Mitchell S. Cairo M.D., Awarded Research Grant by St. Baldrick’s Foundation
Award Will Be Used To Develop Immunotherapeutic Agents To Enhance The Function Of Natural Killer Cells To Destroy Burkitt Lymphoma
Mitchell S. Cairo, M.D., professor of pediatrics, medicine, pathology, microbiology and immunology and cell biology and anatomy, and associate chair of the Department of Pediatrics, was awarded a $100,000 research grant by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s Jack’s Pack - We Still Have His Back Hero Fund to develop immunotherapeutic agents to enhance the function of natural killer (NK) cells to destroy Burkitt lymphoma (BL).
Dr. Cairo, who is chief of pediatric hematology, oncology and stem cell transplantation, and director of the Children and Adolescent Cancer and Blood Diseases Center at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital (MFCH) at Westchester Medical Center, and his team are working on a study that could be instrumental for patients with BL who face a relapse in their diagnosis. Most children diagnosed with the disease are cured, however, drug resistance and suppression by the tumor surroundings can cause the cancer to return. In the study, genetic techniques will be used to change expanded NK cells to target CD20 and a special protein will be created to attach to CD19 on BL. A virus will be developed to produce IL21 to strengthen NK persistence and function. Once deemed successful, the procedure will be available to pediatric BL patients in a clinical setting and would offer a potentially more effective and less toxic therapeutic approach, ultimately leading to improved survival.
“This revolutionary combinatorial approach has the potential of saving patients like Jack in the future, who relapse with chemoradiotherapy resistant disease and who currently have a dismal prognosis with more conventional therapy,” said Dr. Cairo.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s Jack’s Pack - We Still Have His Back fund was named after ten-year-old Jack Klein, who was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. After relapsing from remission, he was treated at MFCH, where he initially responded well to a second round of treatment. Unfortunately, the cancer progressed and Klein passed away on February 6, 2016. The fund named in his memory has raised more than one million dollars since 2016.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is a non-profit organization that raises funds to research cures for children with cancer. Known for its signature head-shaving events worldwide, the foundation collaborates with leading pediatric oncologists to decide the most optimistic research to fund and create funding priorities. Since its creation in 2000, it has raised more than $324 million for pediatric cancer research, making the organization the largest charity funder of childhood cancer research grants.