Pediatric Oncology Award Presented for Research in Novel Approaches to Pediatric Tumors
Researcher focuses on pathways that drive tumor growth in pediatric sarcomas and the effect they have on existing and potential future therapies
|Lee J. Helman, MD
Lee J. Helman, MD, of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has been awarded the 2011 Pediatric Oncology Award. Dr. Helman accepted the award and gave his lecture, “Pathways to New Targets for Pediatric Sarcomas,” during a Special Session yesterday. Dr. Helman’s research focuses on the basic biology of pediatric sarcomas, such as rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, and osteosarcoma in the laboratory, and he uses the insights gained in clinical trials of novel therapies.
“My colleagues and I are working on three main areas,” said Dr. Helman in an interview with ASCO Daily News. “We continue to work on IGF signaling, trying to identify mechanisms of acquired resistance and to identify patients who are likely to respond to IGF-1 receptor antibodies. We also are using shRNA screening to identify new targets in rhabdomyosarcoma, and we are developing inhibitors of EWS-FLI-1 in Ewing’s sarcoma.”
Throughout his career, Dr. Helman has made many important contributions to understanding the role IGF signaling in pediatric tumors, including identifying IGF-2 as an important growth and survival factor in rhabdomyosarcoma, demonstrating that IGF- 1R was necessary for EWS-FLI-1-transforming activity, and identifying the loss of imprinting of IGF-2 in rhabdomyosarcoma and Ewing’s sarcoma. He also identified ezrin as a key regulator of metastases in osteosarcoma.
When asked about the goals he has for his research, Dr. Helman said that he would like to improve pediatric sarcoma therapy “by developing effective novel therapies that target critical pathways that drive growth of these tumors, and by rationally combining these approaches with both standard and other novel treatments.”
Combining Research and Patient Care Despite the important strides he has made in the field of pediatric oncology, Dr. Helman hasn’t always known that he wanted to embark on an oncology research career. As an undergraduate at George Washington University, Dr. Helman realized his call to medicine, but it wasn’t until he was attending the University of Maryland School of Medicine that he solidified his career path.
“In medical school I became really interested in research because I saw its impact,” said Dr. Helman. “Then during my residency, I decided a career in oncology would allow me to combine research and patient care.”
Dr. Helman trained in internal medicine at Barnes Hospital of Washington University. He then began his career at the NCI, where he completed his fellowship and postdoctoral training in the Molecular Genetics Section in the Pediatric Oncology Branch.
“Just as I was about to leave [NCI after my postdoctoral training], I was given an opportunity to develop an independent lab,” said Dr. Helman. “This is when I made my decision to study pediatric sarcomas because I saw an opportunity for new discovery, and because I really enjoyed caring for these patients — often adolescents and young adults.”
Dr. Helman was appointed Head of the Molecular Oncology Section, Pediatric Oncology Branch of NCI in 1993 and then served as Chief of the Pediatric Oncology Branch from 1997 to 2007. In 2007, he was appointed Scientific Director for Clinical Research in the Center for Cancer Research at NCI, where he currently serves. Dr. Helman also is a part-time Professor of Pediatrics and of Oncology at Johns Hopkins University.
“Since I have had the opportunity to serve as Scientific Director for Clinical Research at NCI, I have been able to work toward defining and prioritizing the focus of the NCI intramural clinical research program while being able to maintain my own laboratory research, something of which I am very proud,” said Dr. Helman.
Dr. Helman credits much of his success in pediatric oncology research to his fi rst research mentor Mark Israel, MD, now of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. Dr. Israel was Dr. Helman’s laboratory chief during his postdoctoral training at the NCI.
“I can’t overemphasize how important [Dr. Israel’s] teaching and guidance was to my future success,” said Dr. Helman. “I have had the good fortune to remain good friends with [Dr. Israel] over the years, and this relationship has also helped shape my own dedication to mentor junior faculty over the years.”
In addition to his positions at NCI and Johns Hopkins, Dr. Helman has been an ASCO member for more than 20 years. He has served the Society in many ways including as a current member of the Journal of Clinical Oncology Editorial Board, as a past member of the Board of Directors, and as past chair of the Bylaws Committee.
He is a member of the Board of Directors of and Clinical Advisor to The Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Helman is a past member of the Board of Governors of the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health, and he was a founding member of the Connective Tissue Oncology Society.
“This (award) is a wonderful acknowledgement by my peers that my work is considered valuable to the field,” said Dr. Helman. “All science is by nature collaborative, so this honor also goes to my colleagues and many postdoctoral fellows and students.”
Pediatric Oncology Sessions by Day
Sunday, June 5
- Pediatric Oncology General Poster Session (8:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Hall A, South Building
- Pediatric Oncology Poster Discussion Session (Posters: 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Hall A, South Building; Discussion: 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM, S504, South Building)
- Plenary Session 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Hall B1, North Building
- Plenary Session includes two pediatric oncology abstracts. See the Annual Meeting Program for exact presentation times.
- Abstract #1: Comparison of high-dose methotrexate (HD-MTX) with Capizzi methotrexate plus asparaginase (C-MTX/ ASNase) in children and young adults with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia (HR-ALL): A report from the Children’s Oncology Group Study AALL0232. E. C. Larsen
- Abstract #2: Busulphan-melphalan as a myeloablative therapy (MAT) for high-risk neuroblastoma: Results from the HR-NBL1/SIOPEN trial. R. L. Ladenstein Clinical Science Symposium: Antiangiogenic Therapies and Biomarkers in Pediatric Cancer 4:30 PM – 6:00 PM, S504, South Building
Monday, June 6
- Oral Abstract Session: Pediatric Oncology II 8:00 AM – 11:00 AM, S504, South Building
- Advances in Risk Stratifi cation, Biology, and Treatment of Neuroblastoma 11:30 AM – 12:45 PM, S504, South Building
- Challenges in Treating Children, Adolescents, and Adults with Benign and Malignant Vascular Tumors 1:15 PM – 2:30 PM, S504, South Building
- Update on the Treatment of Adolescents and Young Adults with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (M17) — Ticketed Session 3:00 PM – 4:15 PM, E451a, East Building
- To Transplant or Not to Transplant? Current Controversies in Transplantation for Pediatric Acute Leukemias 4:45 PM – 6:00 PM, S504, South Building