Hyundai Hope on Wheels presents Fred Hutch scientist with grant for childhood leukemia research

$300K Scholar Hope Grant will support Dr. Roland Walter’s research on acute myeloid leukemia
Dr. Roland Walter
Seattle-area pediatric cancer patients left their colorful handprints on Dr. Roland Walter's lab coat and a Hyundai Santa Fe during the "Every Handprint Tells a Story" ceremony at the Hutch on Tuesday. Photo by Connor O'Shaughnessy / Fred Hutch News Service

On Tuesday, Hyundai Hope on Wheels Foundation awarded Dr. Roland Walter, a clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, with a grant to support his leukemia research. He received the $300,000 Hyundai Hope Scholar Grant in a ceremony at Fred Hutch as part of Hyundai’s annual nationwide campaign to support pediatric cancer research during National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Young cancer patients, their families and Hyundai dealers from across Puget Sound came to the Fred Hutch campus to see Walter receive his award and honor patients and families battling childhood cancer. The presentation was commemorated by a “Every Handprint Tells a Story” ceremony during which Seattle-area pediatric cancer patients left their colorful paint handprints on Walter's lab coat and a white Hyundai Santa Fe to raise awareness for childhood cancer.

“Every Hyundai Hope on Wheels handprint tells a story in the fight against pediatric cancer,” said Tracey Kikawa, the senior manager for regional merchandising at Hyundai Motor America. “It reflects the idea that there are so many hands involved in the fight against pediatric cancer, from the patients, researchers, doctors, the staff, the parents and the family members.”

Walter will use the grant to further his research on acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, by specifically looking at how antibodies can be made most effective in killing AML cells. Currently, a drug known as Mylotarg (gemtuzumab ozogamicin) is used for the treatment of AML patients whose tumors express the CD33 antigen.

“Gemtuzumab ozogamicin prolongs survival in some children with AML but is ineffective in many others,” Walter said. He and his team have developed new CD33 antibodies and will investigate how they can be best used to kill AML cells. He hopes to use the results from his study to guide drug development and ultimately find a better treatment for patients with AML.

“We believe [these antibodies] will provide a novel form of immunotherapy that is better than existing therapies and effective in people in whom gemtuzumab ozogamicin does not work,” Walter said.

“At a time when federal funding is sort of stagnant … with research costs increased, there is an increased need for foundations such as Hope on Wheels to actually get us going, get us moving toward finding cures for cancer,” Walter said.

Eleven-year-old cancer patient Hana Mason, center.
A number of young cancer patients attended Tuesday's ceremony, including 11-year-old Hana Mason, center. Photo by Connor O'Shaughnessy / Fred Hutch News Service

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Hyundai Hope on Wheels Foundation, which by the end of September will provide 38 physician-scientists with a combined $14.1 million in grants across institutions nationwide to support pediatric cancer research.

In addition to Walter and Hyundai representatives providing remarks at the ceremony, Karli Mason, a local mother of an 11-year-old cancer patient, Hana Mason, expressed her gratitude for Hope on Wheels’ support of childhood cancer research.

“With everything [Hana] went through with chemo it gives me hope to think that in the future kids might not have to go through all of that. I’m so grateful to Hyundai for donating so much money to help other kids have healthier lives and better outcomes after having cancer,” she said.

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Jill Christensen, is a former media relations specialist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, and is a graduate of the University of Washington with a B.A. in journalism and psychology. Her experience has led her to pursue a career at the Hutch, combining her passion for health and science with her communication skills.

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