UF Health MedMatters

Fighting Pediatric Cancer Focus Of V Foundation – UF Health Collaboration

In pursuit of its ongoing mission to achieve Victory Over Cancer®, the V Foundation for Cancer Research announced its renewed support and a new $250,000 grant for the University of Florida’s efforts to combat brain cancer in children. Combined with private support, a total of $600,000 in new funding will bolster critical research programs.

“I am grateful for the V Foundation’s continued support,” said Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of UF’s Preston A. Wells Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and the Phyllis Kottler Friedman Professor in the Lillian S. Wells Department of Neurosurgery at UF’s College of Medicine, part of UF Health, the university’s academic health center. “The V Foundation is one of the nation’s premier supporters of cancer research. It’s an incredible honor to be a beneficiary of their generosity for a number of years. This sustained level of commitment from the V Foundation is vital in enabling my team to bring our research to the next level.”

Duane Mitchell in the lab

Brain cancer is now the leading cause of cancer‐related death in children, due in part to significant improvements in outcomes for pediatric patients with more common cancers such as leukemia. Among other areas, Mitchell and his team have advanced novel immunotherapy treatments for medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children.

When asked about this partnership, Shane Jacobson, V Foundation chief executive officer, said that Mitchell’s research is “truly game-changing.”

“While science has made significant strides against pediatric cancers, there are still so many questions about brain cancer,” Jacobson said. “We applaud his forward-thinking approach to stopping the disease. He is offering children with cancer — and their families — hope for a brighter future. We look forward to seeing the impact of his success.”

Under Mitchell’s leadership, UF Health has pioneered an approach for pediatric brain tumors called adoptive T cell immunotherapy. Adoptive T cell therapy involves expanding tumor-reactive “killer T cells” to large numbers outside of a patient, reprogramming the cells to specifically target brain tumor cells, then reintroducing these immune cells into the body. This approach is currently undergoing evaluation in a first‐in‐human clinical trial at UF Health.

“This research is the culmination of years of hard work,” said Mitchell, associate director of innovation and discovery at the UF Health Cancer Center and director of the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute. “Thank you to all of our donors for providing us the opportunity to continue this important research and to realize our vision to make a transformative impact on children’s lives.”

Mitchell’s research team plans to advance this treatment platform by using genomic technology to identify patient‐specific antigens in medulloblastoma tumors, which are the most common malignant brain tumors in children. Once isolated and expanded outside of the body, these T cells will recognize unique tumor targets, called neoantigens. If the objectives of the study are met, Mitchell’s team could significantly enhance the specificity and potency of this already promising platform and translate the findings into innovative clinical trials for children battling brain cancer.

Mitchell expects that immune therapies such as adoptive T cell therapy will lead to more effective treatments for those who do not benefit from chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or a combination of those treatments.

Since 2012, The V Foundation has generously supported UF Health, giving a total of more than $1.5 million, including $1.3 million to pediatric causes.

About UF Health Shands Hospital

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University of Florida Health Shands Hospital has been recognized among the nation’s best hospitals in seven adult medical specialties. Overall, UF Health Shands Hospital was recognized as one of the best hospitals in Florida. In addition to being ranked among the nation’s top 50 hospitals in seven specialties, UF Health Shands Hospital also was listed as “high performing” in seven specialties, including abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, colon cancer surgery, COPD, heart failure, lung cancer surgery, neurology & neurosurgery and orthopaedics.