Fiscal Year 2021 Research Accolades
Recognizing our investigators' commitment to cancer research for pediatric, teen and young adult patients
Our basic science and clinical research faculty received an overwhelming number of accolades in recognition of their outstanding accomplishments. Their dedication and cross-disciplinary collaborations led to publications across various high impact journals, substantial grant funding and awards from some of the most prestigious groups. Below we highlight selected achievements for FY21.
View highlights of our basic science research and clinical research.
Eugenie Kleinerman, M.D., professor of Pediatrics – Research, was honored with the 2021 Nobility in Science Award from the Sarcoma Foundation of America. This national award is given to an outstanding scientist who is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge of sarcoma and who works tirelessly to find new and innovative approaches for treating this rare cancer.
The Pediatrics – Research department published quality work in various journals across pediatric cancers. The Chandra Laboratory published an article in Neuro-Oncology (Impact Factor (IF): 12.3) on LSD1 inhibition and NK cells, representing a therapeutic opportunity for pediatric high-grade gliomas. Co-authors included Mary Figueroa, B.S., graduate research assistant - GSBS in Pediatrics - Research; Achintyan Gangadharan, M.S., senior research assistant with the Adoptive Cell Therapy Platform; Yanwen Yang, research laboratory coordinator in Pediatrics - Research; Bridget A. Kennis, M.P.A.S., physician assistant in Colon & Rectal Surgery; Verlene Henry, former research investigator in Neurosurgery; Vidya Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics – Research; and Wafik Zaky, M.B.B.Ch., associate professor of Pediatrics – Patient Care. Joya Chandra, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics – Research, is senior and corresponding author.
In June, Nancy Gordon, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics – Research; Vidya Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics – Research; and colleagues published a review of autophagy and the epigenetic mechanisms involved in regulation in Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology (IF: 6.7). This “self-eating” process is thought to have a critical role in various diseases, including cancer. Understanding the link between epigenetics and autophagy is crucial, since epigenetic processes are reversible and thus may offer opportunities for novel treatments.
Shulin Li, Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics – Research, published high impact articles in Nature Communications (IF: 14.9) and Advanced Science (16.8), which revealed a novel treatment strategy for glioblastoma and validated a new tumor suppressor gene for liver cancer. Hannah Savage, graduate research assistant in Pediatrics – Research; Keri Schadler, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics – Research; and colleagues published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine (IF: 6.1). In August 2021, the Gopalakrishnan lab published an editorial review article in Expert Opinion On Therapeutic Targets (IF: 6.9) entitled “Medulloblastoma: novel insights into emerging therapeutic targets." In this peer reviewed article, Shavali Shaik, Ph.D., instructor of Pediatrics - Research; Shinji Maegawa, Ph.D., instructor of Pediatrics – Research; and Vidya Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics – Research discuss molecular differences in tumor vasculature between the medulloblastoma subgroups, and how variability in their structure and architecture may influence survival and therapeutic responses.
Nancy Gordon, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics – Research, was awarded a $50,000 grant from Cures Within Reach to investigate osteosarcoma drugs. She will conduct biopsies on osteosarcoma patients who receive a three-drug chemotherapy combination. Shulin Li, Ph.D., professor of Pediatrics – Research, also received two NIH grants with approximately $5 million in research funding to perform a novel class of T cell therapy for safely treating tumors, and to develop treatment in combination with standard care to induce immune memory against glioblastoma recurrence. Richard Gorlick, M.D., division head and principal investigator of the Gorlick laboratory, continued to be incorporated into the Pediatric Preclinical Testing Consortium this year and, through competitive funding, was selected as one of seven national NCI-funded testing centers in the new Pediatric Preclinical in Vivo Testing (PIVOT) Program consortium. The Pediatric PIVOT aims to address the need for increased preclinical testing and approval of pediatric cancer treatments.
