Baylor College of Medicine News

Foundation supports childhood cancer research at Baylor College of Medicine

Three childhood cancer researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Cancer Center have received almost $700,000 in support from the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

Their awards were part of more than $22.5 million in new grants to support the best in pediatric oncology research in the United States. Including foreign beneficiaries, the total funds awarded globally exceed $23 million.

The three awardees were:

Dr. Wendy Allen Rhoades, clinical postdoctoral fellow in pediatrics ­ hematology/oncology, received a St. Baldrick's Fellow award for her project to develop a blood test that can detect osteosarcoma and determine if it has spread. This test will be more sensitive and easier to use than current methods and may ultimately help improve the survival of children with osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is a bone cancer that affects children, adolescents and young adults. Patients have better survival if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

Fellow Awards are two- to three-year grants given to early-career doctors for research as they train to become the next generation of pediatric oncology researchers.

Dr. Maria Monica Gramatges, assistant professor of pediatrics ­ hematology/oncology, received a St. Baldrick's Scholar award for research investigating characteristics of children and young adults with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) who are at risk for severe treatment-related toxicities. Defects in telomerase genes predispose children to developing AML and are also associated with specific bone marrow, liver and lung complications. Gramatges is screening AML patients for underlying defects in these genes and determining if presence of a telomerase defect is associated with severely depressed blood counts as well as liver and lung toxicities. This could lead to modifications to therapy and closer monitoring for affected individuals.

Dr. Jason Yustein, assistant professor of pediatrics ­ hematology/oncology, received an extended St. Baldrick's Scholar award that provides continued support for his research investigating the role of the oncogene c-Myc in Ewing's sarcoma, osteosarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma. Many malignancies have abnormal c-Myc expression and activity, leading to genetic and molecular changes critical to tumor survival and growth. Understanding these critical molecular events will provide much needed insights into sarcoma biology and lead to novel therapeutic interventions.

Scholar Awards are funded for three to five years to help young researchers continue work on novel research.

This round of funding from St. Baldrick's Foundation also included more than $6.1 million to support the cooperative research of the Children's Oncology Group, which comprises more than 200 research institutions across the U.S. and around the world, including the Texas Children's Cancer Center.

"The funding provided by the St. Baldrick's Foundation is critically important to the ongoing research efforts of the Children's Oncology Group that are directed toward finding a cure for childhood cancer," said Dr. Susan Blaney, professor of pediatrics ­ hematology/oncology at BCM and vice chair of the Children's Oncology Group. "Likewise, the fellow and scholar awards received by BCM/Texas Children's Cancer Center investigators are of great importance in ensuring that there is are expertly trained researchers in the field of pediatric oncology. The research discoveries made by these young investigators will ultimately benefit children in Houston, as well as in all of the COG sites across the world."

The Texas Children's Cancer Center is a joint program of Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital. It is the pediatric program of BCM's NCI-designated Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center.