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

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Damon Runyon and The Sohn Conference Foundations partner to cure cancers in children and young adults

New York, NY (July 16, 2019) – The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation has named four outstanding young scientists as recipients of the prestigious Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer 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 $231,000. Since 2012, this award has supported 31 innovative pediatric cancer researchers who were selected by a prestigious committee of leading pediatric oncologists in a highly competitive process.

“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,” says Andrew L. Kung, MD, PhD, Chair of the Damon Runyon-Sohn Pediatric Cancer Fellowship Award Committee, and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

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 $3.2 million to the program to date. The award program continues to receive additional funding and recognition within the philanthropic community.

“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.”

2019 Damon Runyon-Sohn Fellows


Jessie Brown, PhD [Candy and William Raveis Fellow]

Dr. Brown, with her mentor Adolfo A. Ferrando, MD, PhD, at Columbia University, New York, studies acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive leukemia and one of the most common malignancies in children and adolescents. Despite significant progress, relapse is associated with high rates of drug resistance and poor prognosis. As a result, relapsed ALL is the leading cause of cancer-related death in children. Dr. Brown will use large-scale genetic (DNA) and transcriptomic (RNA) data and leukemia animal models to dissect how a small number of ALL cells are able to escape the cytotoxic effects of chemotherapy. These cells then undergo genetic and epigenetic changes that allow them to generate resistance to chemotherapy and proliferate, causing relapse of this devastating childhood disease. Understanding this process may lead to novel therapeutic approaches for relapsed ALL.

Katherine E. Gadek, PhD

Dr. Gadek, with her sponsors Mark Hatley, MD, PhD, and Stacey Ogden, PhD, at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memphis, focuses on the Sonic Hedgehog (Shh) signaling pathway, which can be altered in rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) patients. RMS is the most common soft-tissue sarcoma in children, but survival rates and treatments for high-risk patients have not improved in three decades. Dr. Gadek will examine the timing of tumor development and the role of Shh signaling in tumor location and formation. This may lead to diagnostic markers and tools for identifying high-risk patients with altered Sonic Hedgehog signaling, which could improve treatment options and outcomes.

Zulekha A. Qadeer, PhD

Dr. Qadeer, with her sponsor William A. Weiss, MD, PhD, at the University of California, San Francisco, investigates the mechanisms underlying medulloblastoma (MB), the most common form of malignant brain tumors in children. Group 3 MB is a particularly aggressive subgroup, for which there are few actionable targets for therapies. Dr. Qadeer aims to understand how the genes and pathways regulated by the proteins MYC and TGF? mediate the transformation of neural precursor cells to malignant group 3 MB tumors. This work may also help elucidate tumor heterogeneity and resistance to current alkylating chemotherapies. The overall goal of this research is to identify more effective therapies to treat patients by targeting the mutations that drive tumor formation.

Peng Wu, MD, PhD

Dr. Wu, with her sponsor Roel Nusse, PhD, at Stanford University, Stanford, focuses on hepatoblastoma, the most common childhood liver malignancy and the cancer with the fastest growing incidence rate in children under the age of five years. Hepatoblastoma is characterized by a low overall mutational burden, but carries activating mutations in the Wnt signaling pathway. Using new techniques to culture cancer cells derived from patients, Dr. Wu aims to understand how abnormal Wnt activation drives cell proliferation and irregular differentiation in hepatoblastoma. The results of these studies may lead to new treatment strategies for liver cancer and other rare tumors.

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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 brave and bold research. Twelve scientists supported by the Foundation have received the Nobel Prize, seven have received National Medals of Science, and 79 have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the science “Hall of Fame.”

Since its founding in 1946, Damon Runyon has invested nearly $375 million and funded over 3,750 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.

About The Sohn Conference Foundation

The Sohn Conference Foundation is dedicated to the treatment and cure of pediatric cancer. The Sohn Conference 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 Sohn Conference Foundation raises its funds through premier investment conferences around the world, including the renowned annual Sohn Investment Conference in New York.

The Sohn Investment Conference honors the memory of Ira Sohn, a Wall Street Professional who lost his battle with cancer at age 29. His friends and family founded The Sohn Investment Conference in New York in 1995. Since then, investment leaders from across the globe have been inspired to launch partner Sohn Conferences to bring the financial community together for charitable causes. Sohn Conferences include Sohn Australia, Sohn Brazil, Sohn Canada, Sohn Geneva, Sohn Hong Kong, Sohn India, Sohn London, Sohn Monaco, Sohn San Francisco, and Sohn Tel Aviv. To date, The Foundation has raised more than $90 million. More information on The Sohn Investment Conference is available at http://www.sohnconference.org.

Media Contact
Yung S. Lie, PhD
[email protected]

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