Realizing Futures

Behind the Science: Q & A with Dr. Kathleen Sakamoto

Funding lifesaving research with Dr. Kathleen Sakamoto

We’d like you to meet, Dr. Kathleen Sakamoto, Translational Research Grant recipient. This type of grant funds new research protocols and therapies that hold promise for improved outcomes and accelerates cures from the laboratory bench to the bedside of children and teens with high-risk cancers. Dr. Sakamoto’s hope is to improve the overall survival of children with relapsed leukemia so that they will live healthy and productive lives. She has been studying the causes of acute leukemia in children for over 20 years! PCRF is supporting Dr. Sakamoto’s recent interest in developing new therapies for relapsed acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

She tells us more about her role in helping to ensure all children have a chance at a long, healthy future.

Why are you interested in finding a cure and better treatments for AML/ALL? Despite the many years of clinical trials to improve survival in children with AML and ALL, not all children can be cured from their disease. We are also now realizing that the treatment leads to increased side effects and long-term complications, both medically and in terms of other lifestyle issues, such as coping, learning, maintaining relationships, finding jobs.  The overall survival of pediatric AML patients is <60%, which is not acceptable.  In addition, there are very few therapeutic options for patients with relapsed leukemia, especially AML that are effective and nontoxic. Therefore, it is important that research in AML continues so that new targets can be identified and new drugs developed.

Share your thoughts on why you think it’s important to fund pediatric cancer research. Children are our future. NIH does not have a specific initiative to fund pediatric cancer research and pharmaceutical companies are not enthusiastic about developing drugs for pediatric cancer because of the perceived risks and small market share.  If Foundations like PCRF do not fund grants to study pediatric cancer, there will be very few (if any) opportunities to advance the field.

What advice would you give to a child or family diagnosed with cancer? To always be hopeful because children are basically healthy and tolerate therapy better than adults. Children are also resilient and are able to recover from complications of their treatment. Their lives will never be the same, but they can use their experiences to help other children and families with cancer.

What is point of view on the climate of pediatric cancer research – progress being made, survival rates, opportunities the future holds, etc? The fact that we can cure up to 80% of childhood cancer is a testament to all of the pediatric oncologists who participated in clinical trials. We have made great advances in our ability to cure children with cancer because of this. However, we still have a long way to go in terms of curing all children and at the same time preventing some of the complications of treatment.

“The future is bright as we are beginning to understand the individualized, genomic approaches to treat cancer including pediatric tumors.  It is an exciting time to be doing research.”

What is your proudest accomplishment so far in regards to your research? I am happy that I can harness the technology at Stanford; collaborate with medicinal chemists, structural chemists, computer engineers, and experts in Silicon Valley toward a common goal of developing a new approach to treat pediatric AML. I am also proud of my research team and trainees over the years who brought us to this point.

How has the support from PCRF allowed your research to be successful? Without the support of PCRF, I would not be able to make progress on developing drugs to target CREB since NIH does not support this type of “discovery” research.

Can you tell us something about you not many people know? I am a very determined and focused person. I grew up as a child of immigrants. My mother was in Japan during WWII and my father was in the Japanese internment camp (Manzanar). They inspired me to pursue my dreams of becoming a physician-scientist.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I enjoy going to spin classes at Equinox and watching movies in my spare time. I also enjoy watching baseball (Go Dodgers!!) and basketball (Go Warriors!!).

Learn more about Dr. Kathleen Sakamoto, our impact and the future of curing childhood cancers.

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