Childhood Cancer Research Team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Awarded $10.2 Million Moonshot Grant

September 30, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health announced it has awarded one of its Cancer Moonshot grants to Timothy Cripe, MD, PhD, chief of the division of Hematology, Oncology & Blood and Marrow Transplant and Elaine Mardis, PhD, co-executive director of the Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. The multi-year grant supports multiple ongoing projects led by the Pediatric Ohio-New York Cancer (Peds-ONC) Immunotherapy Center. The team includes collaborators at The Ohio State University, the New York College of Medicine and the University of Minnesota. This is the second Cancer Moonshot grant awarded to researchers at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

“We are extremely grateful and honored to receive this grant, as it enables us to continue advancing important work to one day find a cure for cancer,” said Dr. Cripe, who is also a Gordon Teter Endowed Chair in pediatric cancer at Nationwide Children’s, and a professor of pediatrics and an investigator in the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology at The Ohio State University. “Our work is never finished until there is a cure. We are excited to continue moving our research forward to provide the best outcomes for pediatric cancer patients until we reach that Moonshot goal.”

Dr. Cripe’s project aims to deepen the understanding of how an oncolytic (or tumor-targeting) virus interacts with a tumor’s “immune system.” The goal of that new knowledge is the development of more effective combination treatments where the use of immunotherapy is enhanced by the addition of certain drugs that make the tumor more susceptible to the cancer-killing virus.

“Dr. Cripe, Dr. Mardis and their talented team are pioneers in the field of cancer immunotherapeutics,” said John Barnard, MD, president of The Abigail Wexner Research Institute (AWRI) at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “This grant will accelerate their momentum in developing more effective treatments for pediatric cancers.”

The Moonshot grant will also provide funding to two other Nationwide Children’s research projects. Kevin Cassady, MD, clinical virologist and principal investigator in the Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases at AWRI, is working to further modify a next generation of oncolytic herpes simplex virus (oHSV) to express known tumor-selective cell surface proteins. By expressing these proteins from the virus, researchers have discovered that this signals the immune cells to recognize, attack and importantly remember these proteins and the abnormal cancer cells. This converts the anti-viral immune response into an anti-tumor immune response. Funding will provide an opportunity to investigate ways to harness and improve this response in tandem with Dr. Cripe and Dr. Lee’s immune cell therapies.

Dean Lee, MD, PhD, is the director of the joint Cellular Therapy and Cancer Immunology Program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. His project focuses on natural killer (NK) cells, known as the “executioner” cell of the immune system. Specifically, he seeks to enhance the cancer-fighting efficacy of adoptively transferred NK cells by gaining a better understanding of how NK cells are attracted to tumors. His research will use specially engineered cell lines and sarcoma tissue models to study the interactions between NK cells and tumors, with the goal of developing therapies for clinical study.

Dr. Lee is also the DiMarco Family Endowed Chair in Cell Based Therapy at Nationwide Children's and a professor of pediatrics at Ohio State. 

A Genomics and Immune Monitoring Shared Resource Core is being supported by a team under the direction of Dr. Mardis, who is also the Nationwide Foundation Endowed Chair of Genomic Medicine at Nationwide Childrens, and a professor of pediatrics and investigator with the Pelotonia Institute for Immuno-Oncology at Ohio State. The core will directly support each of the center’s projects by providing cutting-edge assays of immune activity elicited by the different immune therapies being tested.

Research reported in this press release will be supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54CA232561. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital
Named to the Top 10 Honor Roll on U.S. News & World Report’s 2019-20 list of “Best Children’s Hospitals,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of America’s largest not-for-profit freestanding pediatric health care systems providing wellness, preventive, diagnostic, treatment and rehabilitative care for infants, children and adolescents, as well as adult patients with congenital disease. As home to the Department of Pediatrics of The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Nationwide Children’s faculty train the next generation of pediatricians, scientists and pediatric specialists. The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital is one of the Top 10 National Institutes of Health-funded free-standing pediatric research facilities in the U.S., supporting basic, clinical, translational and behavioral health research. The AWRI houses a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) facility for producing gene-and cell-based therapies; one of the largest biorepositories in North America; and comprehensive genome sequencing and analysis capabilities. More information is available at

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