Research and Training Grants in Childhood Cancer

The American Cancer Society funds scientists and medical professionals who research cancer or train at medical schools, universities, research institutes, and hospitals throughout the United States. We use a rigorous and independent peer review process to select the most innovative research projects and training proposals to fund. 

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Total Childhood Cancer Grants in Effect as of March 1, 2019

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Total Childhood Cancer Grant Funding in Effect as of March 1, 2019

Spotlight on Childhood Cancer Grantees

Here are some examples of the research areas and scientists the American Cancer Society funds. These investigators are working to find answers that will save more lives from childhood cancer and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.  

On the Trail of Immunotherapy to Treat Neuroblastoma in Kids

Grantee: Andras Heczey, MD
Institution: Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston
Focus Area: Leukemia, Immunology, and Blood Cell Development
Term: 1/1/2016 to 12/31/2019

Heczey’s goal is to improve treatment for children with neuroblastoma. It’s the 3rd most common cancer in children. Its current treatment causes significant short- and long-term side effects.

Heczey’s team works with immune cells in the blood called Natural Killer T-lymphocytes (NKTs). NKTs attack noncancerous cells that allow a neuroblastoma tumor to grow. In previous studies, Heczey’s team showed that they can engineer an NKT to kill cancer cells by adding a molecule to it called CAR.GD2. Together, as CAR-NKT, this cancer-targeting molecule kills both cancer cells and the cells that help them grow.

With his grant, Heczey and his team will test their engineered NKTs in children with neuroblastoma for the first time in a phase 1 clinical trial. If this treatment proves to be safe and effective, it could change the lives of kids with neuroblastoma, and ultimately for kids and adults with other types of cancer. Heczey's research is being funded by TODAY show viewers through the “Shine a Light” campaign and subsidized by the American Cancer Society.

To learn more, read: New Hope for Kids with Neuroblastoma.

Seeking a New Treatment for Neuroblastoma Targeting the Gene JMJD6

Grantee: Jun Yang, PhD
Institution: St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee
Focus Area: Tumor Biology and Genomics
Term: 7/1/2017 to 6/30/2021

Neuroblastoma is the most common type of cancer in infancy. There have been significant improvements in outcome for children with less severe disease. But less than 40% of children with more severe neuroblastoma survive, even after several types of intensive treatment.

Yang wants to improve outcomes for all children with neuroblastoma. His research team is studying the gene JMJD6. There are often multiple copies (called amplification) of JMJD6 in neuroblastoma and many other types of cancer. Yang’s team is testing JMJD6 to see if it is a viable target for a new anti-cancer drug. He aims to find a new therapeutic target for neuroblastoma and make a case to develop drugs directed at JMJD6 in cancer treatment.

Yang hopes this study will also benefit other types of cancers that have JMJD6 amplification.

New Combination Targeted Therapies for Neuroblastoma and Ewing’s Sarcoma in Children

Grantee: Anthony Faber, PhD
Institution: Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia
Focus Area: Cancer Drug Discovery
Term: 7/1/2016 to 6/30/2020

Targeted therapies have revolutionized how cancer is treated. They can be less toxic because they home in on specific proteins in a cell. So far, none of these drugs can treat 2 deadly childhood cancers, neuroblastoma and Ewing’s sarcoma. Faber’s research aims to fill this treatment gap.

Neuroblastoma is the leading cause of cancer deaths in children ages 1 to 4. In earlier lab studies, Faber’s team combined 2 drugs for a targeted therapy that kills neuroblastoma cells. In mice, the drug combo shrunk tumors, and in some instances, cured mice of cancer. The mice also didn’t show any overt signs of toxicity. That suggests these drugs may be well tolerated by children with neuroblastoma.

Using a similar strategy, Faber’s team developed a combination targeted therapy for Ewing sarcoma, a deadly cancer that affects children and teens. With their grant, they will further develop these drugs. By testing them in mice, they intend to provide preclinical justification for human clinical trials.

Early Studies to Find Effective Treatment for Certain Unremovable Brain Tumors in Kids

Grantee: Oren Becher, MD
Institution: Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois
Focus Area: Tumor Biology and Genomics
Term: 1/1/2017 to 12/31/2020

The young children with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) usually live less than a year after the brain cancer is found. The standard of care in the United States hasn’t changed since the 1970s. Yet, this cancer is still understudied. The problem is that surgeons can’t remove the tumor because of the way it grows around the brain stem. That means there is limited DIPG tissue available for research. No medications have proven successful either.