Collaborations across our research and clinical departments have yielded fruitful outcomes. One example of their success is the receipt of a P30 supplemental funding involving Donna Kelly, M.S., senior occupational therapist in Rehab Occupational Therapy; Karen Moody, M.D., M.S., associate professor of Pediatrics – Patient Care; Keri Schadler, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics – Research; and Maria Chang Swartz, Ph.D., R.D., L.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics – Research. This work will explore barriers and facilitators to mitigate disparate access to occupational therapy/physical therapy in pediatric cancer survivors.
In addition, Swartz, Moody, and Stephanie Wells, M.S., research dietitian in Pediatrics - Research are teaming up with Mary T. Austin, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., associate professor of Surgical Oncology and Valerae O. Lewis, M.D., chair of Orthopaedic Oncology in the Surgery division to start the first Pediatrics-specific Enhanced Recovery Program (ERP). The Pedi-ERP program will build a culture of mobility and wellness to deliver value-based care for children with cancer.
Junior faculty & trainee accomplishments
Several research trainees, postdoctoral fellows, and junior faculty achieved numerous milestones.
Highlights include Mandy Wu, a visiting graduate student, who published a paper in Nature Communications detailing findings about an immune tumor suppressor gene involved in liver cancer. The article is titled “WSX1 act as a tumor suppressor in hepatocellular carcinoma by downregulating neoplastic PD-L1 expression.” Wu’s mentor and last author on the publication is Shulin Li, Ph.D., professor and director of our Pediatric Research Laboratory Program.
Jiemiao Hu, Ph.D., instructor of Pediatric - Research, was a contributing author. Hu also published two first author manuscripts about immune system approaches in cancer therapy. Her findings in Cancer Letter detail a novel option to reduce or stop shedding of natural killer group 2, member D (NKG2D) ligands from the surface of tumor cells. Shedding leads to immune system evasion, making it harder for NK cells to detect threats to the body, such as pathogens or cancer. The article is titled, “Lysine acetylation of NKG2D ligand Rae-1 stabilizes the protein and sensitizes tumor cells to NKG2D immune surveillance.” Hu’s manuscript in Science News describes what she and MD Anderson colleagues learned about possible contributors to the invasiveness and high immune suppression in glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), which often leads to poor survival in patients.
Their analysis of The Cancer Genome Atlas database and brain tumor tissue arrays found that the overexpression of chemokines CXCL1 and CXCL2 are closely associated with GBM’s aggressiveness. Along with an inflammatory modulator, CXCL1/2 help these tumor cells dodge an immune response, allowing them to multiply and grow. Hu and fellow researchers believe there is potential for clinically targeting the chemokines to reduce tumor development and improve efficacy of chemotherapy. The paper is titled, “Regulation of tumor immune suppression and cancer cell survival by CXCL1/2 elevation in glioblastoma multiforme.” Li, also Hu’s mentor, was last author on the publication.
Shavali Shaik, Ph.D., instructor of Pediatrics – Research, was first author of a Molecular Oncology paper providing insights into how the RE1-silencing transcription factor (REST), a repressor of neurogenesis and a driver of medulloblastoma metastasis, supports blood vessel sprouting to support medulloblastoma progression.
In the paper, “REST promotes ETS1‐dependent vascular growth in medulloblastoma,” the investigators suggest that targeting the REST complex is a therapeutic opportunity.
Vidya Gopalakrishnan, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics – Research, is last author and Shaik’s mentor.
Yifei Wang, M.D., post-doctoral fellow in the Richard Gorlick Laboratory, Pediatric – Research, was first author on an abstract selected for oral presentation at the annual American Association for Cancer Research meeting held in April 2021.
His abstract titled “Integrative surfaceome profiling identifies immunotherapeutic targets in osteosarcomas (OS); Preclinical testing of BT1769, an MT1-MMP-targeted Bicycle Toxin Conjugate, in OS by the Pediatric Preclinical Testing Consortium (PPTC),” was published in Cancer Research. This important work from the Gorlick Laboratory identified MMP14 as a novel target for osteosarcoma.
