CHOP Oncologist Receives $1 Million Hyundai Quantum Grant to Improve Leukemia Treatment

Published on in CHOP News

Quantum Grant Winners A physician-researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has received a $1 million Hyundai Quantum Grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels to advance treatment for a high-risk form of childhood leukemia. The research focuses on immunotherapy—an approach that utilizes a patient’s immune system to better fight off cancer.

“This Hyundai Quantum Grant gives us substantial resources to make progress against the most life-threatening form of leukemia,” said CHOP pediatric oncologist Richard Aplenc, MD, PhD. “I’m constantly inspired by the resilience of my patients, and the grace and tenderness of their families, and this grant support is very helpful in advancing new cancer treatments.”

New category in grant program focuses on pediatric cancers with lowest survival rates

The Hyundai Quantum Grant, a new category in Hyundai’s pediatric cancer grant program, provides each research center $250,000 per year for four years. Focusing on pediatric cancers with the lowest survival rates, the program announced competitive awards to CHOP and three other institutions participating in the Children’s Oncology Group. Hyundai Hope on Wheels is the nonprofit organization of Hyundai Motor America, and is in its 18th year of supporting childhood cancer research. This year’s awards are Hyundai’s largest individual research grants ever for pediatric cancer research.

“We are proud to fund Dr. Aplenc, one of this year’s Hyundai Quantum winners, and his innovative work in AML,” said Dave Zuchowski, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America. “We are hopeful for the discoveries to come from his important work in the coming years. No child should ever have to hear the words, ‘You have cancer,’ and we will continue to support the efforts fighting for that day to come.”

Overall survival rates for children’s cancer have reached 80 percent, but some high-risk forms of cancer have stubbornly resisted this progress. One such example is acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which has a complicated variety of difficult-to-treat subtypes. Even among survivors of AML, intensive chemotherapy may cause lifelong side effects.

Research to focus on specific proteins on AML cell surface as potential targets for immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, which is currently being studied in other types of leukemia, may provide a more effective treatment for AML, with fewer long-term side effects. The new grant, said Aplenc, will enable his team to identify specific proteins on the outside surface of AML cells that could be the most appropriate targets for immune cells programmed to attack cancers.

“New technologies have dramatically altered the research landscape, by allowing scientists to better identify proteins and to make use of DNA sequencing data from AML patients,” said Aplenc. “This research grant will enable us to discover more about these specific biological molecules, offering data with great potential to help us design innovative treatments.”

Stephen Hunger, MD, chief of the Division of Oncology and director of the Center for Childhood Cancer Research at CHOP, added, “This award will help CHOP physicians and their collaborators develop new therapies for children with AML that has not responded to current therapies, or has relapsed despite those therapies.”