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Giving a Childhood Cancer Vaccine a Shot

  • Date: 5/15/2012

Joyce FingerothSt. Baldrick's Foundation gives $100K to support Epstein-Barr Virus research


Although Joyce Fingeroth, M.D., initially trained in adult medicine, a rotation during an infectious disease fellow-ship with pediatric cancer patients would change the course of her career. "I did a complete about-face," the BIDMC physician-scientist recalls. "And I decided to do research because it was obvious to me that new approaches were sorely needed in this area. Although these weren't common problems, they were terrible problems."

Fingeroth decided to apply her expertise in infectious disease to the puzzle of childhood and adolescent cancers by studying tumor viruses, particularly Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which was first discovered in a child with Burkitt's lymphoma. Now with a recent $100,000 grant from the St. Baldrick's Foundation, a volunteer-driven charity dedicated to raising money for childhood cancer research, she is one step further in her mission to create a vaccine that could limit or even prevent EBV infection.

Fingeroth's efforts are centered around using a virus-like particle as the backbone for her vaccine, a strategy that has been successful against other, albeit less-complex, cancer viruses like hepatitis B and human papilloma virus. "We've had some interesting preliminary data with our vaccine candidate, and I'm just really grateful to the St. Baldrick's Foundation for giving us some funding to help move our work faster," she says. "It's an ongoing struggle to get funded in these diseases because they aren't often on the top of priority lists."

But even though EBV-related pediatric cancers like Burkitt's lym-phoma and childhood Hodgkin's disease may not be the most common-place, a functional vaccine against the virus could have widespread implications. Although these diseases are much more prevalent in the developing world, Hodgkin's lym-phoma remains the most common cancer of adolescents and young adults in the United States; and it is often preceded by acute infectious mononucleosis or "mono," an EBV-related disease that might also be prevented by such a vaccine. In addition, EBV causes adult diseases like nasopharyngeal carci-noma, certain epithelial tumors, and lymphoma in bone marrow transplant recipients (which is what brought Fingeroth to BIDMC). "There's probably a lot we don't know," says Fingeroth, "and it may well be that viral pathogens are responsible for more tumors than we currently understand. So there are lots of avenues to explore if we make an effective vaccine."

If your corporation or foundation is interested in supporting Fingeroth's work or other cancer vaccine research at BIDMC, please contact Marybeth Howard at (617) 667-4591 or mehoward@bidmc.harvard.edu.

Contact Information

Office of Development
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue (BR)
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 667-7330
(617) 667-7340 (fax)
development@bidmc.harvard.edu