2021 Research Grantee Announcement

Dr. Amy Pass is a pediatrician at North Texas Pediatrics in Dallas, Texas.  Dr Pass was raised in Memphis, Tennessee, where her father was the chairman of Radiological Sciences, then Chief Medical Officer, at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital for almost 3 decades.  Inspired by her father’s incredible passion and lifelong career in caring for children with cancer, Dr. Pass began her career in medicine after completing her undergraduate degree with a BA in Human Biology from the University of Pennsylvania.  She attended medical school at the University of Tennessee, and then after completion of medical school, she married her husband, Steven Pass, and moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she completed her pediatric residency.  Moving to Texas in 2005 seemed like a very far move, but it was worth it for the fellowship training in pediatric hematology and oncology that Dr. Pass completed at Texas Children’s Hospital and Texas Children’s Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  It was there that Dr. Pass developed an interest in neuroblastoma, beginning to understand the complexity of the disease and witness the daily battles of her patients and their families.  Upon completion of her fellowship, Dr. Pass relocated to Dallas, Texas in 2009 to begin her first position as a faculty member at UT Southwestern and Children’s Health Cancer and Blood Disorder Center, with a specific focus in neuroblastoma.  Dr. Pass loved her time with her patients and knew this was her calling, although her job left very little time for her 3 young children.  Therefore, Dr. Pass rerouted her career back to general pediatrics and has enjoyed many years now as a pediatrician.  The unlikely happenstance of her meeting Joy Cruse in Dallas one day 8 years ago was truly meant-to-be, according to Dr. Pass.  Through her involvement in TeamConnor and background and experience in pediatric oncology, she is able to lead the medical advisory board and provide insight into the direction of TeamConnor’s focus and funding.

What an incredible accomplishment this year to be able to fund 10 brilliant grants for pediatric cancer research.  As quoted by author Robert Collier, “success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.”  We look forward to seeing the successful research work of these extraordinary scientists, and we appreciate their tireless efforts to improve the outcome of children with cancer.

1) Dr. Tara O’Donohue at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York will be conducting a clinical trial for pediatric patients with relapsed neuroblastoma.  Neuroblastoma is an aggressive cancer in young children in which treatment is extensive and long-term survival is less than 50%.  This trial will use a new investigational drug, carefully designed to avoid the ways in which cancer cells become resistant to treatment, and additionally to target secondary pathways that could slow the tumor’s growth.  This phase I study will combine the new investigational drug with conventional chemotherapy, in attempts to improve the effectiveness of treatment and bolster patient’s responses.

2) Dr. Kelsey Bertrand at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston will investigate the role of new treatments for ependymoma, an aggressive type of pediatric brain tumor that is standardly treated with surgery and radiation, but resistant to chemotherapy.  Most patients experience relapse and there are very few treatment options available upon relapse.  Dr. Bertrand will study a cell marker, HER2, which is found in most ependymoma tumors.  With a new drug to target HER2, this research will likely lead to a new clinical trial and the hope of improved treatment for relapsed ependymoma.  

3) Dr. Jason Yustein at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas is researching improved treatments for Ewing Sarcoma and Rhabdomyosarcoma, two of the most common types of pediatric solid tumor sarcomas.  Usually, these sarcoma tumors are treated with chemotherapy, surgery and often radiation therapy.  However, most patients have a recurrence of their cancer which leads to very poor outcomes.  Studying the treatment benefit of targeting specific cancer cell pathways, specific to rhabdomyosarcoma and ewing’s sarcoma will lead to new potential therapeutic options and clinical trials for patients with relapsed sarcomas.

4) Dr. Chandrika Gowda at Penn State Cancer Institute will investigate a new drug for the treatment of AML, the second most common type of leukemia in children, with unacceptably dire survival rates.  AML patients usually receive intense chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplant.  There is still a high rate of recurrence.  Dr. Gowda will study a new drug that targets one of the proteins of aggressive AML tumors.  Using this drug, CX-4945, will allow for lower doses of the standard chemotherapy, which will be very damaging to the heart, and also show improved efficacy for AML treatment. 

5) Dr. Esther Berko at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia will be working to develop a novel type of liquid biopsy for patients with neuroblastoma.  Currently, patients must be re-evaluated by scans and tumor tissue at frequent intervals to determine their response to treatment.  If there was a way to draw a simple blood test that could alleviate the need for these frequent scans and procedures, this could improve our measurement of residual disease AND greatly improve the quality of life of these young patients.  Dr. Berko and Dr. Mosse will design a deep sequence capture panel to serve as a biomarker of tumor response and also show remission on a molecular level.  If successful, this could greatly decrease the need for frequent scans and surgeries for young patients.  

