MIAMI (Aug. 5, 2020) – The SebastianStrong Foundation has selected Yale Cancer Center’s Ranjithmenon Muraleedharan, M.D., as the recipient of the organization’s 2020 Discovery Science Award. The $225,000 grant will fund a three-year project to develop a new treatment approach for diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), the most common brainstem tumor in children, which has a five-year survival rate of less than one percent.
DIPG is a destructive pediatric brain cancer that develops in the area of the brain responsible for the control of essential functions. Any damage resulting from either the tumor itself or treatment has devastating repercussions. Because DIPG cells spread out between normal brain cells, surgical removal of these tumors is not an option.
“Through Sebastian’s diagnosis with rhabdomyosarcoma, we learned that childhood cancers remain a great unknown in the medical field, with limited resources and funding available to advance treatments that can improve these children’s quality of life,” said Sebastian’s father Oscar Ortiz, executive director and co-founder of SebastianStrong. “We created the Discovery Science Award to enable researchers to think out-of-the-box to find new treatments and cures, because even one child lost to cancer is one too many.”
Dr. Muraleedharan’s research will assess whether a NAMPT inhibitor-based treatment strategy will be effective against DIPG. He will test specific targeted inhibitors in combination with radiation therapy and DNA-damaging therapies and aims to move his therapy into clinical trials within three years.
“The project to advance understanding of a newly identified pathway of vulnerability in DIPG tumors by Dr. Muraleedharan offers an innovative approach to significantly improving outcomes for one of the deadliest cancers that affect children,” said Matteo Trucco, M.D., oncologist and hematologist at the Cleveland Clinic and member of SebastianStrong’s Medical Advisory Board.
Endorsed by the CureSearch for Children’s Cancer organization, Dr. Muraleedharan’s project was one of several submitted by prominent research institutions for Discovery Science Award consideration. The Discovery Science Award is granted to research projects that are struggling to acquire funding and that use leading-edge methodologies and approaches in the quest for less toxic childhood cancer treatments and cures. The projects must lead to clinical trials within one to three years in order to qualify, and all proposals are vetted by SebastianStrong’s Medical Advisory Board, which is comprised of leading pediatric oncologists from across the country. Nine awards have been granted to-date, totaling more than $1.2 million in childhood cancer research funding provided by SebastianStrong Foundation.