Health Team

St. Baldrick's Foundation gives grants to UNC, Duke for children's cancer research

Great strides are being made in the war against top cancer killers, including lung, breast and colon cancers. But in comparison, childhood cancer research is not as well funded.

Posted Updated

Allen Mask
, M.D., WRAL Health Team physician

Two $100,000 grants from the St. Baldrick's Foundation, which is often associated with hair-shaving fundraisers, are helping researchers at both the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University fight for children with cancer.

"It's not acceptable for even one child to die from cancer," said Corrine Linardic, associate professor of pediatrics and member of the Duke Cancer Institute.

Lindardic and her colleagues hope to use a new method to identify a genetic error in aveolar rhabdomyosarcoma — a rare, but typically deadly connective tissue cancer.

The focus is a protein in the tumors called PAX-3-FOXOI, a fusion gene that could be a target for drug therapy.

"If we're lucky, some of the proteins that we identify already have drugs or compounds known to target them, perhaps we could re-purpose some of those that are already FDA approved," Lindardic said.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, researchers have two FDA-approved drugs effective at treating skin and breast cancers. Researchers hope to use these drugs against medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain cancer in children.

Timothy Gershon, a UNC pediatric neurolo-oncologist and drug delivery systems specialist Marina Sokolsky-Papkov hope bonding the two drugs within tiny polymer particles is the answer to curing children's brain cancer.

"Getting drugs across the blood-brain barrier is one of the key challenges of brain tumor therapy," Gershon said.

But this method could prove to be a more targeted therapy. Marina Papkov said researchers are looking for a treatment that attacks the cancer cells without attacking the whole body.

Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy help 80 percent of children with medulloblastoma survive, but it takes a physical and emotional toll. A more targeted therapy offers great hope.

"We may be able to rescue the 20 percent of children that do not become long-term survivors," Gershon said.


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