August 2, 2018

Hyundai Awards Columbia Team $2.5M Grant to Advance Pediatric Cancer Research

Hyundai $2.5M Grant to Columbia
Julia Glade Bender, MD, (center) at the Hyundai Hope on Wheels announcement Mar. 29 during the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob Javitz Center. (Photo courtesy of HHOW)

A team of researchers at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) has recently been awarded a five-year $2.5 million grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels (HHOW) to fund innovative pediatric cancer research. 

The team at Columbia is being led by principal investigator (PI), Julia Glade Bender , MD, associate professor of pediatrics at CUIMC, with co-PIs Andrea Califano , Dr, chair of Columbia’s Department of Systems Biology and Darrell Yamashiro , MD, PhD, director of pediatric hematology, oncology and stem cell transplantation, along with researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering, University of San Francisco Children’s and Dana-Farber Cancer Center. 

The Quantum Collaboration award from HHOW is aimed at funding research focused on childhood cancers with poor prognosis. At Columbia, the team will target osteosarcoma, the most commonly diagnosed bone tumor in children and adolescents. No new treatment approaches have successfully been introduced for osteosarcoma in nearly 40 years, and patients with the disease have not benefited from recent breakthroughs like immunotherapy or DNA sequencing and require a shift in the understanding and approach to therapy. 

To this end, Dr. Glade Bender and team will leverage novel cancer systems biology approaches, developed by Dr. Califano and the Califano lab at CUIMC, that model the cellular logic of cancer cells, using supercomputers to identify optimal treatment options for each patient. Their project will incorporate the use of Dr. Califano’s OncoTreat analytical platform, which identifies all the top master regulators of a tumor and uses actual drug perturbations to identify the individual drugs and/or drug combination that can revert their activity at once. The proof-of-concept for OncoTreat was recently detailed and published in a Nature Genetics paper , and earlier this year, became available as a New York State Department of Health approved test through the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology at Columbia. The test is licensed from DarwinHealth, a cancer research company born out of the Califano Lab

The Columbia team will work to characterize the osteosarcoma-specific regulatory proteins, discover agents that will target them, provide preclinical in vivo validation and a clear pathway forward to deploy OncoTreat in the clinic. 

Dr. Glade Bender established Columbia’s Pediatric Developmental Therapeutics (phase 1 clinical trials) and precision oncology sequencing (PIPseq) programs and has special expertise in the treatment of young patients with cancers that have become resistant to treatment or have relapsed after therapy. 

Dr. Califano, who also is Clyde and Helen Wu Professor of Chemical and Systems Biology at CUIMC, is one of the founders of the systems biology field, and work in his lab includes a combination of computational and experimental methodologies to reconstruct the regulatory logic of human cells in genome-wide fashion. He is leading an innovative N-of-1 study at Columbia in which cancer master regulators are identified and pharmacologically targeted on an individual patient basis, using a systems biology approach to precision medicine. 

A pediatric oncologist, Dr. Yamashiro specializes in the care of children with pediatric solid tumors, especially neuroblastoma, Wilms' tumor and other kidney and liver tumors. His lab is identifying novel genes that specifically target neuroblastoma, harnessing information that may be used to create targeted therapies.

Launched in 1998 by Hyundai and its U.S. dealers, Hyundai Hope on Wheels provides grants to eligible institutions nationwide that are pursuing life-saving research and innovative treatments for pediatric cancer. This marks just the second time in the 20-year history of HHOW that it has made available its Quantum Award category, which is the nonprofit’s largest grant category, providing $1M in grant funding to single institutions and $2.5M to two or more institutions. 

-Melanie A. Farmer