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Second Annual Tree Lighting for Pediatric Cancer Awareness

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On August 29, 2023, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) hosted its second annual tree lighting ceremony, marking the beginning of September as the National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This event acknowledged another year of unwavering support from families who have been championing pediatric cancer research at CSHL since 2014. The Mary Ruchalski Foundation, the Christina Renna Foundation, the Michelle Paternoster Foundation for Sarcoma Research, Williams Echo, the Daniela Conte Foundation, the Miles Levin Foundation, Summers Way, and Maddie’s Promise collectively contributed $1.864 million to advance pioneering research in pediatric sarcomas.

Sarcomas originate in bone or soft tissues such as muscle, and primarily affect children.  Regrettably, majority of the sarcoma tumors do not respond to currently available therapies, emphasizing the pivotal role of philanthropic funding in supporting high-risk, high-reward research projects.

Earlier this year, Professor Christopher Vakoc and postdoctoral fellow Yuan Gao published their findings on Ewing Sarcoma, an aggressive pediatric bone cancer. Through a comprehensive genetic screen, they unveiled the cooperation of two proteins driving Ewing Sarcoma. Remarkably, targeting one of these proteins was sufficient to disrupt the function of its counterpart, thereby inhibiting the growth of Ewing Sarcoma. Their findings pave the way for innovative therapeutic strategies that target this key protein with novel approaches.

This month, the Vakoc laboratory published another scientific paper on rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS). A team led by CSHL graduate student Martyna Sroka identified a new molecular switch capable of converting RMS cells into muscle cells. RMS tumors are comprised of cells resembling those responsible for the formation of muscle tissue. However, instead of fully differentiating into muscle cells, these cells proliferate uncontrollably, giving rise to aggressive pediatric tumors. The Vakoc laboratory has discovered a strategy to transform RMS cells into muscle cells, effectively halting their unrestrained growth. Importantly, their findings have implications for other soft tissue sarcomas that share certain characteristics with RMS.

Following the tree lighting ceremony, benefactors gathered with scientists at a cocktail reception, where Vakoc laboratory postdoctoral fellows Olaf Klingbeil and Yuan Gao, and research assistant Larissa de Almeida, shared insights into their recent scientific findings, highlighting the crucial role of support from local families for their research.

For more information, please contact:

Karen Orzel, Vice President, Development

Sroka, M. et al., “Myo-differentiation reporter screen reveals NF-Y as an activator of PAX3-FOXO1 in rhabdomyosarcoma”, PNAS, August 2023. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2303859120

Gao, Y., et al., “ETV6 dependency in Ewing sarcoma by antagonism of EWS-FLI1-mediated enhancer activation”, Nature Cell Biology, January 19, 2023. DOI: 10.1038/s41556-022-01060-1