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Sohn Conference and Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundations name first pediatric research fellows

New York, NY (July 16, 2012) The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation and the Sohn Conference Foundation have named three outstanding young scientists as the first-ever Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Research Fellows, committing more than half a million dollars to help address a critical shortage of funding for pediatric cancer research.

The Sohn Conference Foundation, dedicated to curing pediatric cancers, announced in January 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.

July 2012 Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellows

Lara E. Davis, MD, with her sponsor Charles Keller, MD, at Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon, seeks to develop individualized, molecularly-targeted cancer therapy for osteosarcoma, a disease that accounts for only 2% of all pediatric cancers but is responsible for over 8% of all pediatric cancer deaths. She will establish primary cell cultures of osteosarcoma tumor samples from patients and identify genetic pathways in each individual sample that can be targeted with therapeutic agents. She will also use computer modeling to design drug combinations that may prevent the development of drug resistance. The goal of the proposed project is to improve osteosarcoma survival while decreasing therapy-related toxicity.

Angela J. Sievert, MD, with her sponsor John M. Maris, MD, at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is committed to developing more effective treatments for the many children diagnosed with brain tumors each year. Brain tumors are the leading cause of cancer-related death in children. Mutations in BRAF, an oncogene that can drive cancer growth, are prevalent in pediatric astrocytomas. By studying how mutated BRAF can be targeted by the newest classes of cancer drugs, she hopes to understand why and how these tumors develop in children and which treatments might work best.

Leo Wang, MD, PhD, with his sponsor Amy J. Wagers, PhD, at Dana-Farber Cancer Insitute, Boston, Massachusetts, studies leukemia, which is caused by rapidly and inappropriately dividing blood cells. These quickly proliferating cells derive from leukemia stem cells (LSCs) that are present only in very low numbers and are highly resistant to conventional chemotherapy. The persistence of LSCs is a large part of why high-risk leukemias such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML) are difficult to treat and often fatal. His research focuses on finding the activated protein circuits that are specific to and responsible for the development of LSCs. His goal is to understand what makes LSCs different from normal blood stem cells, and to use that knowledge to develop new and innovative therapies for childhood blood cancers.

"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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