UC San Diego undergraduate Jessica Gutierrez.
UC San Diego undergraduate Jessica Gutierrez. Image via LinkedIn.com

Jessica Gutierrez of UC San Diego has won a St. Baldrick’s Foundation grant to complete work in pediatric oncology research this summer.

On Friday, the Monrovia-based foundation, the largest nongovernment funder of pediatric cancer research grants, announced funding totaling $1.8 million to institutions across the country, including UC San Diego.

“Children with aggressive neuroblastoma have poor cure rates despite intensive treatment, and new therapies are needed,” said the group’s description of Gutierrez’s work. “Treatments that inhibit important proteins and pathways in neuroblastoma tumors are likely to be more effective with fewer side effects.”

The series of 30 grants is the first of several that will be awarded this year by the Monrovia-based foundation, which since 2005 has awarded more than $286 million in grants to support the development of childhood cancer treatments and train early career scientists in the field.

The next round of funding will be announced in July.

“Back in 2005, the field was preparing for a shortage of pediatric oncology researchers, meaning there would soon be insufficient numbers of experts working toward cures for kids,” said Kathleen Ruddy, foundation CEO. “To avoid this, St. Baldrick’s created specific grant categories to support the training and early career research physician-scientists need to make meaningful discoveries throughout their careers.

“Today, we need to remember that pediatric cancer is not taking a break and that kids with cancer need us more than ever,” she said. “We encourage people to get involved virtually, fundraise online or visit our website to make a donation so that we can fund our largest annual group of life-saving research grants of the year in June.”

To date, St. Baldrick’s has supported 233 students through St. Baldrick’s Summer Fellow grants and funded 198 St. Baldrick’s Fellows, many of who have gone on to become recognized as leaders in their field.

The Fellow grants provide two to three years of research funding to young doctors training to become pediatric oncology researchers. The Summer Fellow grants give college and medical students the chance to spend their summer working in childhood cancer research labs under the mentorship of experts in the field.

— City News Service contributed to this report.