Lee's Summit,
14:58 PM

Dr. Iwakuma Receives Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Grant for Pediatric Cancer Drug Research

Tomoo Iwakuma, PhD, Doctoral Research Faculty, has received a 1-year, $25,000 2021 Research Catalyst award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

The mission of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation is to change the lives of children with cancer through funding impactful research, raising awareness, supporting families, and empowering everyone to help cure childhood cancer. The funds for this Catalyst award were made possible thanks to passionate advocacy of the local Alex’s Lemonade Stand, including the generous support of the annual ALSF Lemon Mixer in Kansas City. To date, the Kansas City ALSF Lemon Mixer has helped raise more than $185,000 for pediatric cancer research initiatives at Children’s Mercy.

The funding will help Dr. Iwakuma’s project titled “Identifying Drugs That Specifically Kill MDM2-Overexpressing Pediatric Cancers” by helping to purchase a multifunctional plate reader. The piece of equipment is essential for Dr. Iwakuma and his team to be able to perform screening and validation.

Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer that begins in the cells that form bones. As Dr. Iwakuma explains, combinational treatment of surgery and chemotherapy improve 5-year survival rate of children and adolescent patients. However, prognosis of high-grade osteosarcoma patients with macrometastasis and recurrence remains poor with the long-term survival below 20%. To overcome this poor prognosis, researchers must learn about the genetics and molecular pathogenesis of osteosarcoma and identify the vulnerabilities.

Several mutations and genetic abnormalities are found in osteosarcoma. Of these, abnormalities in the tumor suppressor p53 (p53) is one of the most frequent events in osteosarcoma, which is well-correlated with poor outcome in patients. The p53 activity is mainly regulated by an oncogene MDM2 which acts as the major E3 ubiquitin ligase for p53 to induce p53 degradation. MDM2 is overexpressed in ~30% of human osteosarcoma. Although overexpressed MDM2 inhibits p53 activity and promotes cancer progression, increasing evidence indicates that MDM2 has p53-independent cancer-promoting activities. However, no drug that inhibits p53-independent MDM2 function is clinically available.

“Such a drug would significantly improve prognosis of patients with osteosarcoma and other pediatric cancers that overexpress MDM2, including rhabdomyosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma,” said Dr. Iwakuma.

The goal of Dr. Iwakuma’s study is to identify clinically available drugs that specifically kill MDM2-overexperessing cancer cells. He hopes to also discover a new p53-independent function of MDM2, which could provide novel therapeutic targets for these MDM2-overexpressing cancers as novel vulnerabilities.




Tomoo Iwakuma, PhD, Doctoral Research Faculty, has received a 1-year, $25,000 2021 Research Catalyst award from Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.

About Us

Children’s Mercy Kansas City is an independent, non-profit, 390-bed pediatric health system, providing over half a million patient encounters each year for children from across the country. Children’s Mercy is ranked by U.S. News & World Report in all ten specialties. We have received Magnet® recognition five times for excellence in nursing services. In affiliation with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, our faculty of nearly 800 pediatric specialists and researchers is actively involved in clinical care, pediatric research and educating the next generation of pediatricians and pediatric subspecialists. The Children’s Mercy Research Institute (CMRI) integrates research and clinical care with nationally recognized expertise in genomic medicine, precision therapeutics, population health, health care innovation and emerging infections. In 2021 the CMRI moved into a nine-story, 375,000-square-foot space emphasizing a translational approach to research in which clinicians and researchers work together to accelerate the pace of discovery that enhances care.