Two rising young stars of pediatric cancer research at Yale Cancer Center and Yale School of Medicine were awarded research grants from Hyundai Hope on Wheels program to further their work of improving outcomes and treatment for children diagnosed with cancer.
Juan Vasquez, MD, Assistant Professor Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, was awarded a $300,000 Scholar Hope Grant, and Vidya Puthenpura, MD, MHS, FAAP, a Clinical Fellow, was awarded a $200,000 Young Investigator Grant. The grants are among $15 million the Hyundai Hope on Wheels organization awarded nationally this year.
Drs. Vasquez and Puthenpura were awarded honorific checks during an October 12 presentation at Yale School of Medicine that included Clifford Bogue, MD, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Pediatrics, Chair, Pediatrics, and Chief Medical Officer at Yale New Haven Children's Hospital, Lakshmanan Krishnamurti, MD, Chief of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, and Bone Marrow Transplant and Leader of the Smilow Cancer Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program, and Bryan Thompson, Senior Group Manager, Regional Sales, Hyundai Motor America.
“Dr. Vasquez is really changing how we treat cancer by using cancer’s own metabolism to enhance the effect of immunotherapy,” Dr. Krishnamurti said. “And what Dr. Puthenpura is doing is important and topical at this point because she is looking at how disparities affect cancer treatment. I can’t think of two better people to receive these awards.”
Dr. Vasquez is working to enhance the effect of immunotherapy to sensitize tumors to the treatment.
“It’s really important in the pediatric world because most of our patients really don’t have much of an immune response,” Dr. Vasquez said. “So all these agents you hear about in the news that are successful for melanoma and lung cancer really haven’t translated into the pediatric world. What I’m trying to do is find ways in which we can exploit these pathways, particularly in brain tumors, and make these tumors more immune-responsive.”
Dr. Puthenpura is studying how a person’s individual socioeconomic and psychological challenges can affect how they respond to chemotherapy. Her focus is on adolescents and young adults.
“We know this is a particularly vulnerable subpopulation of our pediatric oncology patients because they have unique psycho-social challenges,” she said. “They’re transitioning to adulthood, they’re trying to establish their independence, then cancer therapy just throws them for a loop. My research is focused on identifying what individual psycho-social and economic factors can impact their response to chemotherapy and influence their outcomes, and identify factors we can intervene on to improve the equity for all our patients.”