Gaining Momentum in the fight against Childhood Cancer

  • Published: September 25, 2017

In its November 2016 round of approvals, CPRIT awarded seven childhood cancer grants totaling $8,035,738. Three research projects at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center create a unique opportunity for scientific collaboration. Dr. Kalkunte Srivenugopal will use a $1.2 million grant to study childhood brain cancer. Dr. Min Kang will put a $1.1 million grant to work by focusing on neuroblastoma – a type of cancer that starts in early forms of nerve cells found in an embryo or fetus – and on the same subject, Dr. Charles Reynolds will be utilizing a $1 million grant.

This kind of investment can lead to other funding. In August 2016, UT Southwestern was awarded a National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant of $11 million, receiving the prestigious SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) designation. A first-of-its-kind, and now only one of two in the U.S., this kidney research program was catalyzed by a number of CPRIT grants since 2010 supporting a diverse group of kidney cancer investigators. NCI awarded UT Southwestern follow-on funding for the work being done by James Amatruda, M.D., Ph.D and Joshua Mendell, M.D., Ph.D. The pair has already discovered a new subtype of childhood kidney cancer characterized by mutations in the DROSHA gene which could lead to new, less toxic treatments.

While UT Southwestern’s kidney cancer SPORE also focuses on adult cancer, it is the only SPORE addressing childhood kidney cancer in the nation. Kidney cancer is particularly prevalent in Texas and despite remarkable advances in treatments it remains largely incurable. In children, kidney cancer (Wilms tumor) is remarkably different than adult kidney cancer and is curable in the majority of patients. However, the treatment involves chemotherapy and often leaves lifelong debilitating effects.

CPRIT Chief Science Officer, Dr. Jim Willson said, "Getting new drugs to the clinic to treat kids with cancer begins by recognizing the many fundamental differences between childhood cancers and adult cancers. That’s a challenge CPRIT funding is taking on and, over time, will make an enormous difference for a class of patients often overlooked by research dollars."