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The St. Baldrick's Foundation, the largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants, awarded Charles Mullighan, MBBS (Hons), MSc, MD, the first-ever St. Baldrick's Foundation Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award at the American Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology conference.


This one-of-a-kind award was created in memory of renowned oncologist Robert J. Arceci, MD, known as "Bob" to those close to him. Arceci served as director of the Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Hematology and Oncology and co-director of the Ronald A. Matricaria Institute of Molecular Medicine at Phoenix Children's Hospital in Arizona. He treated countless children; was an international authority in many areas of pediatric cancer research; he developed groundbreaking documentaries to educate the public about the realities of childhood cancers; and was the editor of the only international medical journal devoted to childhood cancer research, Pediatric Blood & Cancer. As a member of the St. Baldrick's board and chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee, Dr. Arceci had supported the idea of a new type of funding, but before conversations could take place, he died in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident.

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Charles Mullighan, M... - Click to enlarge in new windowCharles Mullighan, MBBS (HONS), MSC, MD. Charles Mullighan, MBBS (HONS), MSC, MD

"It is no small feat to do justice to Bob's memory and the impact he made on the childhood cancer community. The opportunity to honor his legacy in the form of something that continues his innovative work and offers hope to the children he dedicated his life to, is a beautiful thing to be part of," said Kathleen Ruddy, CEO of the St. Baldrick's Foundation. "Looking to the future, we are excited to see what's next and are fully confident in Mullighan's passion, approach and innovative research."


Each year, two recipients will be chosen for the St. Baldrick's Foundation Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award, one from the U.S. or Canada, the other chosen internationally. Each will receive $250,000 a year for 3 years, with no research restrictions other than to report on the results of their work every 6 months.


Typically, the recipient of a grant must follow their presented plan carefully-no room to color outside the lines or pursue a new line of discovery without limitations. The Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award gives Mullighan the ability to pursue whatever leads he uncovers, and to focus on discovery and making a difference for patients.


"This award in his memory is such a wonderful and rare thing, so far from the norm, to have the freedom to pursue research wherever it leads," said Mullighan, co-leader of the Hematological Malignancies Program at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.


Mullighan plans to use this award to continue his work to understand the genetic changes that ultimately make cells become a tumor, and to understand why, even with some of today's most exciting treatment advances, some patients' cancers don't respond to it. His studies have already resulted in new diagnostic approaches and targets for therapy. Mullighan's approach to studying the genetics of acute lymphoblastic leukemia was met with skepticism in 2004, but was validated by his landmark publication in 2007. That study has driven an entire field of research and provided important lessons for cancer genetics in general.


Leading melanoma scientist Ashani Weeraratna, PhD, of The Wistar Institute, is part of a new, international, research team awarded the L'Oreal Paris USA-MRA Team Science Award for Women in Scientific Research by the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), the largest private funder of melanoma research worldwide. Weeraratna, Associate Professor in Wistar's Tumor Microenvironment and Metastasis Program, joins top scientists from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre (University of Edinburgh), the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. The team received $900,000 to tackle the mechanisms that distinguish (and mark) fast-growing melanomas from those that are dormant.


The prestigious L'Oreal Paris USA-MRA Team Science Award for Women in Scientific Research recognizes the collaborative efforts by top-notch female investigators whose research focuses on malignant melanoma, a characteristically aggressive cancer type. Increasing in incidence every year, melanoma is the only disease where lesions barely two millimeters thick can disseminate (metastasize) throughout a person's body. Some patients succumb to metastasis within months, while in others the tumor cells can remain silent or "dormant" for years or decades before striking. This differential in behavior is unclear and is the focus of the collaboration.

Ashani Weeraratna, P... - Click to enlarge in new windowAshani Weeraratna, PhD. Ashani Weeraratna, PhD

"This L'Oreal Paris USA-MRA grant demonstrates the catalyzing effect research across institutes and continents brings to pushing the envelope forward on breakthroughs in melanoma diagnosis and treatment," Weeraratna said. "It is also a bold statement about L'Oreal Paris's and MRA's shared commitment to the innovative high-caliber work female scientists bring to cancer research and discovery, which will inspire many more young women to attain jobs in science."


There are four major goals of this 3-year project. The first goal of the project is to identify biomarkers of active metastasis. Secondly, the team will define how tumor cells can become "dormant," and why at some point, they get "awakened." Both of these studies will utilize sophisticated imaging models to visualize and trace melanoma cells in vivo from early stages of tumor development as well as reagents accessible by the entire team, particularly a large set of clinical specimens. The third goal aims to validate treatments that could attack both dividing and silent melanoma cells. The fourth objective is to mentor and empower new female researchers in the melanoma field.


"We are thrilled by this L'Oreal Paris USA-MRA grant," said team leader Maria S. (Marisol) Soengas, PhD, Head of the Melanoma Group and the Dean for Academic Affairs at the CNIO. "Visualizing and treating silent melanoma cells has been a major challenge in the field, and therefore requires large collaborative platforms to translate basic results into long-lasting clinical improvements. This partnership will try to bridge this gap by integrating efforts of specialists in molecular biology, tumor dormancy, pathology, and molecular oncology."


In 2016, the MRA has funded 17 additional grants to support a total of 46 investigators in 30 institutions spanning seven countries. To date, MRA has dedicated more than $79 million to foster important discoveries across the globe to better understand and treat malignant melanoma.


Cathy J F Cole, NP, MPH, has received the prestigious American Cancer Society Lane Adams Award in Atlanta. This award is given to individuals who have shown compassionate care, extending the "warm hand of service" to those patients in oncology. She was one of 10 national recipients and the only nurse practitioner from California to receive this award.


Cole is an oncology nurse navigator at the Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif. She has been a volunteer with the American Cancer Society for more than 25 years, and continues to make quality of life for cancer patients a priority throughout the community. She is currently a member of the Ventura Leadership Council, chair of the City of Thousand Oaks Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, a member of Relay for Life, and a coordinator for the Look Good Feel Better program. She strives to create programs and provide services for patients to help them throughout their treatment process. Her passion for helping others is evident every time she interacts with patients, peers, and community members.

Cathy J F Cole, NP, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowCathy J F Cole, NP, MPH. Cathy J F Cole, NP, MPH

The Lane W. Adams Quality of Life Award recognizes individuals who consistently exhibit excellence and compassion in providing care to cancer patients, going beyond their duties to make a difference in the life of cancer patients and their families. This award also represents the concept of the "warm hand of service," which is an integral part of the Society's commitment to excellence in cancer care and specifically emphasized by Lane W. Adams when he served as executive vice president of the American Cancer Society. Lane's definition of the warm hand of service was to "serve others and enrich the purpose of one's existence."