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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 5, 2007

Aiming for a Cure Foundation funds UI pediatric cancer research

Two researchers at University of Iowa Children's Hospital have been awarded a total of $100,000 in 2007 Aiming for a Cure Foundation grants, which were made through the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the UI. The two-year grants were effective Oct. 1.

The Aiming for a Cure Foundation raises funds to benefit pediatric oncology patients and families at UI Children's Hospital at UI Hospitals and Clinics. The goal is to improve the quality of care and life for these children through the funding of research and patient care. The award recipients are both members of the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Joel Shilyansky, M.D., UI associate professor and director of pediatric surgery and the Robert and Hélène Soper Chair in Pediatric Surgery, received $50,000 for a study on neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer that forms in nerve tissue and is often incurable. Neuroblastoma is adept at evading the immune system and avoiding immune destruction. By understanding how neuroblastoma evades the immune system researches can learn how to improve cancer treatment. Shilyansky's team will focus on a phospholipid called phosphatidylserine that helps neuroblastoma subvert patients' immune system. The team will investigate whether a certain protein that can block phosphatidylserine would increase immunity against the tumor. This approach could eventually be used clinically to train patients' immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells. The approach also could possibly lead to more generally applicable and effective treatment for neuroblastoma and other cancers.

Rajeev Vibhakar, M.D., Ph.D., UI assistant professor of pediatrics, also received $50,000 for basic research related to medulloblastoma, a brain tumor that is the leading cause of cancer death in children under age 15. The team specifically will investigate whether DNA methylation -- the addition of methyl to a piece of DNA -- blocks a gene's ability to function. The researchers hypothesize that DNA methylation blocks expression of tumor suppressor genes in medulloblastoma and that these methylation marks can be used as diagnostic tools. The team hopes to develop and validate a set of biomarkers that can then be tested in a large clinical study, with the goal of tailoring treatment to each individual's disease and developing therapies that have less toxic side effects.

Learn more about Aiming for a Cure Foundation at

UI Children's Hospital serves children and their families at its main campus in Iowa City and satellite clinics in communities throughout the region. A 180-bed "hospital within a hospital," UI Children's Hospital benefits from the sophisticated services and comprehensive resources of UI Hospitals and Clinics. Child magazine ranks UI Children's Hospital among the top 20 children's hospitals in the nation. Learn more at

The Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is Iowa's only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers are recognized as the leaders in developing new approaches to cancer prevention and cancer care, conducting leading edge research and educating the public about cancer. Visit the center online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: Becky Soglin, 319-335-6660,