Realizing Futures

Behind the Science: Q & A with Dr. Rishi Lulla and Dr. Amanda Saratsis

Funding lifesaving research with Dr. Rishi Lulla and Dr. Amanda Saratsis

We love to celebrate our researchers every chance we get. Dr. Rishi Lulla and Dr. Amanda Saratsis from Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago are changing the future for children fighting cancer. Both recipients of our Translational Research Grant, they are working together to accelerate cures from the laboratory to the bedside of children and teens with high-risk cancers.

Through a collaborative approach, this unique group of researchers will bring new therapies to clinical trials and improve outcomes for patients with pediatric brain tumors. Initial research will focus on pediatric high grade glioma (pHGG) and diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) because children affected by these tumors are in dire need of improved treatment options and outcomes.

Why are you interested in finding a cure and/or better treatments for Pediatric Brain Tumors? Rishi: Like most doctors who end up choosing a career in oncology, some of my most meaningful patient experiences during training were with children with cancer. As I started caring for children with brain tumors, it became clear that while we’ve made so many improvements in outcomes over the years – there is much more work to do. It’s my honor to be a part of that effort – and believe that if I’m able to change the life of just one child affected by this terrible disease in my career, this would be the definition of success.

Share your thoughts on why you think it’s important to fund pediatric cancer research. Amanda: Unlike adult cancer research, a very small percentage of federal funding comes to pediatric cancer research. An even smaller amount is dedicated to children with brain and spinal cord tumors. We are so lucky that this community has motivated families and funding groups who have dedicated themselves to help bridge the gap. Funding pediatric cancer research is providing hope to children and their families who are valiantly battling these diseases.

What is your view on the climate of pediatric cancer research – progress being made, survival rates, opportunities the future holds, etc? Amanda: This is an incredibly exciting time to be working in pediatric cancer and brain tumor research. With advances sequencing techniques we are learning more about the genes and proteins that are responsible for the development and maintenance of cancer cells. One perfect example is DIPG, the disease that we are studying.

“In the last 5 years, we have easily increased our basic knowledge of DIPG biology by over 200% — and this has opened up an entire world of new strategies to try to stop this deadly tumor in its tracks.”

Rishi: I agree with Amanda, progress is happening at a brisk pace – and the results are noticeable. There are patients we are able to treat and cure today for whom there was no hope 10 years ago. It’s amazing to be part of this progress at this point in our careers.

How has the support from PCRF allowed your research to be successful? Rishi and Amanda: The support we have received from PCRF has been instrumental. We are working on understanding the effects of a specific inhibitor on DIPG cells – and the funds we received have helped us do some sequencing and animal testing that would not have been possible without the support. We are also working towards opening a clinical trial of this compound in the early part of next year.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Amanda: I think we might both answer this question similarly – as we both have families with young kids. So, when we are not working – we are busy chasing our kids around. I also enjoy running and traveling.

Rishi: Everything Amanda said – except the running 🙂

Learn more about Dr. Rishi Lulla and Dr. Amanda Saratsis, our impact and the future of curing childhood cancers.

Make a Difference Today !

When you are young and healthy, it never occurs to you that in a single second your whole life could change. – Annette Funicello