6) Dr. Ernesto Flores-Diaz at the University of California San Francisco is investigating an aggressive type of pediatric ALL, which is resistant to conventional treatment with chemotherapy and stem cell transplant.  This type of ALL, known as hypodiploid B-ALL, is known to have a specific pattern of tumor protein expression.  Dr Flores Diaz has hypothesized that targeting this altered protein in leukemia with a new protein inhibitor will reduce the cell turnover and growth, therapy disrupting the tumor progression.  This drug has been promising in other leukemia types and is very likely to show success in hypodiploid ALL as well.  

7) Dr. Mignon Loh at the University of California at San Francisco is researching JMML, juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia,, an aggressive type of leukemia that affects babies and toddlers.  Standard treatment consists of chemotherapy and stem cell transplant, which can have serious short term and long term effects in these young children.  Dr. Loh has studied the tumor characteristics of JMML for years, and based on this she has created a risk-stratification for JMML that will provide optimal therapy for JMML patients, for which low risk patients will have less toxic therapy by receiving 2 targeted immunotherapy drugs only, and high risk patients receive 2 targeted immunotherapy agents, chemotherapy and stem cell transplant.  This type of plan for JMML may revolutionize the treatment for these young patients, while minimizing their side effects.

8) Dr. Richard Lu at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is conducting research to advance the treatment of medulloblastoma, the most common type of childhood brain tumor.  Medulloblastoma requires treatment with surgery, radiation therapy, and often chemotherapy.  Frequently, the tumor recurs or the treatment causes long term effects (due to the impact of intensive treatment on a young child’s growing brain). Dr. Lu is investigating the use of proton therapy (pencil beam scanning that allows for precise treatment while sparing healthy surrounding tissues).  Specifically, FLASH proton therapy would deliver a very precise high dose rate, with the goal of minimizing side effects while improving treatment outcomes.  In addition, he will evaluate the effectiveness of adding radiation-sensitive immunotherapy, to enhance treatment effect for medulloblastoma.  This preclinical work will hopefully soon lead to clinical trials. 

9) Dr. Erin Butler at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Health Cancer and Blood Disorders in Dallas, Texas is researching improved treatments for patients with rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in pediatric patients.  In order to improve treatment failure and relapse, newer targeted drugs are needed.  One such new drug will inhibit a specific sarcoma protein found in a common type of rhabdomyosarcoma, and hopefully inhibit tumor growth first in laboratory studies.  Combined with chemotherapy, an enhanced effect is likely to improve the tumor response, leading to improved outcomes for young patients once this investigation reaches clinical trials.

10) Dr. Meaghan Granger at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas is conducting clinical trials using Cellular Immunotherapy for several types of pediatric cancer, including leukemias and solid tumors.  In these ongoing studies, a specific type of T cell is removed from the patient, genetically reprogrammed to target cell surface markers on the cancer cells, and then returned back to the patient.  These chimeric antigen receptors (CAR T cells) then attack the cancer cells by way of recognizing the cell surface marker.  This therapy has been highly successful in many types of cancers and will hopefully continue to offer improved treatment outcomes in numerous types of aggressive pediatric tumors.  

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Did You Know

Building awareness of childhood cancer is critical to funding and finding a cure. To help, please consider sharing teamconnor.org on your Facebook.

Today, 46 children will be diagnosed with cancer.  Seven will lose their battle.

Did you know September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!

Every day in America, approximately 46 children are diagnosed with cancer.

Childhood cancer does not discriminate, sparing no ethnic group, socio-economic class, or geographic region.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common soft tissue sarcoma in children, accounting for about 3% of childhood cancers.

On average, 1 in every 4 elementary schools has a child with cancer.

About one-third of childhood cancers are leukemias.

Childhood cancer survival rates in the United States have increased from less than 20% in the 1960s to almost 80% today.

Cancer kills more children each year than Asthma, Cystic Fibrosis, Diabetes, and Pediatric AIDS combined.

Childhood cancer is not one disease entity, but rather a spectrum of different malignancies. Cancers found in children are biologically different from those seen in adults.

1 in 300 children will develop cancer before age 20.

Neuroblastoma is the most common extra cranial solid tumor cancer in children.

Today, up to 75% of the children with cancer can be cured, yet, some forms of childhood cancers have proven so resistant to treatment that, in spite of research, a cure is illusive.

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