Cancer cells illustration

Researchers receive funding for promising childhood cancer research

Targeting leukemia and improving fitness, quality of life

Two Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researchers are receiving new funding from California-based St. Baldrick’s Foundation for promising childhood cancer research.

Reshmi Parameswaran, assistant professor of hematology and oncology, was awarded $330,000 to develop safer cancer therapies for children using their own immune cells, helping avoid the significant physical and emotional consequences that can result from other, more toxic treatments.

She will target acute myeloid leukemia, the second most common form of acute leukemia in children.

“Existing treatment methods are not very effective and the disease comes back in 50 percent of patients,” Parameswaran said. “Therefore, there is an urgent need for a better treatment procedure. We are developing an improved method to treat acute myeloid leukemia in children, with their own so-called ‘natural killer’ cells.”

Natural killer cells are immune cells in the body, which can kill cancer cells. Cancer cells escape from killer cells by making them less active by producing a protein called transforming growth factor beta. Parameswaran will use methods to work to neutralize the effects of transforming growth factor beta on natural killer cell activity. This will keep these cells active in patients, thus creating a better option to treat children affected with acute myeloid leukemia.

Also, Nora L. Nock, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, received a $50,000 grant to conduct a pilot study of “cybercycling” (stationary cycling with interactive video gaming) to improve fitness and quality of life in adolescent and young adult cancer survivors.

Nock also will evaluate the potential of “cybercycling” to increase motivation to exercise and improve body composition, cognition, and sleep, as well as reduce fatigue and depression.

“Young people with cancer have a greater risk of developing secondary cancers; cardiovascular, metabolic and bone diseases; and cognitive impairments, which can lower their survival rates and decrease their quality of life,” Nock said. “Additionally, most do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity, which can lower their cardiorespiratory fitness. While randomized trials in adult cancer survivors have shown that exercise can improve fitness and quality of life, there have only been a few studies involving young people with cancer. Our trial will target the unique needs and preferences of young people with cancer, who have asked for fun and enjoyable exercise programs to enhance motivation and coping.”

St. Baldrick’s Foundation is the nation’s largest private funder of childhood cancer research grants.