Pradeep Shrestha, Ph.D. was awarded an Odyssey Fellowship in September 2021, a process that began with his application submission the previous year. Shrestha’s project is titled, “Modulation of the tumor immune microenvironment by targeting STAT3 and CD47-SIRPα axis for treatment of Osteosarcoma-lung metastasis.”
His study will be supported by the HEB Corporation through the Scientific Achievement Endowment Fund and his mentor is Eugenie Kleinerman, M.D., professor of Pediatrics - Research.
Other outstanding trainees in the Research department won impressive awards from philanthropic organizations to support their work as graduate research students at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
Mary Figueroa is a graduate research assistant in Pediatrics – Research and Ph.D. candidate at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School.
She earned three awards in the 2021-2022 academic year—the Schissler Foundation Fellowship, the Floyd Haar, M.D., Endowed Memorial Scholarship, and the 2020 Minority Graduate Student Abstract Achievement Award from the American Society of Hematology.
Sumedha Pareek, a graduate research assistant in Pediatrics – Research and Ph.D. candidate, won the Pauline Altman-Goldstein Foundation Discovery Fellowship.
More information about these awards are available on The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School’s website.
The division is very proud of the accomplishments that our patient care faculty, clinical fellows and advanced practice providers made in Fiscal Year 2021.
Some of these achievements included publishing journal articles and book chapters as first or last authors, earning grant awards and receiving accolades from peers. Here, we include some of their successes.
Division becomes a top enroller of children in SNDX-5613 clinical trial for aggressive leukemias
The Pediatrics division became a top enrolling clinical trial site in the country for the menin inhibitor agent SNDX-5613. The oral agent is administered to children with relapsed/refractory leukemia with the mixed lineage leukemia (MLL1/KMT2A gene rearrangement) or the neucleophosmin 1 (NPM1) mutation. The Phase I/II treatment trial seeks to find the safest and highest dose of the investigational drug to prevent the menin protein from attaching to MLL1 proteins—a potentially devastating combination that makes leukemia worse. Branko Cuglievan, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and ad interim section chief for Leukemia/Lymphoma, is the collaborator of study 2019-0997.
Section colleagues David McCall, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and Branko Cuglievan, M.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics and ad interim section chief for Leukemia/Lymphoma, were first and last author on a paper in ASH Publications’ Blood Advances that provided the first description of gilteritinib in pediatric acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients. The retrospective study done with colleagues at Texas Children’s Hospital included eight patients who ranged in age from six to 21 years. None of the patients received upfront gilteritinib, but one received it as consolidation therapy, achieved complete response, and remains in remission at the time of publication. Some of the patients also received allotransplantation following complete remissions. Median follow-up range was about nine months, with six of the patients surviving. A Phase III clinical treatment trial further examining gilteritinib is under study at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. Najat Daw, M.D., professor of Pediatrics, is the principal investigator for study 2020-0818.
Cuglievan also became a co-awardee of a $100,000 grant to study a non-invasive device that patients can use at home to monitor for signs of neutropenia, a frequent and often life-threatening side effect of cancer. He shares the award with a group of biomedical engineers formed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Investigators say patients can put their fingers in the equipment and allow light to help the machine capture images of the skin around their fingernails to identify blood cells flowing through superficial capillaries. The device is programmed to use algorithms that help determine white blood cell levels. If too low, the patient or family members are prompted to seek medical assistance. The National Institutes of Health Point-of-Care Technologies Research Network (POCTRN) funds the study.
This section published several papers including the manuscript below in which 2021 Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellowship graduate Sana Mohiuddin, M.D., served as first author.
Mohiuddin S, Maraka S, Usman Baig M, Gupta S, Muzzafar T, Valyi-Nagy T, Lindsay H, Moody K, Razvi S, Paulino A, Slavin K, Gondi V, McCutcheon I, Zaky W, Khatua S. Case series of diffuse extraneural metastasis in H3F3A mutant high-grade gliomas: clinical, molecular phenotype and literature review. J Clin Neurosci 89:405-411, 7/2021. e-Pub 5/2021. PMID: 34053821.
