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Tree lighting for pediatric cancer awareness

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On September 6, 2022, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) researchers and supporters from the local community gathered for the first annual tree lighting ceremony commemorating Pediatric Cancer Research Awareness Month.

Three foundations started by local families who lost loved ones to deadly sarcomas—The Friends of TJ, Christina Renna Foundation, and Michelle Paternoster Foundation—have helped fund CSHL’s Sarcoma Research Initiative since 2014. Their support initiated rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) research in the lab of CSHL Professor Chris Vakoc. Since the initiative’s launch, the grassroots funders and dedicated researchers have built the most active sarcoma research program in the world, right in our own backyard.

The Vakoc lab has made several important discoveries in recent years.

“In 2018, we discovered a new drug target for synovial sarcoma, a protein called BRD9. Several biotechnology companies are currently enrolling patients in two clinical trials, both with drugs that target BRD9 in synovial sarcoma and malignant rhabdoid tumors,” Vakoc says. “Right now, rhabdomyosarcoma is the central focus. The path for developing drugs for this tumor has become very clear to us, so we’re really determined to make an impact and to make a change to the status quo in this disease.”

With additional support from the Mary Ruchalski Foundation, the Daniella Conte Foundation, William’s Echo Summers Way, Miles Levin Foundation, and Maddie’s Promise Foundation, this local group of research supporters has grown to become a powerful force in the fight against sarcomas.