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Hyundai Hope on Wheels grant to advance glioblastoma research at UMMS

By Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

September 30, 2014
  Jack L. Leonard, PhD, (at center, in white coat), is presented with a $250,000 grant from the Hyundai Hope on Wheels program.
  Jack L. Leonard, PhD, (at center, in white coat), is presented with a $250,000 grant from the Hyundai Hope on Wheels program. 

Jack L. Leonard, PhD, professor of microbiology & physiological systems, received a $250,000 grant from Hyundai Hope on Wheels and Worcester-area Hyundai dealers to explore a tumor suppressing pathway that arrests growth and initiates programmed cell death in glioblastoma tumor cells.

Glioblastoma is one of the most common and lethal forms of malignant brain cancer in adults. It is rare in children. Glioblastoma tumors usually form in the cerebral white matter, grow quickly, and can become very large before producing symptoms such as memory loss, vomiting, nausea and headache. Treatment for children with pediatric glioblastoma can involve surgery, radiation and in some cases chemotherapy. Median survival with standard-of-care treatment is 15 to 16 months.

Dr. Leonard has identified a missing protein in glioblastoma cells that, when reinserted in cell cultures, causes the cells to stop growing and die. With the funding from Hyundai, Leonard can begin moving his research from the laboratory bench into preclinical trials. Using human glioblastoma cells, he will explore the effect this protein has on tumor cells in animal models.

“We’re incredibly grateful for this support from Hyundai,” Leonard said. “The National Institutes of Health supports a lot of great research, but for research like ours that is at such an early stage it is very unlikely that we could get federal funding. With the Hyundai Scholar Grant, we will be able to move this work forward to the next step as we transition it from laboratory cell cultures to preclinical studies involving human tumor cells in mice.”

UMMS is one of 36 institutions to receive a 2014 Hyundai Scholar Hope Grant. In all, Hope on Wheels will award $9 million in grants this September in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

“Philanthropic funding is essential to continuing research efforts, such as those by Dr. Leonard,” said Peter Newburger, MD, professor of pediatrics and cancer biology and chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “Past Hyundai Scholar Hope Grant recipients have used the funding to start projects that have since gone on to secure NIH backing. This couldn’t have happened without the support of the Hyundai Hope on Wheels program.”

The donation is part of Hope on Wheels’ annual September Campaign celebrating National Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Since 2011, UMass Medical School has received $600,000 from Hope on Wheels.

The $250,000 Hyundai Scholar Hope Grant to Leonard was officially presented during a Hope On Wheels Handprint ceremony at UMMS on September 23. During the ceremony, Worcester-area children battling cancer placed their handprints dipped in colorful paint on a white 2014 Hyundai Sonata. Every handprint tells a story and this ceremony celebrates the lives of the children with cancer and brings Hope on Wheels’ community of supporters together.