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IU cancer researchers earn funding for pediatric cancer studies

  • Aug. 11, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- Two Indiana University cancer researchers have earned funding to continue their studies focusing on children with cancer.

Yan Liu, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, has been named one of only 12 St. Baldrick’s Foundation Scholars for 2014. A recipient of a three-year, $330,000 St. Baldrick’s Foundation Scholar Award, Dr. Liu and colleagues are working to improve treatment outcomes for children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, the leading cause of cancer death in children.

Despite improvements in treatment outcomes, a considerable number of patients relapse or do not respond to conventional chemotherapy. Dr. Liu's team recently found that an enzyme, called PRL2, is elevated in ALL cells. Blocking PRL2 activity kills these cancer cells. Dr. Liu’s research aims to determine the effect of PRL2 inhibitors on ALL cells in hopes it can be a new target in the treatment of ALL.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation Scholar Award is designed to fund young professionals pursuing exciting research for three years or more, according to the foundation.

Based on his progress to date, Michael Ferguson, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine and a researcher at the IU Simon Cancer Center, was awarded an additional third year of his St. Baldrick’s Fellowship Award for his study that focuses on finding a life-saving treatment for children with neurofibromatosis type I, a rare genetic disorder that affects about 100,000 people in the United States alone.

Twenty-five percent to 40 percent of children with this disease form slow-growing tumors called plexiform neurofibromas. These tumors can cause disfigurement, disability and even death, depending on their location. To date, there is no effective therapy to treat these tumors. This project is testing drugs, already developed by pharmaceutical companies that block growth in other cancers, for plexiform neurofibromas. 

The St. Baldrick’s Fellowship Award provides two to three years of funding for new doctors training in childhood cancer research. These grants support the next generation of pediatric oncologists by keeping new doctors focused on a childhood cancer research-oriented career path. Dr. Ferguson was one of only 12 fellows awarded an additional third year of funding in 2014.

Yan Liu, Ph.D.

Yan Liu, Ph.D.

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Michael Ferguson, M.D.

Michael Ferguson, M.D.

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Michael Schug