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$5 Million Grant Awarded to Medical School to Research Lymphoma in Pediatric Transplant Patients

, and | Contributing Writers

Doctors at WUSM received over $5 million to study Epstein Barr Virus can lead to immune cell cancer in pediatric organ transplant recipients. Sam Powers|Student Life

Immunologists at Washington University Medical School received a $5.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) late last month to identify how the Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) can lead to immune cell cancer in pediatric patients who have received organ transplants. 

EBV, better known as “mono,” is a virus nearly 90% of the world has been exposed to according to the NIH. After exposure, EBV stays dormant in the body and can be transferred through organ donations. 

Pediatric transplant patients have weak immune systems, which makes them vulnerable to the dormant EBV in donated organs. The resulting EBV infection can cause an immune cell cancer called post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD). According to the NIH, this condition occurs in 2-3% of pediatric post-transplant patients.

Vikas Dharnidharka, a professor of pediatrics and clinical researcher at Washington University School of Medicine, is the principal investigator of this research project. The primary problem with lymphoma research in post-transplant pediatric patients is that there is no way to tell which patients are going to develop the condition, Dharnidharka said. The goal of his research is to develop a novel screening technique that monitors responses in immune cells that can lead to PTLD.

Dharnidharka’s team comes from different fields, including virology and pediatrics, and various institutions across the nation, including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Grants are awarded based on how important the question posed by the research project is, how that question is going to get answered, and if the project has access to the right tools and people to be successful, according to Dharnidharka.

“I can’t possibly be an expert in all these different things,” Dharnidkharka said. “But if I get together teams of people who have unique expertise, we can do so much more together than we can do individually.”

The NCI allocated approximately $7.3 billion this fiscal year to cancer research. How this money is distributed determines what knowledge is created by research and, as a result, can help inform how we acknowledge prevalent problems in the future, according to Dharnidharka.

We will be able to judge who’s going to clear the virus infection versus who’s not going to develop that cancer and then it may also open targets for new therapies.”

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