Realizing Futures

Behind the Science: Q & A with Dr. Alex Huang

Funding Lifesaving Research with Dr. Alex Huang

We’d like you to meet Dr. Alex Huang, Basic Research Science Grant recipient from Case Western Reserve University. Dr. Alex Huang has been a longtime recipient of PCRF grant funding. This funding has been important in Dr. Huang’s research in sparking additional support to turn an idea into novel therapy and new hope for children and their families battling cancer.  For over 25 years, Dr. Huang’s research career has been focused on finding ways to implement immunotherapeutics to provide new hope for patients and families afflicted with these devastating diseases. Dr. Huang is making progress towards addressing these challenges through his research which is supported by the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation.

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

Why are you interested in finding a cure and/or better treatments for Osteosarcoma? Thirty nine years ago, one of my cousins passed away from metastatic osteosarcoma at the age of 12. I was one year younger then he was and I vowed that I would do something to better the outcome and lives of patients going through similar battles. Very little progress has been made in the last 4 decades for patients with metastatic sarcoma. I firmly believe that immunotherapy offers a renewed hope for children and adolescents facing this disease. I am committed to discovering and translating new ideas to benefit these patients.

Share your thoughts on why you think it’s important to fund pediatric cancer research. The majority of federal cancer research funding is devoted to finding the causes and cures for diseases that affect a large number of individuals in our society. Less than 5% of NCI funding is dedicated towards pediatric cancer research. Many drug companies are not interested in devoting resources to finding cures for a small segment of societal population because of a perceived small return on investment. I would argue that even though children may only be 15% of our population, they are 100% of our future.

Our dedication to the health and future of our children should be our top priority.

What is point of view on the climate of pediatric cancer research? We are standing at the threshold of a golden era of unprecedented promises for cancer therapies, thanks to decades of scientific and technological breakthroughs. I have great optimism that we will continue to make progress in improving survival rates while lessening the short and long term damages these therapies cause. The future is very bright, but it will require thoughtful and deliberate scientific approach to harness the tremendous new scientific knowledge into something that can benefit patients.

What is your proudest accomplishment so far in regards to your research? I have been fortunate to have a front seat in witnessing the unfolding of the scientific revolution we call immunotherapy. I have been able to make contributions to the knowledge of how the immune system operates at the fundamental level. We are now able to take these basic scientific insights and derive potential new therapeutic opportunities for clinical challenges that have so far not been solved successfully. An example is the new discovery that targeting supportive cells within the metastatic osteosarcoma microenvironment can result in therapeutic benefit. I am excited and proud of our ongoing effort of creating a Phase I clinical trial for patients with metastatic osteosarcoma, taking a laboratory observation and translating it into a therapy.

How has the support from PCRF allowed your research to be successful? Support from PCRF allows me the freedom to explore high-risk but potentially high-reward ideas that have yet to mature enough to a point where federal funding can be obtained successfully. Our efforts in developing immunotherapy approaches to cure metastatic osteosarcoma were critically supported by PCRF since the early days of idea inception. PCRF support has allowed the gathering of strong data to support our initial hypothesis, successfully competing for additional federal funding, and creating an ongoing clinical trial concept to translate this to the clinics.

Can you tell us something about you not many people know? I started out my college career majoring in Astrophysics. I have often used the same principles of solving astrophysical problems to address fundamental immunological behavior.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Doing yard work, playing golf and ping-pong, and watching documentaries on History Channel!

Learn more about Dr. Alex Huang, 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