Researcher at Lewis Katz School of Medicine and Fox Chase Wins $800,000 Grant for Work on Childhood Cancers
Christian Hurtz, PhD, an assistant professor at the Fels Cancer Institute for Personalized Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, has been awarded a four-year $800,000 A-Award by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer. The award supports early career scientists pursuing better treatments for childhood cancer; only three such awards were granted by the organization in 2023.
“Having foundation funding for four years is a big deal,” said Hurtz, who is also an assistant professor in the Nuclear Dynamics and Cancer research program at Fox Chase Cancer Center.
The A-Award grant will fund Hurtz’s research into B-cell derived acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of cancer in children. Specifically, Hurtz is looking into activated signaling pathways involved in a particular subtype of ALL called Philadelphia chromosome-like (Ph-like) ALL. This subtype is associated with a high risk of relapse and poor overall survival in patients.
When Hurtz began his postdoctoral research on Ph-like ALL, the main signaling pathway researchers were looking to disrupt was activated by the oncogene—the gene that, when expressed, causes a cell to start proliferating out of control.
Hurtz and his colleagues identified other signaling pathways that were activated independent of the oncogene. They therefore concluded that these additional signaling pathways need to be targeted separately using additional inhibitors. They published their findings in 2020 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Now, with the A-Award funding, Hurtz and his lab are looking into how signaling pathways are activated independent of the oncogene and whether they have common activators. The researchers’ goals are to understand Ph-like ALL biology better and to develop a new treatment approach capable of reducing the number of agents a patient would need to be treated with, thereby making treatments less toxic.
“We’re not 100% sure how the pathways are activated, and there is no known inhibitor that would inhibit all activated signaling pathways. So we want to study in detail how they are activated mechanistically,” said Hurtz. “Ultimately, we are asking this question: How can we reduce a multidrug regimen to a two-agent option that is more tolerable for patients undergoing treatment?”
Hurtz is also investigating signaling mechanisms in additional subtypes of ALL with funding support from other cancer research foundations. In addition to the A-Award, Hurtz has been awarded three additional grants within his first year of joining the Fels Institute in 2022:
- A V Scholar Grant from the V Foundation, a two-year $200,000 grant awarded to early career tenure-track faculty for laboratory-based fundamental research or translational research.
- A New Investigator Research Grant from the Leukemia Research Foundation, a one-year $100,000 award for early-career researchers pursuing innovative projects with the potential to impact essential areas of leukemia research.
- An Independent Investigator Grant from the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, a one-year $50,000 grant for pediatric cancer researchers who as independent investigators are more than five years post-fellowship.
Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence six consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.
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