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Damon Runyon, Sohn Conference Foundations name 4 new pediatric cancer research fellows

New York, NY (July 12, 2013) The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has named four outstanding young scientists as recipients of the prestigious Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Research Fellowship Award, committing more than $680,000 to help address a critical shortage of funding for pediatric cancer research. The Sohn Conference Foundation, dedicated to curing pediatric cancers, announced last year 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. It 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 three-year award ($186,000 for physician-scientists, $156,000 for basic scientists). Since 2012, this award has supported seven innovative pediatric cancer researchers.

July 2013 Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellows

Kenneth Chen, MD, with his sponsor James Amatruda, MD, PhD, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, studies Wilms tumor, a pediatric kidney cancer that is the fourth most common childhood cancer. Wilms tumor is treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation; although outcomes have dramatically improved over the decades, they remain poor for children with high-risk disease. His preliminary research has identified a subset of Wilms tumors with dysregulated expression of microRNAs, a type of short noncoding RNA that regulates protein production. He will study how this dysregulation causes cancer in children and aims to use this information to develop a novel therapeutic strategy for these tumors.

Haihua Scott Chu, PhD, with his sponsor Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD, at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York, focuses on a promising new class of therapy that inhibits epigenetic regulators, proteins that control the expression and activity of genes through DNA sequence-independent chemical modifications. Much remains unknown about how these new drugs induce specific changes in tumors upon treatment or what their efficacy is in sustaining long-term, durable responses in patients. He plans to characterize the changes induced with the use of such inhibitors in animal and human models of leukemia. These studies may serve as a proof of principle for the broader use of epigenetic inhibitors as a part of cancer therapy.

Shuibin Lin, PhD, with his sponsor Richard Gregory, PhD, at Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, is studying neuroblastoma brain cancers. Genetic amplification and aberrant expression of the oncogenes LIN28B and MYCN are associated with high-risk neuroblastoma and poor survival. Interestingly, these genes positively regulate each other and form a self-reinforcing feedback loop to drive neuroblastoma oncogenesis. His research aims to identify novel factors that interact with LIN28B/MYCN in tumor formation. He is characterizing a LIN28B-interacting long intergenic non-coding RNA (lincRNA) and will determine how the lincRNA functions to regulate neuroblastoma progression.

Amit J. Sabnis, MD, with his sponsor Trevor G. Bivona, MD, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, California, is exploring novel treatment options for rhabdomyosarcomas, the most common pediatric soft tissue sarcomas. These sarcomas uniquely depend on the activity of "protein chaperones" that prevent newly made proteins from forming toxic clumps. His research focuses on small molecules that inhibit one class of chaperones called HSP70s. The goal of these studies is to identify a new target for drug development to help cure this disease.

"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 and the work that Damon Runyon and Sohn do are 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 finding the right projects and young scientists to fund," says Evan Sohn of the Sohn Conference Foundation. "We are all so excited to invest in these new Fellows and the cutting-edge research they're doing on behalf of children and young adults with cancer."


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

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