Stem Cell Transplantation & Cellular Therapy
Division stem cell faculty are leading major consortiums that are investigating new therapies for patients
Kris Mahadeo, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of Pediatrics, was honored to be elected to serve on the Pediatric Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Consortium’s (PTCTC) Scientific Review Committee. He will be reviewing research data and evaluating protocols considered for clinical trials.
The PTCTC includes specialists from more than 100 pediatric centers in the U.S., Canada, New England, and Australia. It is a core member of the National Institutes of Health-funded Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network (BMTCTN) and works collaboratively with the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). The PTCTC is the largest clinical trials group focused exclusively on blood and marrow transplants for children and adolescents with a goal of improving long-term outcomes.
Virtual reality technology helps Pediatrics Stem Cell and Intensive Care Teams educate international peers on managing SCTCT complications
Stem cell and critical care faculty, trainees and advanced practice providers conducted the 2021 Contemporary Critical Care Complications of Transplantation and Cellular Therapy Conference. The virtual reality course was held three times during the fiscal year and garnered more than 230 registrants from around the world.
Organizers presented information about immune effector cell therapy complications, acute kidney injury, respiratory management, diagnosis and response to neurological challenges, and pain management. Attendees received virtual reality goggles and other tools to participate in clinical crisis scenarios and then to discuss the situations.
Ragoonanan D, Khazal SJ, Abdel-Azim H, McCall D, Cuglievan B, Tambaro FP, Ahmad AH, Rowan CM, Gutierrez C, Schadler K, Li S, Di Nardo M, Chi L, Gulbis AM, Shoberu B, Mireles ME, McArthur J, Kapoor N, Miller J, Fitzgerald JC, Tewari P, Petropoulos D, Gill JB, Duncan CN, Lehmann LE, Hingorani S, Angelo JR, Swinford RD, Steiner ME, Hernandez Tejada FN, Martin PL, Auletta J, Choi SW, Bajwa R, Dailey Garnes N, Kebriaei P, Rezvani K, Wierda WG, Neelapu SS, Shpall EJ, Corbacioglu S, Mahadeo KM. Diagnosis, grading and management of toxicities from immunotherapies in children, adolescents and young adults with cancer. Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2021 Jul;18(7):435-453. doi: 10.1038/s41571-021-00474-4. Epub 2021 Feb 19.
Ragoonanan D, Khazal SJ, Wang J, Payne A, Kohorst M, Harden A, Tewari P, Petropoulos D, Shoberu B, Kebriaei P, Mahadeo KM, Tambaro FP. Improved detection of sinusoidal obstructive syndrome using pediatric-AYA diagnostic criteria and severity grading. Bone Marrow Transplant. 2021 Jan;56(1):175-184. doi: 10.1038/s41409-020-00998-w. Epub 2020 Jul 14.
Joanne Green, M.S.N., M.A., A.P.R.N., C.P.N.P.-B.C., A.C.H.P.N., advanced practice registered nurse in Pediatrics, partnered with colleague Amy Corey Haskamp, M.S.N., R.N., P.C.N.S.-B.C., C.P.O.N., C.H.P.P.N., at Riley Hospital for Children in Indiana, to coauthor “Pediatric Oncology Chapter in Advanced Practice Palliative Nursing.”
Kevin Madden, M.D., associate professor of Pediatrics and Palliative Care Medicine, led several articles textbook chapters as first author.
- Madden K, Reddy A, De La Cruz M, Chen M, Bruera E. Patterns of storage, use, and disposal of prescription opioids by young adults with cancer. Journal of adolescent and young adult oncology. 2021 Apr 1;10(2):234-9.
- Madden K, Haider A, Rozman De Moraes A, Naqvi SM, Enriquez PA, Wu J, Williams J, Liu D, Bruera E. Frequency of concomitant use of gabapentinoids and opioids among patients with cancer-related pain at an outpatient palliative care clinic. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2021 Jan 1;24(1):91-6.
