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Hyundai Hope On Wheels grant spurs pediatric cancer research

September 22, 2016 | Christina Echegaray

Gabe Daniels

Gabe Daniels, 12, who is battling cancer with the help of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, places his painted handprint on the official Hyundai Hope on Wheels vehicle as a symbol of his journey. (photo by Steve Green)

Richard Ho, M.D., MSCI, associate professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, has been awarded a $250,000 Hyundai Hope On Wheels Scholar Grant to study ways to reduce long-term side effects of chemotherapy in pediatric cancer survivors and develop more personalized therapies for pediatric oncology patients.

To date, Hyundai Hope On Wheels has awarded more than $1.1 million in funding to pediatric cancer researchers at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The company and local dealerships began their partnership with Children’s Hospital in 2007.

Ho was one of 24 recipients across the country selected by a scientific review panel to receive this highly competitive Hyundai Scholar Grant.

Ho noted that cancer research over the past five decades has dramatically reduced cancer mortality rates in children and has now made it possible for more than 80 percent of children to be cured of cancer. Still, one in five is not cured. Additionally, about 70 percent of childhood cancer survivors experience long-term health complications, due in large part to the intensive therapies they have received. His laboratory team is searching for ways to reduce those complications and find more individualized approaches to therapy, as treatment should not be considered a one-size-fits-all approach.

Hope on Wheels check

At Monday’s event, Hyundai Hope on Wheels representatives from Hyundai Motor America and local Hyundai dealerships presented Richard Ho, M.D., fourth from right, a grant award to further pediatric cancer research. (photo by Steve Green)

“It’s truly an honor for my research team to be presented with a $250,000 Scholar Hope on Wheels award to fund our research program,” he said. “A major part of our program is focused on genetic variation in drug transporter genes and their contribution to differential response to chemotherapy. We are evaluating the mechanisms by which genetic variation, primarily polymorphisms, affect your risk for developing toxicities to chemotherapy; and then, using that information, can we design better methods and algorithms to more appropriately individualize dosing in patients so that, on one hand, we are maintaining or improving the excellent efficacy and cure rates but, on the other hand, we’re decreasing the risks for long-term effects that are so commonly seen in survivors.”

Representatives from the automaker and local dealerships presented a check to Ho at a “handprint” ceremony on Sept. 19 that included Children’s Hospital patients who are battling cancer. During the event, the children dipped their hands in paint and placed their handprints on a white Hyundai Tuscon to represent their personal stories of courage and hope.

“We are proud to be a part of this community and even more proud to have an institution like this one serving children every day,” said Frank Odrobina, general manager of Hyundai of Cool Springs. “Children are our future. They should have a chance to grow, play and learn in a world that is cancer free. That is why we are so committed to this cause. It is for the kids. The impact that this grant will have on countless kids and families in the area is truly an inspiration. Kids, it is because of you, that we are so committed to this fight. You’ve got a friend in Hyundai — and we are on your side.”

Between 12,000 and 13,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. The Hyundai initiative has donated more than $115 million for pediatric cancer research since 1998. The Hyundai Hope On Wheels’ Scholar Grants are awarded to pediatric cancer researchers each September for National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.