2017 Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation Young Investigator Grant

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UCLA researcher Steven J. Jonas M.D./Ph.D. (Paul Weiss group) was selected for a 2017 Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) Young Investigator Grant.

Jonas’ grant is the first ALSF for Childhood Cancer Research award to a UCLA pediatric physician-scientist in over 15 years. He will conduct his research along with the Young Investigator recipients from 12 top institutions across the country whose projects target various types of childhood cancers.

This year, ALSF awarded Young Investigator Grants to 18 early-career childhood cancer researchers with outstanding track records and promising ideas in the field of pediatric oncology. The Young Investigator Grant mechanism is designed to enable young researchers to pursue cutting-edge projects at leading hospitals and institutions across the country with critical startup funding, totaling $150,000 over the course of three years.

Jonas is currently a clinical fellow in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology working in the laboratory of Professor Paul S. Weiss, UC Presidential Chair and Distinguished Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Materials Science & Engineering, and the California NanoSystems Institute. Together, Jonas and Weiss have built an interdisciplinary team connecting leading researchers within UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital & the David Geffen School of Medicine, the California NanoSystems Institute, the Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell Research, Duke University, and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University. 

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Weiss is one of the nation’s leading nanoscientists. His interdisciplinary research group includes chemists, physicists, biologists, materials scientists, mathematicians, electrical and mechanical engineers, computer scientists, clinicians, and physician scientists. They focus on the ultimate limits of miniaturization, exploring the atomic-scale chemical, physical, optical, mechanical, and electronic properties of surfaces, interfaces, and supramolecular assemblies. (Pictured left: Steven Jonas (right) with Paul Weiss (left) at an ALSF event.)

“One of the truly awe-inspiring things about being a physician-scientist at an institution like UCLA is that I have the opportunity to start my day helping to guide the care of children battling cancer and then walk across the street to my laboratory where I have the privilege to interact with and to lead an interdisciplinary team of world-class physicians, nanoscientists, chemists, engineers, biologists, and students focused on discovering innovative solutions to conquering pediatric cancer,” Jonas said. “This generous support from ALSF empowers these extraordinary interdisciplinary interactions and our group’s efforts to develop technologies aimed at accelerating the clinical translation and enabling the broader deployment of next-generation cellular immunotherapies.”

Under Jonas’ leadership, this research team is developing and applying innovative nanotechnologies and microfluidic platforms to deliver gene-modification instructions to immune cells that teach them to target a patient’s cancer directly. These tools will enable the more rapid and broader deployment of next-generation cellular immunotherapies to pediatric cancer patients in need.

“We hope to leverage the strengths of the Department of Pediatrics and forge lasting collaborative connections with experts from across the UCLA research community to accelerate bringing new cellular and gene therapies to our patients at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and more broadly,” Jonas said. 

Weiss commented, “Steve and this work have brought us, our collaborations, and our work directly to leading clinicians at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Through these new connections, we are identifying key problems and bottlenecks in medicine and then applying what we have learned in nanoscience and nanotechnology over the last 25 years. This work has transformed our research program and we are hopeful that we will soon see our results improving the lives of patients at UCLA and beyond.” 

In addition, Weiss and Jonas’ group will be participating in the Alex’s Million Miles Challenge, a run/walk/bike-a-thon over the month of September to raise awareness for and to support Childhood Cancer Research. To learn more about how you can join the team or make a contribution to fight childhood cancer, please consider visiting the fundraising page of the UCLA Nano Transformers.

The team is already one of the largest in the country and includes research group members, colleagues and collaborators at UCLA and around the world, and patient advocates. The first $25,000 raised by the team will be matched 1:1 through the generosity of the ALSF to support their ongoing research efforts directly.

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Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) for Childhood Cancer Research is one of the largest and most engaged philanthropic organizations sponsoring pediatric cancer research. The foundation was founded by Alexandra “Alex” Scott, a young, 4-year old cancer patient, who decided to hold a lemonade stand fundraiser to raise money for “her hospital,” so that doctors could help other kids like they had helped her. Alex started her first stand in 2000 and continued to hold lemonade stands each year, which inspiring an outpouring of international support. Sadly, Alex passed away at the age of 8, but was proud that her story had inspired others exceed her ambitious goal of raising $1 million for childhood cancer research, establishing the foundation that now bears her name.