Funding Lifesaving Research with Dr. Elliot Stieglitz
We’d like you to meet Dr. Elliot Stieglitz, Translational Research Grant recipient from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. This type of grant primarily 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. Stieglitz is innovative in discovering new targeted therapies for patients with Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia also called JMML, a type of blood cancer that affects infants and young children.
The Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation is looking forward to the new hope offered by the work of Dr. Steiglitz.
Why are you interested in finding a cure and/or better treatments for JMML?
Compared to other pediatric blood cancers, JMML affects very young patients, typically infants and toddlers. One of my first patients in fellowship had JMML and that experience had a tremendous impact on me. I saw firsthand the toll that chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant takes on such a young patient and their family. I left that experience wanting to reduce the intensity of treatments for patients by finding more targeted therapies and by identifying patients who can be cured without a transplant.
Share your thoughts on why you think it’s important to fund pediatric cancer research.
Although JMML is rare, the lessons we have learned about genetic predisposition to cancer, how to treat Ras mutated leukemia and how to risk-stratify patients are things that can be applied to many other more common diseases. Don’t be fooled by the rarity of this disease, it is a treasure chest of information that is broadly applicable to most other cancers!
What advice would you give to a child diagnosed with cancer?
My advice would be to find a doctor who you can trust and who views you as a person not just someone with cancer. Rely on the people who care about you and try and make things as normal as humanly possible while recognizing that nothing you are going through is normal.
What is your point of view on the climate of pediatric cancer research?
We are in an unprecedented time in pediatric oncology when revolutionary treatments are now available and are being offered to children not just adults. That being said, there is still much progress to be made and there is no panacea for cancer. Every type of cancer is unique and has its own particular vulnerabilities. It is up to researchers to take advantage of these vulnerabilities using the extraordinary tools at our disposal to improve patients’ lives.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far in regards to your research?
Our team discovered several new genes in JMML like RRAS2 and SH2B3 which had not been previously recognized to be mutated in this type of leukemia. Our hospital now offers a test that anyone in the world can use to have their blood or bone marrow sent for testing. I have interacted both virtually and in person with several patients whose diagnoses were made by the identification of mutations in those genes which allowed them to begin therapy and eventually be cured. We are now working hard on developing a new test that will let parents and providers know which patients will require stem cell transplants and which patients can be observed instead of transplanted.
How has the support from PCRF allowed your research to be successful?
The PCRF grant not only provided resources to fund my work but also represented the first grant I received as an independent investigator after starting my own lab in 2017.
Can you tell us something about you not many people know?
I have twin younger brothers who also live in California, though we all grew 3000 miles away on the East Coast.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I like playing tennis, doing the crossword, and traveling to other parts of the world.