Wilson is ‘A’ Award grant recipient for neuroblastoma immunotherapy work

John Wilson, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, earned an Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation 'A' Award. (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

John Wilson, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, recently was named an ‘A’ Award recipient by the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for developing a new class of therapeutic to “retrain” the immune system against neuroblastoma.

The Vanderbilt University School of Engineering researcher is one of three promising young investigators nationwide to win three-year, $450,000 grants, selected by the foundation for work in pediatric oncology.

Approximately 50 percent of children with neuroblastoma have an aggressive and high-risk form of the disease, Wilson said. Despite intensive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, the survival rate for these patients is less than 40 percent, because neuroblastoma tumors can suppress the immune system’s tumor-killing capacity.

Wilson’s goal is to develop a drug that can target two molecules that regulate immune responses, reprogramming them to kill the tumor from the inside out — circumventing its self-made defense system. The immune cells will be triggered to do the same response should future tumors develop.

“This support from the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation provides an amazing opportunity for our group to tackle challenges in pediatric cancer from this unique perspective and will jump-start our work in developing new therapeutics and drug delivery strategies,” Wilson said. “I am also excited about the interdisciplinary collaborations and relationships that this award will help foster, which I think will inspire creative new ideas that get us closer to finding cures for childhood cancers.”

The other two ‘A’ Award winners were Conrad Russell Cruz of Children’s National Medical Center for research into the use of cord-blood-derived killer cells against pediatric brain tumors and Eric Raabe of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine for research into the importance of the LIN28 gene to ATRT cancers

Along with the funds provided to ‘A’ Award recipients, the grant also includes the opportunity to speak and attend foundation events, reference books to enhance the researchers’ personal pediatric oncology libraries, equipment to aid in their research and funding to attend one educational course or event.


Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
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