Cancer Researcher Goes in New Direction with St. Baldrick’s Support

Posted in GUMC Stories

AUGUST 1, 2014—A Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center (new window) investigator is able to branch off into a new research direction thanks to a recent influx of support from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation (new window).

Jeffrey Toretsky, MD (new window), a pediatric oncologist and researcher at Georgetown Lombardi, has received a $100,000 St. Baldrick’s Research Grant with generous support from the Team Clarkie Fund, a St. Baldrick’s Hero Fund.

Toretsky has spent the better part of his career, dating back to his fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in 1992, seeking new and more specific therapies for Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone or soft-tissue cancer that is most prevalent in children and adolescents.

“Receiving this grant is fantastic because I’ve redirected my work,” Toretsky says. “I’m still researching Ewing sarcoma, but we’ve shifted from a mode where we were discovering and validating a small molecule to understanding the mechanism of how that small molecule works.”

In order to understand the mechanism, Toretsky says he and his team are beginning to look at messenger RNA (mRNA) splicing, or the process by which mRNA gets chopped up and joined back together in the cell’s nucleus, thereby giving the final signal to the cell for which proteins to make. 

Toretsky hopes this approach will lead to better understanding of how cells splice the messages that keep tumor cells growing. He credits the Children’s Cancer Foundation (new window) out of Baltimore for supporting his initial work in Ewing sarcoma from 1995 for 15 years prior to and after his arrival at Georgetown University Medical Center (new window) in 2002.

Team Clarkie

The Team Clarkie Fund (new window) was created to ensure resources are available to make significant strides toward finding a cure for Ewing sarcoma and other pediatric cancers.

The fund was named for Clarkie, an 11-year-old boy who was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma in July 2013. His treatment involved 34 weeks of chemotherapy and surgery to remove the top half of his femur and replace it with a titanium prosthesis and donor bone. Clarkie completed his treatment in May 2014 and is currently in remission.

St. Baldrick’s at Georgetown

Georgetown has a long history of engagement with St. Baldrick’s. Georgetown University School of Medicine (new window) students host an annual St. Baldrick’s signature head-shaving event, a fundraiser for the organization with a portion of proceeds benefitting pediatric cancer research at Georgetown Lombardi. The 2014 event was co-organized by medical students Ashley Sharp (C’12, M’16), Shaila Patel (M’16) and Abby Keogh (M’16).

This year (new window), more than 60 GUMC faculty, staff, students, parents and siblings shaved their heads to demonstrate solidarity with children fighting cancer who lose their hair during treatment. They raised just over $35,600.

In April, the Georgetown University baseball team (new window) shaved their heads in partnership with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and hosted a fundraiser. The team raised a total of $48,450, the second-highest amount ever raised by a collegiate baseball team for St. Baldrick’s.

By Sarah Reik
GUMC Communications