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Faculty Awarded Hyundai Hope On Wheels Grant to Develop New Treatments for Children with Burkitt Lymphoma

NYMC is One of Just 25 Organizations Chosen to Receive a Hyundai Scholar Hope Grant

October 06, 2022
Yaya Chu, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, and Jessica Hochberg, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics
Yaya Chu, Ph.D., and Jessica Hochberg, M.D.

Jessica Hochberg, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, and Yaya Chu, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics, at New York Medical College (NYMC) have been awarded a $300,000 Hyundai Scholars Hope Grant to support their life-saving research to develop novel therapeutic approaches to treat relapsing children with Burkitt lymphoma, a highly aggressive cancer of the lymphatic system. NYMC is one of just 25 organizations chosen to receive a Hyundai Scholar Hope Grant this year, the largest grant bestowed by the Hyundai Hope On Wheels organization, which is supported by Hyundai Motor America.

“While the majority of children with newly diagnosed Burkitt lymphoma are cured, for those patients who relapse or whose disease progresses, very few treatment options currently exist due to chemo-radiotherapy resistance, and unfortunately, many succumb to the disease,” said Dr. Hochberg and Dr. Chu.  “Therefore, new treatments are urgently needed.”

In their research, Dr. Hochberg and Dr. Chu will work to develop a novel living drug—targeted and armored natural killer (NK) cells—as well as new immunotherapy drugs to enhance the functions of NK cells, an immune cell that can attack cancer cells. Expanded NK cells will be modified by gene engineering techniques to enhance their attack of tumor cells and a special protein will be developed to bind and target proteins on the surface of Burkitt Lymphoma cells. A novel fusion protein of anti-CD20 antibody and IL15 will also be used to target CD20 protein on the tumor cells and to enhance NK cell persistence and function.

“By developing new ways of using immune cells to directly target lymphoma, we can harness the power of the patient’s immune system in combination with more traditional treatment to find a cure for an often incurable disease,” said Dr. Hochberg and Dr. Chu. “Without the support from this grant, we would not be able to complete this important work and continue our goal to improve the outcomes for all children with cancer.”

Upon completion, this preclinical research will directly lead to development of Phase I/II clinical trials in children, adolescents and young adults with Burkitt lymphoma who fail, progress and/or relapse after standard treatment.

“Our novel and state-of-the-art technological therapeutic strategies can also be applied to other high-risk, refractory cancer types,” said Dr. Hochberg and Dr. Chu. Our research will have a high impact in the translation of cancer immunology from the bench to the clinic in children and adolescents with high risk, refractory blood cancers.”