The ChadTough Foundation and the Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation are partnering to fund six Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG)-specific research projects totaling more than $1 million over the next two years (2018-19). DIPG is the deadliest form of pediatric brain cancer, with a median survival from diagnosis of 9 months and a near 0% survival overall.
The grants will be awarded to scientists conducting research at prominent institutions across the country. The projects range from research on novel immunotherapy treatments for children with DIPG to exploration of key questions about the fundamental biology about the disease.
Three of the projects being funded are grants and three are fellowships. Research grants ($250,000 over two years) are based solely on the project and can therefore be awarded to any scientist. Fellowships ($100,000 over two years), on the other hand, are awarded to new researchers. He or she must be less than five years removed from earning a PhD and must have a mentor at a top lab.
“We considered not only the research projects they were proposing, but their prospect for developing into a top DIPG researcher,” said Mark Mosier. “Increasing the number of minds focusing on DIPG is just as critical to our overall goal of a cure.”
- David Ashley, Duke University, “Recombinant Attenuated Poliovirus Immunization Vectors Targeting H3.3(K27M) in DIPG.” In recent years, the Duke University team has developed an immunotherapy treatment that uses a modified form of the poliovirus to treat brain tumors. This treatment has received significant attention, including two segments on 60 Minutes. The Duke team recently began a clinical trial using the poliovirus vaccine in children with high-grade gliomas, but DIPG patients were excluded due to a risk of inflammation. In this study, Dr. Ashley will modify the poliovirus vaccine so that it can be used to treat DIPG patients.
- Catherine Flores, University of Florida, “Enhancing efficacy of adoptive immunotherapy against DIPG using hematopoietic cells.” This immunotherapy project uses adoptive cell therapy, which involves removing cancer cells from the patient, creating a large number of T cells that can identify and attack the cancer cells, and then infusing those cells back into the body. Dr. Flores will develop an adoptive cell therapy treatment for DIPG that uses both the DIPG cells obtained from a biopsy and also cells from the patient’s bone marrow. She will also administer the blood stem cells with the T cells, which can enhance the T cells’ ability to infiltrate the tumor.
- Michelle Monje, Stanford University, “The Tumor Microtube Network in DIPG: Targeting a Possible ‘Achilles Heel’ Required to Defeat DIPG.” A recent study of adult brain tumors showed that the cancer cells connect to each other through thin extensions called “tumor microtubes,” and that these connections help the tumor cells survive and resist treatment. Dr. Monje believes she has uncovered similar microtubes within DIPG tumors. She will investigate the microtubes to determine whether targeting them will make DIPG tumor cells more susceptible to treatment.
- Zach Reitman, Harvard University/Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, “Prioritizing PPM1D mutations as a target for new DIPG therapies,” (Mentors: Rameen Beroukhim and Pratiti Bandopadhayay). Dr. Reitman studies the role the PPM1D mutation plays in helping DIPG tumors grow. In this project, he will test whether targeting the PPM1D gene slows DIPG cell growth to determine whether a PPM1D inhibitor should be developed as a potential treatment for DIPG.
- Jamie Anastas, Harvard University/Boston Children’s Hospital, “Targeting chromatin regulation to treat DIPG,” (Mentor: Yang Shi). Dr. Anastas studies how the histone mutation commonly found in DIPG affects how the tumor cells function. After screening 1,300 chromatin regulators, she has identified multiple proteins that are necessary for DIPG cells to proliferate and survive, but are dispensable for normal cell growth. Her research will determine the roles of these proteins in DIPG development.
- Chen Shen, Northwestern University, “Dissection of ATRX in Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma” (Mentor: Oren Becher). Dr. Shen will focus on the ATRX protein and its role in driving tumor growth. Her hypothesis is that the loss of ATRX works with the histone mutation to promote DIPG growth. She will also investigate whether the loss of ATRX impacts the DIPG tumor’s response to radiation.
All projects were reviewed by the Defeat DIPG Scientific Advisory Council made up of Darell D. Bigner, MD, PhD (Duke University School of Medicine), Suzanne Baker, PhD (St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital), Oren J. Becher, MD (Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine), Cynthia Hawkins, MD, PhD (Hospital for Sick Children), and Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD (University of Florida College of Medicine).
“The medical advisory council they’ve put together is incredible,” said Jason Carr. “These are some of the best minds out there working to eradicate DIPG.”
The Carr and Mosier families originally connected in the months following their sons being diagnosed with DIPG in September 2014. They quickly uncovered their shared passion for honoring their sons through raising research dollars.
The partnership brings together six families that have lost children to DIPG that are actively raising research dollars:
Michael Mosier Defeat DIPG Foundation is led by co-founders Mark and Jenny Mosier (Michael), and includes Defeat DIPG Network families Katie Gaskin (Anthony), Brandon and Amanda Huffman (Avery), and Peter and Alexis Olympia (Connor). The ChadTough Foundation is led by co-founders Jason and Tammi Carr (Chad) and includes partner family Tom and Amanda Ruddy (Tommy).
“This partnership is an incredible testament to the power of these families that have lost their children,” said Tammi Carr. “We have all channeled our grief into raising research dollars and it is truly making a difference.”
The Foundations expect to conduct an annual grant-making process and will announce the timing for the 2018 grants in the beginning of the year.
“We are all incredibly thankful for the generous support of our donors that make these grants possible” said Jenny Mosier. “This is just the beginning for all of us, and I am eager to see how we grow this initiative, and start seeing tangible results, in the years to come.”