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Baylor College of Medicine News

Grant funds research into connection between birth defects, childhood cancer

Dr. Philip Lupo of Baylor College of Medicine has been awarded an Epidemiology Grant from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for his research that explores the intersection between childhood cancer and birth defects.

“Being born with a congenital malformation, even if it is relatively minor, is one of the strongest risk factors for developing childhood cancer. In spite of this, very little is known about why these conditions overlap,” said Lupo, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and Texas Children’s Cancer Center. “The Alex’s Lemonade Stand Epidemiology Grant will give us the unique opportunity to build a multi-state resource for exploring the molecular underpinnings of these conditions, which we hope will improve cancer screening and prevention efforts.”

Lupo was one of four U.S. researchers to receive an Epidemiology Grant, which are designed to support research focused on the causes of childhood cancer as well as early detection and prevention. The grant provides $200,000 over two years.

An estimated 7.9 million children worldwide are born with a congenital malformation per year, so the public health implications of identifying why some of these children develop cancer are substantial, Lupo said. However, identifying birth defect-childhood cancer patterns, as well as the underlying reason for these patterns, is challenging because large population-based studies with biological samples do not exist. 

Many states have active surveillance programs and registries for both birth defects and childhood cancer. This study will access the registries from three states – Texas, North Carolina and Utah. These states follow similar protocols in their registry system and will also allow researchers to capture diverse populations, including Hispanics, Caucasians and non-Hispanic blacks.

“The advantage to using these registries is that they provide information on the entire population in a state. This will give us an unbiased look at previously unidentified patterns that exist between certain birth defects and childhood cancer, and an opportunity to recruit families for future studies to determine the role of genetics in these complex conditions.” For this project, Lupo will collaborate with Drs. Sharon Plon and Will Parsons, who are both cancer genetics researchers at Baylor.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation was started by the parents of Alexandra “Alex” Scott, a childhood cancer patient who started her own lemonade stand to raise money for research. Learn more about the nonprofit organization at www.alexlemonade.org.