1 Million 4 Anna Foundation provides its largest grant to Ewing's Sarcoma Research Project

Dr. James Amatruda, David Basso, Carol Basso, and Dr. David Russell
Dr. James Amatruda, David Basso, Carol Basso, and Dr. David Russell

DALLAS – January 22, 2016 – The 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation has awarded its largest grant thus far to UT Southwestern Medical Center’s research project targeting Ewing’s sarcoma, a malignant bone cancer that affects primarily adolescents and young adults.

While the disease’s genetic origin is known, scientists are still working to understand how the disease progresses and identify ways to fight the tumors early on, at their genetic origins. UT Southwestern’s Ewing’s Sarcoma Research Project, part of the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, is working to leverage its current success in laboratory research on Ewing’s sarcoma to discover more effective treatment options.

“The 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation’s investment in UT Southwestern’s Ewing’s Sarcoma Research Project will support promising research and fuel important discoveries that can ultimately lead to innovative treatments for Ewing sarcoma and its effects on thousands of adolescents and young adults,” said Dr. James Willson, Associate Dean of Oncology Programs at UT Southwestern, and Professor and Director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, who holds The Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.

Anna Lee Basso, an independent, passionate Dallas teenager, was diagnosed in 2009 at age 16 with Ewing’s sarcoma, fighting multiple relapses and surviving for 18 months after her initial diagnosis. The idea for 1 Million 4 Anna was born out of people’s pledges to pray daily for her, resulting in more than a million prayers offered. Before she passed, Anna asked to be remembered through a charitable foundation dedicated to finding ways to defeat the disease and helping those affected by it.

“We believe the kind of innovative research being conducted at UT Southwestern is well aligned with our mission to eradicate Ewing’s sarcoma, and an opportunity to extend Anna’s legacy in a positive way for other children,” said Carol Basso, Anna’s mom and co-founder of the Foundation with Anna’s father David Basso and Anna’s sister, Patrice Basso, in announcing the $250,000 award.

UT Southwestern has gathered a team of specialists from clinical, translational and basic research fields to develop its collaborative approach aimed at driving important advancements in the biology and treatment of Ewing's sarcoma, explained Dr. Stephen Skapek, Professor of Pediatrics and Chief of Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology.

“Our collaborative team includes experts specializing in pediatric oncology, molecular biology, cancer metabolism, gene regulation, and genetic cancer models,” said Dr. Skapek, a member of the Simmons Cancer Center, who holds the Distinguished Chair in Pediatric Oncology Research at UT Southwestern. “All of their research teams directly collaborate to enable advances in each project, thereby supporting more rapid progress.”

The project team has five integrated research projects with the overall goal of identifying specific genes and pathways in Ewing's sarcoma tumors that may make the tumor cells susceptible to new types of treatments. Project collaborations are led by:

  • Dr. James Amatruda, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, and Molecular Biology, holder of the Nearburg Family Professorship in Pediatric Oncology Research, and a Horchow Family Scholar in Pediatrics;
  • Dr. Ralph DeBerardinis, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Genetics and Metabolism, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and in the Children's Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, and in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, and holder of the Joel B. Steinberg, M.D. Chair in Pediatrics; and a Sowell Family Scholar in Medical Research;
  • Dr. Ralf Kittler, Assistant Professor Pharmacology in the Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, and in the Simmons Cancer Center, and a John L. Roach Scholar in Biomedical Research;
  • Dr. David McFadden, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Biochemistry;
  • Dr. Angelique Whitehurst, Assistant Professor of Pharmacology and in the Simmons Cancer Center.

The 1 Million 4 Anna Foundation announced the award during a reception, which was followed by a tour of one of the research team laboratories that pioneered the use of zebrafish to study Ewing's sarcoma.

“The zebrafish models we’ve developed provide an opportunity for valuable collaborations,” said Dr. Amatruda. “For example, our project draws on the Next Generation Sequencing Core in UT Southwestern’s Eugene McDermott Center for Human Growth and Development, and can be used to test important proteins, metabolic pathway targets and new drugs identified by fellow researchers on this team.”

UT Southwestern’s Simmons Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in North Texas and one of just 45 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation. The Simmons Cancer Center includes 13 major cancer care programs with a focus on treating the whole patient with innovative treatments, while fostering groundbreaking basic research that has the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide. In addition, the Center’s education and training programs support and develop the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians. Among only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be named a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Participating Site, a prestigious designation by the NCI, it is the only cancer center in North Texas to be so designated. The designation and associated funding is designed to bolster the cancer center’s clinical cancer research for adults and to provide patients access to cancer research trials sponsored by the NCI, where promising new drugs often are tested. 

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has included six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. The faculty of almost 2,800 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in about 80 specialties to more than 92,000 hospitalized patients and oversee approximately 2.2 million outpatient visits a year.