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Damon Runyon, Sohn Conference Foundations name 3 new pediatric cancer research fellows

New York, NY (June 20, 2014) The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has named three outstanding young scientists as recipients of the prestigious Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Research Fellowship Award, committing nearly $625,000 to help address a critical shortage of funding for pediatric cancer research.

The Fellowship Award provides funding to basic scientists and clinicians who conduct research with the potential to significantly impact the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of one or more pediatric cancers. Each recipient receives a four-year award ($248,000 for physician-scientists, $208,000 for basic scientists). Since 2012, this award has supported ten innovative pediatric cancer researchers.

The Sohn Conference Foundation, dedicated to curing pediatric cancers, announced in 2012 that it was granting $1.5 million to the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the leading charity supporting innovative young cancer researchers, to establish the award. With the generous support of the Pershing Square Sohn Cancer Research Alliance, the Fellowship Award continues to receive funding and recognition within the philanthropic community.

2014 Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellows

Ly P. Vu, PhD, with her sponsors Michael Kharas, PhD, and Ross L. Levine, MD, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, is studying childhood acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Despite exciting advances in our understanding of AML and the availability of more aggressive treatment regimens, approximately 30% of children still eventually relapse from this disease. There are yet no approved targeted therapies for children with AML. Her project aims to uncover the role of Syncrip, a novel RNA binding protein, in maintaining the leukemia stem cell in AML. The study will provide insights into the mechanisms underlying the cause and development of AML and may lead to innovative therapeutic strategies and improved clinical outcomes for this deadly childhood disease.

David W. Woessner, PhD, with his sponsor Charles G. Mulligan, MBBS, MD, at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, seeks to identify genetic changes that cause the most common type of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). There are multiple subtypes of ALL, each with distinct genetic changes that drive disease development and influence success or failure of treatment. He has sequenced the genomes of over 1000 tumor cells from children with ALL and identified several hundred repeatedly mutated genes, for which the functions are currently unknown. He will test the role of these changes in ALL. A better understanding of which genetic changes significantly impact cancer behavior in ALL will provide new targets for existing therapy and/or avenues for development of new drug treatments for children with ALL.

Mark W. Zimmerman, PhD, with his sponsor A. Thomas Look, MD, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, studies neuroblastoma, a type of brain tumor that remains a challenging and often devastating condition despite many recent advances in its clinical management. In high-risk neuroblastoma tumors, which account for 15% of all childhood cancer deaths, the CHD5 gene is often deleted and its loss is associated with poor prognosis. CHD5 has emerged as a very attractive target for potential anti-cancer therapeutics. His research elucidating the CHD5 pathway will lead to significant advances in our understanding of how CHD5 functions as a tumor suppressor and the potential ways it could be targeted for anti-cancer therapy.

"These are some of the best young scientists working in pediatric research today, and they're at a critical juncture in their careers," says William Carroll, MD, chair of the Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Committee and Director of the New York University Cancer Institute. "They need our financial support, and we need their brilliant minds focused on curing childhood cancers. That is why this award is so important."

Because cancer occurs less frequently in children and young adults than in the adult population, it does not receive significant funding from either the National Cancer Institute (only four percent of its budget) or the biopharmaceutical industry. As a result, there have been limited advances in recent years in treating these cancers, and fewer scientists are working in this field.

"I am inspired by Damon Runyon's dedication to supporting excellent young scientists who are dedicating themselves to cancer research," says Evan Sohn of the Sohn Conference Foundation. "Our Foundation is investing in this unique fellowship because it has the potential to change how cancer care is provided to children and young adults."

About The Sohn Conference Foundation

The Foundation was established in memory of Ira Sohn, a Wall Street professional whose life was cut short when he passed away from cancer. For more than fifteen years, the Foundation has raised funds for pediatric cancer research through its highly respected annual investment conference, the Sohn Investment Conference, which features many of Wall Street's best and most successful investors. Thanks to the dedication of the conference founders, esteemed speakers, volunteers, and generous donors, the Foundation has invested more than $20 million in innovative research and institutions at the forefront of cancer research and pediatric care.

Contact: Yung S. Lie, PhD
Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

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