Realizing Futures

Behind the Science Q & A with Dr. Leo Wang

Funding Lifesaving Research with Dr. Leo Wang

We’d like you to meet Dr. Leo Wang, Translational Research Grant recipient from Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope. These type grants fund 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. Wang’s research laboratory is working to improve CAR T cell therapy for pediatric brain tumors so that it will work in more patients.

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

What interested you in studying pediatric brain tumors?

The advent of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has revolutionized the treatment of hard-to-treat leukemias and lymphomas. Children with brain tumors badly need better therapies, and I want to bring the CAR T revolution to them as well.


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

As your readers know, pediatric cancer research is woefully underfunded. Only about 4% of the budget of the National Cancer Institute is earmarked for children’s cancers, which means that a lot of really important and potentially life-saving work wouldn’t get done without the support of visionary private foundations like the PCRF.


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

What I tell my patients and their families depends a lot on who they are, where they are on their cancer journey, and how they want their information. But there are three things I say to everyone: first, this is not your fault. Second, children and young adults with cancer should be treated at pediatric oncology centers. And third, we work as a team: you, me, the nurses, social workers, child life specialists, nutritionists, therapists, and other providers, as well as our pediatric oncology colleagues around the world. Together, we will figure out how best to deal with this.


What is your point of view on the climate of pediatric cancer research – progress being made, survival rates, opportunities the future holds, etc? The future of pediatric cancer research has never been brighter – new discoveries are being made every day, and brand new fields are taking shape before our very eyes. Immunotherapy, precision medicine, targeted genetic therapies – all of these have reinvented the way that we think about and treat pediatric cancers in just the last five years. The potential of translational pediatric oncology to cure more children faster has never been higher. But to ensure that these opportunities are not squandered, we desperately need the generosity of donors like you to bring these groundbreaking new therapies to the clinic.


What is your proudest accomplishment so far in regards to your research? I can’t claim responsibility for this accomplishment, as it is a gargantuan team effort. But ever since I arrived in late 2016, I have been working with colleagues at City of Hope to make brain-tumor-targeted CAR T cells available to kids with recurrent and refractory brain tumors. There have been many more barriers than anticipated, many of them unfortunately financial, but I am thrilled and very proud that we were able to bring a first-in-pediatrics trial to the clinic at City of Hope. We were all set to open it in April, but because of the coronavirus crisis, trials were temporarily put on hold across the country. We plan to open the trial as soon as we can.


How has the support from PCRF allowed your research to be successful? I am thrilled to have received the support of PCRF this year. Although labs have been shut down nationwide and no experiments are currently ongoing in our lab, we are busy planning what we will do when we are allowed to return. The support of PCRF will enable experiments that describe the internal circuitry of CAR T cells, helping us to understand why they do what they do when they encounter tumor cells. This will help us to design more effective CAR T cells.


Can you tell us something about you not many people know? My favorite class in medical school was photography.


What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? I have two children, and our lives are pretty busy. But when I do have the time, I love cooking, baking, singing, and photography.


Learn more about Dr. Leo Wang, 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