Campus & Community

Bridging the gap

3 min read

Three receive Bridge Grants to continue pediatric cancer research

Two Harvard pediatric cancer researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) and a scientist at Columbia University Medical Center have each received $100,000 Bridge Grants from a private foundation seeking to help make up for declining federal biomedical research funding.

The researchers, Harvard Medical School (HMS) Professor of Pediatrics Thomas Look and HMS Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Kimberly Stegmaier, and Columbia’s Adolfo Ferrando, each received high scores on recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant applications, but did not receive funding. The grants from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation are intended to support the scientists’ research for a 12-month period while they each reapply to NIH.

At Dana-Farber, Look is attempting to learn why first-line therapy for children with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) continues to fail in approximately 25 percent of children diagnosed. After the initial failure, these patients face a very poor prognosis, and Look’s team hopes to improve the targeted therapy of this high-risk subset of T-ALL patients.

“The successful completion of these studies will revolutionize therapy for this subset of children with high-risk T-ALL, which accounts for 62 percent of induction failures as well as 19 percent of relapses in pediatric T-ALL,” says Look.

Stegmaier, also at DFCI, is searching for new therapies for patients with Ewing sarcoma, a cancerous tumor that grows in bones or soft tissue near bones. Her team hopes to develop a generic strategy for identifying chemical modulators of the myriad of other difficult-to-target cancer-promoting proteins in pediatric malignancies.

Stegmaier said that the foundation’s Bridge funding will “enable initiating these discovery efforts, which in turn will provide a strong basis for seeking more extensive NIH grant support within 12 months.”

“These three researchers are all strong investigators, who in an ideal environment and with the right funding, will accomplish what they propose in their research plans,” says Jay Scott, co-executive director of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation and Alex’s dad. “With the amount of funding the NIH directs to childhood cancer continuing to be a concern, we want to be sure that their research moves forward, because the fact remains that children with cancer need new treatments now.”

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation’s mission is to support the development of better treatments and ultimately cures for children with cancer. The Bridge Grant program was developed because, the foundation says, childhood cancer is already receiving a low percentage of the NIH budget, and funding has been decreasing.