By Jodi Hyer
Photography by Sam Ogden
It all began over 20 years ago with a simple, yet profound, act of kindness by Alex Scott, a determined little girl with cancer, who held a lemonade stand fundraiser to help other kids like her and inspired countless others to do the same. Since her passing at the age of 8, Alex’s legacy of kindness and determination has continued through Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), which has awarded more than 1,000 research grants to 150+ institutions in North America in pursuit of her vision—a cure for all children with cancer.
ALSF recently awarded grants totaling $3.32 million to advance the Institute’s pediatric oncology research efforts, bringing the total granted to Dana-Farber physician-scientists to over $19 million since 2005. Rani George, MD, PhD, leading a group of researchers from four other institutions, received a $3 million award as part of ALSF’s Crazy 8 Initiative aimed at curing hard-to-treat cancers. George and her co-investigators will identify and target genetic drivers of osteosarcoma lung metastasis, the primary cause of death in osteosarcoma. This research will leverage cutting-edge technologies to investigate genetic changes in individual cancer cells as metastasis develops and to develop new drugs acting as “molecular glues” to stick to target proteins involved in metastatic disease causing them to be destroyed inside the cell. Such new therapies would be a milestone for metastatic osteosarcoma, which has not seen treatment improvements in decades. George also received an Innovation Award to test a novel compound that may target the synthesis of a protein called MYCN, which is critical for uncontrolled cancer cell growth in MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma.
ALSF gave Young Investigator Awards to Riaz Gillani, MD, and John Prensner, MD, PhD. Gillani will use his funding to study the role of inherited mutations, including those involved in DNA damage repair, in the development of neuroblastoma and to identify specific mutations associated with high-risk neuroblastoma, which is the most difficult to treat. Prensner will explore how a newly identified protein, ASNSD1 uORF, and other proteins derived from un-mapped regions of the “dark genome” are regulated by and work in conjunction with MYC, a well-known genetic driver of medulloblastoma.
ALSF also made four grants to fund pediatric oncology student research projects, supporting the Institute’s commitment in training the next generation of oncology researchers. ALSF co-executive director Liz Scott shared, “My daughter Alex left a legacy that has allowed us to change the lives of other children with cancer and their families. These grants represent our continued commitment to funding the most promising scientists and ideas that will lead to new cures for all children with cancer.”