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Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Hematology/Oncology Fellow Receives Grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 10, 2011 Jennifer Elster, M.D., a hematology/oncology fellow at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, has been awarded a research grant of $147,961 from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money for childhood cancer research.

Elster is one of 13 new St. Baldrick’s Fellows nationwide this year. Her research focuses on anti-angiogenic drug research. Overseeing her fellowship is mentor Edward Prochownik, M.D., director of oncology research at Children’s Hospital.

A growing tumor requires a blood supply, and in some tumors, such as neuroblastoma, the number of blood vessels in a tumor correlates with metastases and mortality. The formation of new blood vessels is called angiogenesis and the cells needed to form these new vessels have previously been thought to arise only from normal cells in the body. Anti-angiogenic drugs designed to stop these blood vessels from forming have proved disappointing, so far. The lab in which Dr. Elster is working has determined that, in addition to recruiting blood vessel cells, tumor cells can sometimes turn into blood vessel cells. Because tumor cells are known to mutate very rapidly, this may explain why anti-angiogenic therapies often are ineffective or stop working. Dr. Elster is studying this newly discovered phenomenon in greater detail as it may provide a way to identify more potent anti-angiogenic agents.    

“The St. Baldrick’s Foundation grant provides the funds necessary for me to spend the next two years further studying this so-called ‘tumor cell to endothelial cell transition’ and to develop a drug screening program that will allow us to screen large libraries of compounds for one that will inhibit this transformation,” Dr. Elster said. “We are working on a new way to stop a tumor’s blood flow, essentially destroying its ability to feed itself and to grow. If we are successful, it will have implications for the treatment of many tumor types including neuroblastoma, which currently is very challenging to treat.”

Elster is originally from Southern California and attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is in the third year of her hematology/oncology fellowship at Children’s Hospital.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation currently funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government. Worldwide, more than 160,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year, and it remains the leading cause of death by disease among children in the United States. St. Baldrick’s funds are critical to continue the battle against this devastating disease. This grant is part of more than $19.6 million in new grants awarded by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, bringing the total to more than $21 million awarded for the fiscal year.

For more information about Dr. Elster, please visit www.chp.edu.

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