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Four young pediatric cancer research fellows earn $1 million in new awards

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New York, NY (July 21, 2016) – 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 nearly $1 million 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 $248,000. Since 2012, this award has supported eighteen innovative pediatric cancer researchers who were selected through a highly competitive process that includes evaluation by a prestigious committee of pediatric oncologists from the leading cancer centers in the U.S.

"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 Professor of Pediatrics and Pathology at New York University Langone Medical Center. "The program provides critically needed support for high quality young investigators working on high impact translational research. 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, pediatric cancer research 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.

In 2012, the Sohn Conference Foundation, dedicated to curing pediatric cancers, partnered with the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the leading charity supporting innovative young cancer researchers, to establish the award. The Sohn Conference Foundation has committed over $2.2 million to the program to date. The award program continues to receive additional funding and recognition within the philanthropic community.

"I am inspired by Damon Runyon's commitment 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."

2016 Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellows

Challice L. Bonifant, MD, PhD, with her sponsor Pavan Reddy, MD, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is studying how best to direct the immune system to combat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a blood cancer of both children and adults. By specifically directing T immune cells to AML, she hopes to make therapy stronger and more effective, while also reducing toxicity. She is exploring the activity of T cells targeting multiple AML-specific antigens that do not affect normal cells. The ultimate goal of the work is to develop new strategies to treat AML.

Michael A. Koldobskiy, MD, PhD, with his sponsor Andrew P. Feinberg, MD, at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, studies the ways that cancer cells rely on "epigenetic" modifications, or chemical marks that modify the expression of genes without a change in the genetic sequence itself. Variability of epigenetic marks allows cancer cells flexibility in turning genes on and off, and may account for resistance to treatment. By dissecting the mechanisms of epigenetic modification in pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common cancer in children, he aims to identify new targets for treatment.

Tamara P. Miller, MD, with her sponsor Richard Aplenc, MD, PhD, at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, focuses on improving how the side effects of leukemia treatment are reported. Currently toxicities of cancer treatment for patients enrolled on clinical trials are identified through manual review of the medical record, but prior work has shown that this method of identification leads to under-reporting of side effects. She aims to develop a new method that uses electronic medical record data to identify and report toxicities during treatment for leukemia. Her goals are to show that this new method is more accurate than the current system used in clinical trials, and to apply this method to describe the true rates of toxicities of leukemia therapy.

Cara A. Rabik, MD, PhD, with her sponsor Patrick A. Brown, MD, at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, is examining how mutations in the WT1 gene result in methylation changes in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). WT1 recruits the machinery necessary for demethylation to its target genes, ultimately regulating gene expression. When WT1 is mutated, these genes remain methylated and inactive, preventing normal hematopoiesis. She is identifying WT1 target genes and mapping their methylation landscape both in leukemic and normal settings. She will also test drugs designed to cause demethylation to evaluate if these drugs can treat the leukemia caused by mutations in WT1.

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About The Sohn Conference Foundation

The Sohn Conference Foundation is dedicated to the treatment and cure of pediatric cancer and other childhood diseases. The Foundation supports cutting-edge medical research, state-of-the-art research equipment, and innovative programs to ensure that children with cancer survive and thrive. The Foundation raises its funds through premier investment conferences and special events, including its renowned annual New York Sohn Investment Conference.

Founded in 1995, the Conference honors the memory of Ira Sohn, a Wall Street Professional who lost his battle with cancer at age 29. The Foundation has expanded its reach to include the Sohn Canada Conference, Sohn Hong Kong Conference, Sohn India Conference, Sohn London Conference, Sohn San Francisco Conference, and Sohn Tel Aviv Conference. To date, the Foundation has raised $70 million. More information on the Sohn Investment Conference is available at http://www.sohnconference.org

About the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation

To accelerate breakthroughs, the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation provides today's best young scientists with funding to pursue innovative research. Twelve scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, seven have received National Medals of Science, and 71 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the science "Hall of Fame."

Since its founding in 1946, Damon Runyon has invested over $300 million and funded over 3,500 young scientists. 100% of all donations to the Foundation are used to support cutting-edge scientific research. Its administrative and fundraising costs are paid from Damon Runyon Broadway Tickets and its endowment. For more information, visit http://www.damonrunyon.org.

Media Contact

Yung S. Lie, Ph.D.
[email protected]
212-455-0521

https://www.damonrunyon.org/

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