- Madden K. Pain Management in Pediatrics (book chapter). In: Textbook of Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care, Third Edition, 2021 Jul 15 (pp. 285-292).
- Madden K, Goldstein R. Pediatric Cancer Pain (book chapter). In: The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Pain Management, Fourth Edition, 2020 Oct 2 (pp. 504-511).
Allen JD, Shukla R, Baker R, Slaven JE, Moody K. Improving neonatal intensive care unit providers' perceptions of palliative care through a weekly case-based discussion. Palliat Med Rep 2(1):93-100, 2021. e-Pub 4/2021. PMCID: PMC8241393.
Barakat, L., Madden, R., Vega, G., Askins, M., Kazak, A. (2021). Longitudinal Predictors of Caregiver Resilience Outcomes at the End of Childhood Cancer Treatment. Psycho-Oncology, 30, 747-755. https://doi.org/10.1002/pon.5625
Berkman, A.M., Robert, R.S., Roth, M., and Askins, M.A. A review of psychological symptoms and post-traumatic growth among adolescent and young adult survivors of childhood cancer. Journal of Health Psychology, 1-16. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105320971706
Stavinoha, P. L., Solesbee, C., Swearer, S. M., Svoboda, S., Klesse, L. J., & Holland, A. A. (2021). Risk factors for bullying victimization in children with neurofibromatosis type 1 NF1). Children, 2021 Feb 15;8(2): 145.
Stavinoha, P. L., Olsthoorn, I. M., Swartz, M. C., Nowakowski, S., Wells, S. J., Hicklen, R. S., Sheikh, I., Jang, H. (2021). Non-pharmacological sleep interventions for pediatric cancer patients and survivors: a systematic review protocol. Systematic reviews, 2021 June 4;10(1), 1-7.
Robert R, Smith D, Stavinoha P. MD Anderson Implementing the Psychosocial Standards. Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation, https://www.mattiemiracle.com/implementation. e-Pub 3/2021.
Rhonda Robert, Ph.D. Investigator, preliminary testing of the MD Anderson Symptom Inventory (Adolescent Version), Genentech, PI – Lori Williams, 6/13/2016-8/31/2021
Rhonda Robert, Ph.D., Principal Investigator for MD Anderson. Evaluation of Two Implementation Strategies for the Psychosocial Assessment Tool (PAT) across 18 Children's Cancer Centers, American Cancer Society (ACS), PI - Anne Kazak and Lamia Barakat, 1/1/2021-12/31/2021
Certifications and recognitions:
The Pediatric Graduate Psychology Training Program was certified this year. The division’s program underwent internal review by the MD Anderson Clinical Health Education Program (CHEP) leadership and successfully completed all of the requirements for approval to be a certified Clinical Health Education Program at MD Anderson. We now hold training agreements with Texas A&M University, University of Houston, and University of Houston Clear Lake.
Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., received two awards:
- Hospital Educator & Liaison Association Bridge Award (2021), bestowed upon an individual or group whose work reflects the mission of the Hospital Educator and Academic Liaison (HEAL) Association to support and connect professionals working to improve the educational outcomes for students with medical and mental health needs
- American Psychological Association Karl F. Heiser APA Presidential Award (2021), which honors psychologists who have given voluntarily of their time to define the discipline of psychology statutorily by state and federal laws and regulations through advocacy.
Recognition from Patients and Families
Patients and their families ranked our pediatric providers among the best in the field in the Clinician and Group Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey.
The questionnaire asks patients about their experiences with doctors and clinical support staff. The ranking compares providers in all disciplines in Press Ganey’s national database, which includes more than 110,000 active providers. Congratulations to our dedicated providers.
- John Livingston, M.D., M.S., sarcoma specialist, perfect score
- John Slopis, M.D., neuro-oncology specialist, perfect score
- Anita Ying, M.D., M.B.A., endocrinology specialist, perfect score
- Steven Waguespack, M.D., endocrinology specialist, top 10 percent