Realizing Futures

Behind the Science Q & A with Dr. Jana Ellegast

Funding Lifesaving Research with Dr. Jana Ellegast

We’d like you to meet Dr. Jana Ellegast, Emerging Research Grant recipient from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. These grants encourage and cultivate the best and brightest researchers of the future and allows pediatric cancer researchers to pursue exciting research ideas. Dr. Ellegast’s research specializes in discovering new lead compounds and protein targets for cancer therapy, specifically in children with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). AML is the second most common cancer-related mortality in children.

The Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation is looking forward to the new hope offered by the work of Dr. Ellegast.

What interested you in studying AML?

From my very first memory, I wanted to study medicine because I thought there was nothing more fascinating than the human body. I loved the idea that one day I would become an expert understanding all the small parts and pieces that need to function flawlessly together, and that I could help when something went wrong. A life-changing experience of taking care of children with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) as a medical student, and later a sub-internship at New York-Presbyterian and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center sparked my fascination for hematology and oncology, and I decided to become a physician-scientist in this field.

Share your thoughts on why you think it’s important to fund pediatric cancer research.

Cancer is the number one cause of death from disease in children and adolescents in the US. Yet, only a small proportion of federal cancer research funding goes to pediatric cancer research. There are still many childhood cancers where we have to improve our treatment strategies to be able to offer a perspective that allows hope to our youngest patients. Even if a detour was needed, every single child should have a joyful life ahead of them, as any of their peers.

What advice would you give to a child diagnosed with cancer?

Keep dreaming big, trust in science, and know that many passionate people are helping you to win the battle against your cancer. A sentence that I recently read and memorized as a passionate sailor as something to hold on to for parents in the situation of a newly diagnosed condition in one of their loved ones is: “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sail.”

How has the support from PCRF allowed your research to be successful?

The generous support of the PCRF was critical to study a gene in greater depth that AML cells need to survive. We learned that when we inhibit or perturb this gene or the encoded protein, leukemia cells die. We were able to test a combined inhibitor that also inhibits our gene of interest in human leukemia models in mice, including pediatric AML. What we learned from these experiments will be essential to launch the development of a selective inhibitor.

Can you tell us something about you not many people know?

There was a moment in my life before I started medical school when I debated if I should become a professional long-distance runner, being at the top of some national rank lists at that time. I felt that as a physician-scientist, I would probably have more impact on making this world an even better place. I am still a passionate runner, and I love running to recharge and to refresh my mind – but I would always make the same choice again.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I love spending time with our kids and listening to their innocent perception of this world. I feel very fortunate when climbing fascinating mountains with my husband, or sensing a breeze of sea wind on a sailing boat. I enjoy cycling or running to the lab, cooking and baking fancy meals, and I most highly appreciate time with friends and family.

Learn more about Dr. Jana Ellegast, 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