St. Baldrick’s Foundation Awards One-of-a-Kind Grant to Aid in Childhood Cancer Research Discovery: St. Baldrick’s Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award provides scientists opportunity to pursue unrestricted research
NEW ORLEANS (May 3, 2019) – Research funding often has restrictions and may not provide a scientist with an opportunity to truly explore beyond the parameters of the grant that supports their work. However, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award allows researchers to do just that with the hopes that the freedom will lead to breakthroughs in the treatment of childhood cancers. This year’s U.S. or Canada recipients are Dr. Mads Daugaard of the University of British Columbia and the Vancouver Prostate Centre at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and Dr. Adam Shlien of the Genetics and Genome Biology program at the Research Institute of The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology at the University of Toronto.
Dr. Mads Daugaard and Dr. Adam Shlien will each receive $125,000 a year for three years, with no research restrictions except to report on their results every six months. The award was presented before their peers at the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology (ASPHO) in New Orleans today.
Dr. Daugaard founded a new field of cancer research that targets solid tumors with targeted therapies. His approach is to identify and exploit secondary modifications of proteins as targets for novel experimental immunotherapies.
“It is time to think out of the box and try something new and unconventional,” said Dr. Daugaard. “My team focuses on identification, characterization, and exploitation of glycosaminoglycans (GAG) and other secondary modifications of proteins as therapeutic and diagnostic targets in solid tumors. My ambition is to develop my newly established research field on cancer-associated protein modifications in childhood solid tumor biology.”
Dr. Daugaard’s team recently discovered that most solid pediatric and adult tumors re-express a unique type of GAG that is normally restricted to the placenta. He also discovered that an evolutionarily conserved malaria protein could be harnessed to target various types of childhood and adult cancers.
“Research progress on how to target pediatric solid tumors with targeted therapies, especially in the context of metastatic disease, remains a tremendous challenge,” Dr. Daugaard said. Directing our attention to how proteins are modified in high-risk pediatric cancers may offer access to an untapped reservoir of potential targetable structures that are inherently difficult to identify by conventional sequencing-based discovery methods.
The second recipient of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award is also doing groundbreaking work on tumors. Regarded as a leader in his field, Dr. Shlien looks at the genetic history of a tumor and uses this history as well as the overall pattern of mutations to help determine how best to treat a child’s cancer.
In 2017, Dr. Shlien co-led a game-changing study which suggests there could be a day when cancers are not classified by their origin, but rather by the specific genetic mutations they carry.
“It is difficult to predict how a tumor will change, how it will respond and whether it will recur, if one does not understand why or how it developed in the first place,” said Dr. Shlien. “As Co-director of the SickKids Cancer Sequencing program, the objective of my group has been to understand the genesis of pediatric cancers by studying the mutations that arose long before the patient’s cancer was clinically detected.”
Research done by Dr. Shlien’s team has recently found that understanding the development of a child’s tumor can aid in diagnosis of a patient, become a predictor of prognosis, and help determine rational therapeutic approaches.
“We have already seen that our approach has the potential to benefit children with relapsed cancer. This award will help my team push forward to realizing this potential for patients and will support us to broadly explore the key processes of tumor initiation and progression,” added Dr. Shlien.
This one-of-a-kind award was created in memory of renowned oncologist Dr. Robert J. Arceci. Although cancer research has continued to progress, many don’t realize that researchers are very restricted when it comes to exploring new discoveries or having the freedom to switch gears to follow a new path once they’ve received funding for a project. Dr. Arceci was known for thinking outside the box: he believed great advancements in childhood cancer could be made if brilliant young researchers were given the ability to explore scientific interests without the constraints of normal grant mechanisms.
Before his sudden death in 2015, Dr. Arceci was working with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation on a type of funding that would do just that. Now, four years later, his legacy lives on through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award – one of the most unique and impactful initiatives in pediatric cancer funding.
All nominations were reviewed by a committee made up of experts as far away as Paris and Hong Kong, including leaders of ASPHO, which advances research, education, treatment, and professional practice in support of pediatric hematology/oncology professionals dedicated to the optimal care of children, adolescents and young adults with blood disorders and cancer, the Children’s Oncology Group and the International Society of Paediatric Oncology.
About St. Baldrick’s Foundation
As the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation is leading the charge to take childhood back from cancer. St. Baldrick’s funds some of the most brilliant childhood cancer research experts who are working to find cures and better treatments for all childhood cancers. Kids need treatments as unique as they are – and that starts with funding research just for them. Join us at StBaldricks.org to help support the best childhood cancer research, no matter where it takes place.
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