Hyundai Hope on Wheels on Tuesday presented Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientist Dr. Cecilia Yeung with a $250,000 Hyundai Scholar Hope Grant. The ceremony on the Fred Hutch campus welcomed scientists, Hyundai dealers from across the Puget Sound area, children with cancer and their families and a special guest: Seattle Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright.
Yeung will use the two-year grant to study pediatric acute leukemia, or AL, the most common cancer in children. Last year, more than 5,000 U.S. children were diagnosed with the disease. Her work will aim to provide a test to diagnose AL at an earlier stage and better treat patients with personalized medicine.
“We are developing a one-of-a-kind, off-the-shelf test,” Yeung said. “I hope this will be a game changer for how we diagnose and treat pediatric acute leukemia."
The diagnostic test will be designed as an affordable option, similar to over-the-counter pregnancy tests. Yeung said it will guide personalized medicine by targeting a patient’s specific gene rearrangements and, hopefully, improve the clinical standard of care.
The event kicked off with words from Yeung, Pacific Northwest Hyundai representatives, and Wright, who voiced their support for the research, and patients and families battling childhood cancer.
Local childhood cancer patients marked the occasion by dipping their hands in paint and leaving their handprints on the foundation’s “hero vehicle,” a white 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe parked in front of Fred Hutch’s Thomas Building. The car will travel the country to help raise awareness of childhood cancers such as AL.
Many pediatric AL cases have detectable chromosomal rearrangements that allow for confirmation of the disease and provide prognostic information that can be used to guide therapy. However, the technology to detect these arrangements is costly and time-consuming. Delays are strongly suggested as contributing factors to early death in patients with AL. Earlier diagnosis could translate to real-time information in critical clinical settings, reduced time in the hospital and, ultimately, lives saved, according to Yeung.
Her award coincides with National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, during which Hyundai Hope On Wheels will award 40 research grants totaling $8.5 million to institutions nationwide. The organization has donated over $130 million since joining the fight against pediatric cancer in 1998. Overall, Hyundai Hope On Wheels has awarded more than $2.5 million to support Fred Hutch research.
“September is a special time for all of us at Hyundai because it’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time when we honor the courageous children battling cancer while also funding the doctors and researchers that are working tirelessly to provide care and develop new treatments,” said Scott Fink, chairman of the Hyundai Hope On Wheels board of directors. “Throughout the month we will share stories of the brave children battling cancer through our campaign theme called ‘Every Handprint Tells A Story’ and invite the public to join our fight.”