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Stowers investigator receives Innovation Grant from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation

13 October 2015

KANSAS CITY, MO—Neuroblastoma is a solid tumor cancer that arises in the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord and is often fatal in children. The tumors are derived from embryonic neural crest cells that fail to properly migrate or mature. It is known that a variety of molecular signals guide these processes in the embryo, but it is unclear how defects in these signals contribute to the disease. Stowers Institute Director of Imaging Paul Kulesa, Ph.D., has received an Innovation Grant from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to pursue this very question.

“We plan to leverage our expertise in neural crest biology and state-of-the-art in vivo imaging to address this roadblock,” explains Kulesa. He and his research team recently discovered a critical role for TrkB, a receptor for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, during sympathetic nervous system development.  High expression of TrkB has been correlated with poor prognosis for neuroblastoma patients. The Kulesa laboratory plans to develop an embryonic quail transplantation model that will allow the lab to study the effect of mis-regulation of TrkB on normal development and human neuroblastoma cell behaviors. By studying changes in TrkB expression and other signaling pathways they hope to be able to develop and evaluate targeted personalized therapies.

The Stowers Imaging Center specializes in the development and application of innovative imaging tools useful in 3D live cell and animal embryo studies. “Our recent technical advances in live quail embryo imaging and single cell gene profiling permit us to directly probe cell behaviors and molecular characteristics.”

Innovation Grants, which were among the first grants given by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, were created to provide critical and significant seed funding for experienced researchers with novel and promising approaches to finding the causes and cures for childhood cancers. The Innovation Grants are part of the Foundation’s Accelerator Programs, which work to advance the pace of innovative research. Kulesa will receive $250,000 over two years.

About the Stowers Institute for Medical Research

The Stowers Institute for Medical Research is a non-profit, basic biomedical research organization dedicated to improving human health by studying the fundamental processes of life. Jim Stowers, founder of American Century Investments, and his wife, Virginia, opened the Institute in 2000. Since then, the Institute has spent over one billion dollars in pursuit of its mission.

Currently, the Institute is home to almost 550 researchers and support personnel; over 20 independent research programs; and more than a dozen technology development and core facilities.

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