Photos by Susie Fitzhugh and Linsey Battan
Two Center scientists who research pediatric cancers have been awarded grants from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. Dr. Akiko Shimamura received a $100,000 research grant and Dr. Colleen Delaney received $500,000 to lead a consortium study. Both are part of the Clinical Research Division.
Shimamura treats pediatric cancer patients at Seattle Children’s and is a University of Washington associate professor of pediatrics. Her research focuses on inherited bone marrow failure syndromes, a group of disorders characterized by cancer predisposition. A common feature of many of the syndromes is impaired ribosome production or function. Ribosomes were thought to have only a housekeeping role in cells, but recent studies show that alterations in protein translation, resulting from ribosomal abnormalities, can promote cancer formation. Her research will evaluate how changes in ribosome function alter protein translation to promote pediatric cancer formation.
Delaney, who directs the Hutchinson Center’s research and clinical program in cord blood stem cell transplantation, will head a multi-institutional study to test potential new therapies to help patients overcome chemotherapy’s side effects. The intensive chemotherapy used to treat pediatric acute myelogenous leukemia often results in prolonged periods of extremely low white blood cell counts, which in turn is associated with a significant risk of death from infectious complications. Treatment-related mortality is as high as 20 percent in adolescents and young adults undergoing chemotherapy for AML.
"With the support of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, I hope to make it safer for children with leukemia to receive chemotherapy," Delaney said. "My hope is that the cells we are growing in the lab will give kids infection-fighting cells until their own cells come back."
Worldwide, more than 160,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year and it remains the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States. However, only 3 percent of all federal cancer research funding is dedicated to pediatric cancer research.
St. Baldrick’s, based in Southern California, awarded more than $19.6 million in new grants, bringing the total to more than $21 million awarded for this fiscal year. The grants, announced August 9, provide research funding for a wide variety of childhood cancers. Foundation funding is also used to conduct promising research, improve access to clinical trials and continue to provide support for the next generation of leading pediatric oncology researchers.
[Adapted from a St. Baldrick’s news release]