Four of the last five CCF Giant Food NextGen awardees joined us on site. L to R – Taylor Sundby, M.D. of National Cancer Institute/NIH, Lei Peng, M.D. of Johns Hopkins, Haneen Shalabi, D.O. of National Cancer Institute/NIH, and Jeff Rubens, M.D., of Johns Hopkins.

The Children’s Cancer Foundation, Inc. hosted the 5th Annual CCF Research Symposium, “Research Breakthroughs with Early Funding Support” on Wednesday, June 2, 2021.

Launched in 2016 and the brainchild of CCF Scientific Advisory Board Chair Jeffrey Toretsky, M.D., of Georgetown Lombardi, the CCF Research Symposium is based on the belief that small local research dialogue directly impacts significant research collaboration. The Symposium invites regional experts, advocates, and trainees to share their research and continue to advance treatments of childhood cancer.

When the Symposium was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, CCF made the early decision to organize a hybrid event for 2021 – one where a small number of participants convene as permissible, and the remainder join online. Over 60 individuals joined online and were able to pose live questions to the speakers. In tandem with the day of presentations, CCF hosted a week-long virtual poster session sharing dozens of the latest pediatric oncology research projects in the region.

The Symposium’s focus of early funding support was first demonstrated by learning from three of the more recent awardees of the CCF Giant Food Next Gen Grant. Awarded to researchers early in their careers, the grant, funded by Giant Food, is intended to support both the recipient’s innovative and promising research, and their career advancement.

One of the NextGen recipients (2017), Haneen Shalabi, D.O. of the National Cancer Institute of NIH, participated in the keynote panel. Joining her were Dr. Toretsky, and Curt Civin, M.D. from the University of MD School of Medicine. The panel offered a look back on the impact of early CCF funding on their innovative theories. In many cases, CCF funding provided the opportunity for each to develop the data enabling them to secure larger grants. CCF funding assisted the researchers to make some profound discoveries in pediatric oncology, all at different stages of overall cancer research advancement. Each shared the incredible, sometimes amusing, challenges and opportunities they encountered during their research.

One of several aspects of the CCF Research Symposium that sets it apart from a standard scientific conference, is sharing a cancer fighter’s journey. This year, the participants met Will Mumford and his mother Eileen, who both shared their experience with craniopharyngioma, a non-cancerous but devastating tumor, and his treatment at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center, under the care of CCF Scientific Advisory Board member, Young Kwok, M.D.

Several researchers and clinicians shared the progress that is happening in the area of cellular therapies. Stephan Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, is a world-renowned innovator in immunotherapy. Dr. Grupp provided valuable context for the future of immunotherapeutic treatment. Other speakers represented the National Cancer Institute, Georgetown University Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins Sydney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, Children’s National, and the University of MD School of Medicine.


The speaker names below link to each of their presentations. Those listed without videos presented findings yet to be published. The videos are available to view as a playlist on our CCF YouTube Channel.

Session I: Neuro-oncology:

  • Eugene Hwang, M.D., Neuro-oncologist, Associate Division Chief, Oncology, Children’s National, “Clinical Neuro-oncology treatment trends”
  • Will and Eileen Mumford, Graduating High School Senior treated for Craniopharyngioma and his mother/advocate.  Introduction by Young Kwok, M.D., Professor of Radiation Oncology, Maryland Proton Treatment Center
  • Taylor Sundby, M.D., Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellow, National Cancer Institute at NIH, 2020 CCF Giant Food NextGen Award Recipient “Cell-free DNA ultra-low-pass whole genome sequencing distinguishes malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor (MPNST) from its benign precursor lesion 
  • Jeffrey Rubens, M.D., Assistant Professor of Oncology and Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins, 2017 CCF Giant Food NextGen Award Recipient “6-Diazo-5-Oxo-l-Norleucine combines with Tazemetostat to disrupt the epigenetic maintenance of a stem-cell like state in AT/RT and extends survival in mice bearing orthotopic xenograft tumors.”

Keynote Panel: Research Breakthroughs with Early Funding

  • Moderator: Brian Rood, M.D. Director, Clinical Neuro-Oncology, Children’s National
  • Panelists:
    Curt I. Civin, M.D.
    , Associate Dean for Research, University of Maryland School of Medicine and Director, Center for Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine
    Haneen Shalabi, D.O., Assistant Research Physician, Pediatric Oncology Branch, National Cancer Institute at NIH, 2018 CCF Giant Food NextGen Award Recipient
    Jeffrey A. Toretsky, M.D., Professor, Departments of Oncology and Pediatrics and Division Chief, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Georgetown University

Session II: Cellular Therapies

  • Stephan A. Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., Section Chief, Cellular Therapy and Transplant Section, Director, Cancer Immunotherapy Program, and the Medical Director, Cell and Gene Therapy Laboratory, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “Cellular therapy in practice”
  • “One in a Billion,” video of Jonathan and William Erkkila’s journey, with comments from treating physician Pat Brown, M.D., Johns Hopkins, Director, Pediatric Leukemia program. Introduction by Young Kwok, M.D., Professor of Radiation Oncology, Maryland Proton Treatment Center
  • Ilias Christodoulou, M.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Johns Hopkins,Armoring CAR-NK cells with secreted IL15 enhances anti-AML functionality”
  • Ruyan Rahnama, M.D., Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellow, Johns Hopkins, “Optimizing CAR-NK function Through Study of Affinity Modification
  • Kristin M. Wessel, M.D., Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Fellow, National Cancer Institute at NIH, “Characterization of the Immune Microenvironment and Preclinical Evaluation of Genetically Engineered Myeloid Cells in a Syngeneic Murine Model of Osteosarcoma”

CCF gratefully acknowledges the support of The Kahlert Foundation and all volunteers who contributed to an incredible day of learning.



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