Two young scientists receive Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award

Children's Health

The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has named two outstanding young scientists as recipients of the Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award, committing nearly $500,000 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 totaling $231,000. Since 2012, this award has supported 33 innovative pediatric cancer researchers who were selected by a prestigious committee of leading pediatric oncologists in a highly competitive process.

These fellows have secured 42 additional research grants and prizes from the NIH and private funders, produced over 175 scientific publications, and have made breakthroughs changing the landscape of pediatric cancer research.

The program provides critically needed support for innovative young investigators working on high impact pediatric cancer research. We need their brilliant minds focused on curing childhood cancers,”

Andrew L. Kung, MD, PhD, Chair Person, Department of Pediatrics, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Kung is the Chair Person of the Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award Committee.

Because cancer occurs less frequently in children and young adults than in the adult population, pediatric cancer research does not receive significant funding from either the National Cancer Institute (only four percent of its budget) or the biopharmaceutical industry.

To help fill this gap, The Sohn Conference Foundation, dedicated to curing pediatric cancers, partnered with the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the leading charity supporting brave and bold young cancer researchers, to establish the award. The Sohn Conference Foundation has committed nearly $4.2 million to the program to date.

“Our Damon Runyon-Sohn fellows are committed to making daring discoveries in pediatric cancer pathology,” says Evan Sohn of The Sohn Conference Foundation. “We place our bets on funding bold and innovative ideas from emerging scientists, as they hold the promise of advancing treatment and cures for children with cancer.”

2020 Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellows

Kiara C. Eldred, PhD, with her sponsor Thomas Reh, PhD, at the University of Washington, Seattle, is focusing on retinoblastoma, a tumor of the eye that primarily occurs in children. She is developing three-dimensional tissue cultures that replicate the complexity of the human retina.

Using these retinal “organoid” models, Dr. Eldred will generate mutations of the retinoblastoma (RB1) gene in previously healthy tissue to observe the effects of different mutations on the formation and growth of retinoblastoma.

She hopes this will also shed light on the roles of tumor-causing oncogenes and tumor suppressors involved in retinoblastoma progression.

A deeper understanding of specific RB1 mutations may guide the prevention, diagnosis, and development of individualized treatment plans for patients with retinoblastoma and other cancers involving mutations in the RB1 pathway.

Anand G. Patel, MD, PhD, with his sponsor Michael A. Dyer, PhD, at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, studies rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a fast-growing childhood cancer that can spread from muscles to other parts of the body. Dr. Patel has discovered that each RMS tumor consists of different subpopulations of cells that mimic different stages of early muscle development.

He will characterize how chemotherapy or radiation therapy selects for specific subpopulations of resistant cancer cells that survive treatment within both patient tissue and in patient-derived models of cancer.

Using this information, Dr. Patel aims to test whether directing therapy against resistant cell subpopulations improves treatment outcomes. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to uncover novel therapeutic targets and drugs for the treatment of pediatric RMS.

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