Children’s National Hospital and Virginia Tech have launched a new pilot funding opportunity to advance brain cancer research.

Two dual-institution teams will each be awarded a one-year, $50,000 grant. Collaborative, co-principal investigator applications from faculty members at Children’s National and Virginia Tech are due by Dec. 18, 2020.

The Children’s National – Virginia Tech Pilot Studies Program is designed to advance brain cancer research through a variety of means, including basic, pre-clinical, clinical, translational, and population-based research. Projects that could one day help improve children’s health, in the context of brain cancer, are encouraged.

The research funding is jointly provided by Children’s National and Virginia Tech. The Clinical and Translational Science Institute at Children’s National and the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia team at Virginia Tech are providing administrative support for the award evaluation and issuance.

Research projects may explore, but are not limited to: genetics and genomics, molecular and cellular biology, integrative and systems biology, behavior, computational and data science, population sciences and public health, and implementation science.

Successful applicants will receive funding starting in January 2021. Awarded projects are expected to provide preliminary data to support an extramural research application within two years of the grant period’s completion.

This pilot fund represents a growing academic research partnership between Children’s National and Virginia Tech. Last year, the two institutions announced that Virginia Tech will establish a biomedical research facility on the Children’s National Research & Innovation Campus. When it opens in 2021 on the site of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, it will be the first research and innovation campus in the nation focused on pediatrics.

Virginia Tech’s vice president for health sciences and technology, Michael Friedlander, has led the university’s efforts to establish the university’s research facility in Washington, D.C., as well as the new pilot funding grants. Friedlander, who has collaborated with Children’s National leaders and researchers for more than 20 years, expects the pilot funding to spur further innovative collaborations amongst the two institutions.

“Both Virginia Tech and Children’s National have similar values and cultures with a firm commitment to discovery and innovation in the service of society,” said Friedlander, who is also the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s executive director.

Faculty from Children’s National and the university’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC have worked together for more than a decade, already resulting in shared research grants, collaborative publications, and shared intellectual property.

Catherine Bollard, director of the Center for Cancer and Immunology at Children’s National, has led the establishment of the new pilot studies program, in partnership with Friedlander and a group of research leaders at Children’s National.

“These sorts of collaborations are exactly what we hoped would develop at the Children's National Research & Innovation campus,” Bollard said. “I am confident that pilot projects like these will allow us to accelerate the translation of novel discoveries into cutting-edge treatments and technologies.”

The pilot fund represents Virginia Tech’s mounting investment in cancer research. Last year, the university announced the creation of its Cancer Research Alliance (VTCRA), a cohort of more than 25 research teams studying brain, breast, colon, lung, liver, and bone cancers. Together, VTCRA members have already accrued more than $5 million in cancer research funding, including grants from the National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

“This collaboration between Virginia Tech and Children's National will enhance our work in advancing brain cancer research and expand our knowledge so that we can continue to provide high-quality care for children," said Roger Packer, senior vice president at the Center for Neurosciences and Behavioral Health at Children's National.

The Neuro-Oncology Program at the Children’s National Research Institute continues to have robust translational and basic research components. Researchers at Children’s National are using novel diagnostic approaches to detect brain lesions using minimally invasive liquid biopsies. They are also studying molecular therapeutic targets of high-grade gliomas and group three medulloblastomas, aggressive and fast-growing forms of brain cancer.

“Brain and other nervous system cancers are among the most common in children, alongside leukemia. By encouraging our Cancer Research Alliance faculty to forge new research collaborations with our partners at Children’s National, we hope to strengthen our brain cancer research efforts to one day prevent, treat, and ultimately cure nervous system cancer in children,” Friedlander said.