Becher has already moved the research forward. His team developed a mouse model that includes an abnormal histone found in most DIPGs. A histone is a type of protein in chromosomes. A normal histone acts as a switch to turn genes on and off at the right time and in the right cells.

Becher and his team will use his grant to learn more about how DIPG tumors form. Using their mouse model, they’ll study which genes the abnormal histone inappropriately turns on or off. The goal is to learn enough to find new treatment strategies for this deadly tumor.

Improving Relationships Between Parents and Their Child’s Cancer Doctor

Grantee: Jennifer Mack, MD, MPH
Institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston
Focus Area: Palliative Care and Symptom Management
Term: 1/1/2015 to 12/31/2018

Mack’s research focuses on improving the relationship between doctors and the parents of a child who has cancer. Poor relationships can cause miscommunication and anxiety. They can also lead to unnecessary medical care, which can be a problem for patients and can lead to an inefficient use of healthcare resources.

Mack’s team will study relationships that are working well and ones that are difficult. Her goal is to learn strategies to identify and repair difficult relationships between parents and cancer care teams. The next step will be to design interventions to prevent or ease this common source of distress. And then she’ll put those interventions into practice.

Stopping Cholesterol Production May Treat Certain Brain Tumors in Kids

Grantee: Zeng-jie Yang, MD, PhD
Institution: Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia
Focus Area: Nutrition, the Environment, and Cancer
Term: 7/1/2016 to 6/30/2020

Medulloblastoma is the most common type of brain tumor in children. Treatment has improved, yet a significant number of patients die. Even survivors have severe side effects from aggressive treatments. Children can be left with hormonal issues and problems with thinking. In earlier studies, Yang’s team learned that cholesterol is required for medulloblastoma to grow.

With his grant, Yang’s research team will further study how cholesterol affects tumor growth. They’ll also test cholesterol inhibitors to treat this brain cancer. It’s a promising strategy since cholesterol inhibitors are safe, low cost, and readably available.

Enhancing Quality of Life During Cancer Treatment

Grantee: Sean Morrison, PhD
Institution: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Focus Area: Palliative Care and Symptom Management
Term: 7/1/2014 to 6/30/2019

While medical advances have transformed cancer into a disease that people can live with for many years. Yet these advances haven’t adequately addressed quality of life. Abundant evidence suggests that for most people, the advanced stages of cancer are characterized by:·      

  • Inadequately treated physical distress 
  • Fragmented care systems
  • Poor communication between doctors, patients, and families
  • Strains on family caregivers and support systems

Morrison is has spent his career working to improve and increase the availability of palliative care. With his grant from the ACS, he is establishing 2 innovative and novel  programs at the National Palliative Care Research Center in New York, New York. Together, these programs will help fill some critical gaps in palliative care cancer research.

Program to Support Development of Junior Researchers in Palliative Care. Students learn about advanced statistical methods, research methods and study design, and grant writing skills.

Program to Support Research in Pediatric Palliative Care. Morrison’s ACS grant supports 3 pediatric palliative care experts across the US. They are studying: 

  • Communication of symptoms, including emotions, and intervention
  • Communication between parents of critically ill infants and children and their child’s healthcare providers (Results from this study will inform the design of a randomized controlled study of the intervention across populations of children with advanced disease.)
  • Shared decision making with doctors and parents of critically ill infants 

Read more about Morrison's work. 

Evaluating Outpatient Chemotherapy for Children with HR ALL to Improve Quality of Care

Grantee: Lori Ranney, MSN
Institution: Winona State University in Minnesota
Graduate Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Practice
Term: 07/01/2017 – 6/30/2019

Research shows that receiving chemotherapy as an outpatient improves quality of life for both patients and their families. Currently, though, children who have high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (HR ALL) receive high-dose Methotrexate as inpatients. Patients and their families must stay in the hospital for 4 days for 4 different times over a 2-month period to get this medicine.

As part of her graduate study for a Doctorate in Nursing Practice, Ranney is studying the evidence that inpatient care is not necessary. She’s evaluating current practice for administering Methotrexate to see if it can be given safely and effectively to children as outpatients.

Ranney’s findings could improve the delivery method of chemotherapy and decrease hospital stays for children with HR ALL. That could lead to lowered health care costs, less stress, and overall improvement in the quality of life for these children and their families.

From Our Researchers

The American Cancer Society employs a staff of full-time researchers who pursue answers that help us understand how to prevent, find, and treat cancer, including childhood cancer.