuroblastoma, developed in our lab, is responsive to conventional chemotherapy. To cure MYCN-amplified high-risk neuroblastoma, we propose to: 1) Develop models which accurately reflect the genetics and behavior of relapsed, chemotherapy refractory disease. I have developed a drug-resistant version of the TH-MYCN model by crossing it with models defective in p53, leading to a defective response to chemotherapy, and mirroring a similar defect in resistant childhood disease. I plan to characterize the response of this model to conventional chemotherapy as well as novel, targeted therapies including those subsequently described. 2) Development of novel and clinically tolerable therapies which target drug-resistant neuroblastoma. I propose to use cutting-edge chemistry to direct targeted therapy against the Aurora A protein, known to be critically important both in driving cell growth, and in maintaining high MYCN levels. I have already generated a new class of Aurora A inhibitors which block both Aurora functions (current drugs only block cell growth) which we predict will have improved activity against MYCN amplified neuroblastoma.

Jay Hernandez Spreads the Word

 

Cristian Rivera Foundation Committee member, Jay Hernandez, was scoring goals on the west coast at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. He and fellow San Jose Earthquakes teammate, Bobby Burling, spent time with the patients there while teaming with MLS W.O.R.K.S. and the Starlight Children’s Foundation to introduce new gaming consoles being installed in the hospital. Jay proudly wore his Cristian Rivera Foundation wristband and referenced its founder, John “Gungie” Rivera, when telling about his inspiration for being involved with the children; “One thing I have experienced that maybe most guys haven’t is that I have a close friend of mine whose son passed away prematurely of childhood cancer, so any opportunity I get to contribute to do this kind of work hits close to home,” he said.

Jay and Bobby signed autographs and played games with the children, which was a wonderful distraction for one day that will surely leave a lasting impression on them. Thankfully, these children now have fun and challenging video games to play that will help them enjoy their childhood every day.