In the News
Sarah Tasian Identifies Potential Therapies for Pediatric Leukemia Through Young Investigator Award-Funded Research
Results from a 2011 Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award (YIA) supported by the Strike 3 Foundation are bringing new hope for children with leukemia. Award recipient Sarah Tasian, MD, of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, presented the results today at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology demonstrating that two new targeted therapies may be promising for the treatment of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in high-risk patients with CRLF2 genetic rearrangement. The research presented was directly funded by the YIA that the Conquer Cancer Foundation awarded to Dr. Tasian at the prior year’s meeting.
ALL is the most common childhood cancer, but not all patients respond to the current standard therapy. Dr. Tasian is studying leukemias with CRLF2 genetic rearrangements, which generally respond poorly to current therapies and have high rates of relapse. In this study, she and her colleagues grew human leukemia cells in mice to test new targeted therapies. Two of the drugs studied, rapamycin and ruxolitinib, were able to reduce the number of leukemia cells in the animals. Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Tasian used a very sensitive assay called phosphoflow cytometry to determine exactly how the two therapies were working and to show that the therapies were attacking their intended targets inside the leukemia cells. Dr. Tasian describes her YIA project as “clinically and scientifically very important
for these patients” and as “high-risk, but potentially leading to good rewards.”
These results are important for patient care because the data are informing the design of a phase II clinical trial of ruxolitinib in pediatric leukemia patients that will test the drug’s efficacy in combination with intensive chemotherapy in children with relapsed ALL. (Dr. Tasian is currently involved in the Children’s Oncology Group’s phase I trial to test the safety of ruxolitinib in this population of patients. Ruxolitinib is already FDA-approved for the treatment of myelofibrosis in adults). Recent studies of drugs such as crizotinib, approved by the FDA in 2011, have demonstrated that when the mechanism of new a therapy is understood and clinical trials have been able to target the specific subgroup of patients who are likely respond, the trials can have a very high response rate and provide improved care for many patients.
Reflecting on the funding she received for these studies, Dr. Tasisan said, “I was very honored to receive the [Young Investigator] Award, and it really helped us to establish some of our early preclinical studies that will hopefully provide a foundation for the next clinical trial.” She credits the Conquer Cancer Foundation for “helping young investigators launch their careers in groundbreaking research” and the Strike 3 Foundation for recognizing “a huge need in research funding for pediatric oncology.”
Dr. Tasian was the first Conquer Cancer Foundation YIA recipient supported by the Strike 3 Foundation, an organization founded by Major League Baseball player Craig Breslow whose sister is a pediatric cancer survivor. Strike 3′s mission is to heighten awareness, mobilize support, and raise funding for childhood cancer research. Of the grant’s success, Breslow said, “Strike 3 is extraordinarily proud that this grant led to immediate results with potential for meaningful clinical impact for children with ALL. Dr. Tasian’s important contribution validates the work that our organization is doing and our decision to fund research through a Young Investigator Award. Dr. Tasian clearly has a bright future ahead of her, and we are thrilled to be a part of this landmark accomplishment.
The Strike 3 Foundation is supporting two YIAs in pediatric oncology in 2012.
The mission of the Conquer Cancer Foundation is to conquer cancer worldwide by funding breakthrough cancer research and sharing cutting-edge knowledge. To learn more, please visit www.conquercancerfoundation.org. To learn more about the Strike 3 Foundation, please visit www.strike3foundation.org.
The Strike 3 Foundation heightens awareness, mobilizes support, and raises funding for childhood cancer research.
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