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Sujatha Venkataraman

Sunday, December 03, 2017

After her son Rishi passed away from childhood cancer 14 years ago, Sujatha Venkataraman, PhD, was inspired to switch her research focus from adult breast and prostate cancer to childhood cancer. “Innocent kids should not go through this,” Sujatha reflects. “Kids like my little son are my inspiration.”

As a researcher of The Morgan Adams Foundation Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, she is working to find a cure for DIPG – diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma – which is 100% fatal. “I am currently working on identifying the genes that cause DIPG and to identify gene pathways that make the DIPG tumor aggressive after relapse from radiation treatment.”

The typical treatment for DIPG patients is radiation, the only standard therapy so far. But, the tumor comes back after radiation, growing even more aggressively than the original tumor and becomes resistant to radiation therapy. At that point, there are no treatment options and parents are often told to take their child home to spend the limited time they have left away from the hospital.

DIPG affects children almost exclusively. Approximately 200-400 children in the United States are diagnosed with DIPG each year.

“Since very little is known about DIPG tumor biology, I want to understand the biology of this tumor. Understanding the biology of a tumor is the best way to target it faster.” Last year, Sujatha and Dr. Rajeev Vibhakar received a $20,000 MAF grant to investigate whether PTC-209, a small-molecule inhibitor of BMI1 protein, can help kill DIPG tumor cells. The research has yielded important data and resulted in more grants – totaling $500,000 – from the U.S. Department of Defense and other organizations, and that means a new possibility of hope for kids with this uniformly fatal tumor.

Only 4 percent of the national federal funding goes to pediatric cancer research, Sujatha notes. “A fraction of that money goes to pediatric brain tumor research. Most of our DIPG work is funded by The Morgan Adams Foundation.”

Watch Sujatha talk about DIPG tumors and the research she is working on in this short video.

Sujatha’s published papers related to DIPG include:


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