Grant will help UF researchers fight childhood cancer

Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 4:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 4:34 p.m.

University of Florida researchers have spent more than a decade pursuing a new way to treat a debilitating and sometimes fatal form of childhood cancer.

Seeing promise in the progress to date, Alex’s Lemonade Stand, a Pennsylvania-based foundation, awarded a $250,000 grant for a team led by Steven Ghivizzani, a professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation in the UF College of Medicine, to continue research about a potential treatment for osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that strikes children and teenagers. It is the sixth most common form of cancer in children.

“This cancer is fatal in 40 percent of children and those who survive often need radical surgeries such as amputation of a leg,” Ghivizzani said.

He said that the grant will assist ongoing research with Chen Ling, a professor in the department of pediatrics, on the development of a potential new gene therapy to treat osteosarcoma. Their proposed treatment uses one form of the adeno-associated virus to target malignant osteosarcoma cells.

“The results we’ve generated so far are very encouraging,” Ghivizzani said. “The goal is to better carry this forward to subsequent steps.”

He said that the research so far has included laboratory tests on mice. The foundation funding may move the research ahead to tests on dogs that have naturally occurring osteosarcoma.

Although not part of this specific grant award, Dr. C. Parker Gibbs, the Eugene L. Jewett professor of orthopaedic surgery and division chief for orthopaedic oncology, has also been active for years in research to develop treatments for osteosarcoma, Ghivizzani said.

Each year, Alex’s Lemonade Stand awards two-year “innovation grants” of $250,000 each to cancer researchers across the country. The money is intended to help researchers “pursue novel approaches to finding better treatments and ultimately cures for all children with cancer,” spokeswoman Gillian Kocher wrote in an email.

This year, 21 universities, hospitals and research institutes received grants. The list of universities that received grants also includes Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania and Washington University in St. Louis.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand is named for Alexandra “Alex” Scott, a 4-year-old with cancer who decided in 2000 to start a lemonade stand to raise money for a cure for all children.

She raised $2,000 that year. By the time she died at age 8 in 2004, the foundation named for her had raised $1 million. To date, it has raised $80 million and funded 450 grants.

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