Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Cancer Center and Center for Cell and Gene Therapy researcher Dr. Stephen Gottschalk has received a $250,000 Innovation Award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to support his work to find innovative new treatments for childhood cancer.

Gottschalk’s Innovation Award will support his research on cancer treatments using immunotherapy. While this is a promising treatment approach, Gottschalk, professor of pediatrics, said the body's immune defenses against cancers often fail because the cancers do not induce or actively inhibit immunity. 

Immunotherapy with genetically modified T cells has the potential to improve outcomes for children with cancer. Gottschalk’s research team recently developed a new class of tumor-specific T cells, Engager T cells, that not only recognize tumor cells, but also redirect bystander T cells to tumors. This was achieved by genetically modifying T cells to secrete bispecific T cell engagers. However, Gottschalk says, cancer patients also have a large reservoir of natural killer (NK) cells that could be harnessed to destroy malignant cells. His team now has developed an approach that not only redirect T cells but also NK cells to blood cancers.

“In this innovation award we will now optimize the antitumor activity of T cells that redirect T and NK cells to tumor cells and will test them in preclinical models that closely mimic human disease,” said Gottschalk. 

Innovation Grants are designed to provide critical and significant seed funding for experienced investigators with a novel and promising approach to finding causes and cures for childhood cancers. These grants are part of more than $8.5 million in new medical research grants awarded by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation in 2014. The foundation is dedicated to finding cures for all kids with cancer by support research into new treatments and cures.

Texas Children’s Cancer Center is a joint program of Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital and the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy is a joint program of Baylor, Texas Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist.