Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation Awards Imaging Director Kulesa Innovation Grant For Pediatric Cancer Related Work

Neuroblastoma is a devastating 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, PhD, 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 stateof- 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.

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. Kulesa will receive $250,000 over two years.