BCM researchers make impact on children's cancer with help from CPRIT grants

Oct. 1, 2011

Dr. Lisa Wang and Dr. David Poplack, both of BCM and Texas Children’s Cancer Center, are leading research funded by CPRIT.
Dr. Lisa Wang and Dr. David Poplack, both of BCM and Texas Children’s Cancer Center, are leading research funded by CPRIT.

Doctors and researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Children's Cancer Center have received multiple grants from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) since the nonprofit organization was established in Texas two years ago and already the support has had a significant impact.

Dr. David Poplack, professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology at BCM and director of the Texas Children's Cancer Center, was joined by colleagues, patients and their families and CPRIT representatives Sept. 30, the last day of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, to highlight the programs funded by the statewide organization.

"Today, at the conclusion of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, it is fitting that we hear how Texas Children's Cancer Center is changing the way cancer is diagnosed and treated and provide information about the impact our mutual efforts are making," Poplack said.

Survival Rate Increase

He noted that there has been a dramatic increase in the survival rate of children with cancer over the last 60 years – from about 10 percent in the 1950s and 60s to more than 80 percent for some cancers today. However, cancer is still the leading cause of death by disease in children.
"We still have a long way to go to get to our ultimate goal of finding a cure for all children with cancer," Poplack said. "And while it is an exciting time for research, we are held back by the lack of federal funding. That's why we are so excited about CPRIT and the opportunity it gives us to compete for grant funding for our research and other important programs."

Passport for Care

Dr. Poplack was the recipient of a $953,000 CPRIT prevention grant for a program he developed called Passport for Care. The Internet-based program provides physicians with customized recommendations for survivors' follow-up care based on their treatment history. It is an important tool, Poplack said, because many childhood cancer survivors don't remember their treatment and physicians they see later in life often aren't familiar with cancer treatment.

Dr. ZoAnne Dreyer, former patient Laura Runkle, and CPRIT Executive Director Bill Gimson discuss the impact of the CPRIT-funded Passport for Care program.
Dr. ZoAnn Dreyer, former patient Laura Runkle, and CPRIT Executive Director Bill Gimson discuss the impact of the CPRIT-funded Passport for Care program.

"Passport for Care is going to be a wonderful way for physicians who would otherwise be unfamiliar with my history to know about my cancer treatment so that I can get the long-term care I need," said Laura Runkle, a young professional who was diagnosed with leukemia at age 4 and treated at Texas Children's Cancer Center.

The CPRIT grant has allowed Passport for Care to be put in place at 12 children's cancer centers in Texas. In addition, the program has expanded to 27 Children's Oncology Group programs around the country, and within one year, Passport for Care will be in place at 50 percent of Children's Oncology Group institutions, of which there are about 200.

A second CPRIT grant was awarded to Poplack for osteosarcoma research led by Dr. Lisa Wang, associate professor of pediatrics – hematology/oncology at BCM and an oncologist at Texas Children's Cancer Center.

The $3.7 million grant over three years brings together experts in pediatric oncology, molecular cancer biology, genomics, proteomics, immunotherapy and cancer animal models from multiple institutions who are committed to studying and treating osteosarcoma, the most common bone cancer in children.

"The outcomes for this type of cancer have remained stagnant for many years at about 25 percent," Wang said, "so there is an urgent need for more effective and less toxic treatment."

The three-part project will use general novel mouse models to investigate critical genetic events important for metastasis (spreading of cancer to other organs in the body); use high-throughput sequencing to identify novel biomarkers of metastatic potential and to potentially identify new therapeutic targets; and will focus on immunotherapy to treat osteosarcoma. Specifically, it will evaluate the treatment potential of HER2-specific T-cells, which have been shown to have a potent anti-tumor effect in animal models. The protein HER2 is expressed in about 60 percent of osteosarcoma tumors.

Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 establishing CPRIT and authorizing the state to issue $3 billion in bonds to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas. CPRIT's goal is to expedite innovation and commercialization in the area of cancer research and to enhance access to evidence-based prevention programs and services throughout the state.

"CPRIT works everyday to eliminate the group of diseases known as cancer that will kill 40,000 Texans this year," said Bill Gimson, the organization's executive director.