Professor X, fearless leader of the X-Men, once said, “The greatest power on Earth is the magnificent power we all possess…the power of the human brain.”
We know a super sidekick who not only has a powerful brain, but also a passion to defeat children’s cancer (and he’s pretty good at playing the drums). His name is Ranjit Bindra, MD, PhD, from Yale University.
In 2015, Dr. Bindra was awarded a CureSearch Young Investigator (YI) grant for his work identifying novel targeted drugs for alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS), a sub-type of rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common soft tissue sarcoma in children and adolescents. Only 50% of children diagnosed with ARMS will survive five years.
Armed with the much-needed funding, and an amazing team of research sidekicks, he started his cancer-fighting mission.
“We are focused on largely incurable solid cancers, including DIPG, pediatric high grade glioma, metastatic Ewing sarcoma, and rhabdomyosarcoma. We perform high-throughput, synthetic lethal screens, in search of novel interactions that are clinically actionable.”
In the “adult brain tumor side” of his lab, they have used this approach to identify a novel link between IDH1/2 (enzyme) mutations and PARP (protein) inhibitor sensitivity, which was published in Science Translational Medicine recently. With that external validation in hand, they are now doing this in the pediatric cancer space.
So, in general terms: they are using their powers of good to annihilate the evil pediatric cancer.
For Dr. Bindra, the CureSearch YI grant came at a time when funding was extraordinarily tight, and the National Institute of Health funding for cancer research had dwindled to dangerously low levels. NIH pediatric cancer research funding was especially abysmal. It was so bad that Dr. Bindra had to consider letting core people in his lab go.
“CureSearch believed in our group and our ideas, and essentially saved our lab. We now have 11 people in our group, we are heavily NIH-funded, and we are publishing high impact studies like the one mentioned above. Much of this can be attributed to a single CureSearch grant, from a single foundation, who believed in us.”
So why does Dr. Bindra want to find better treatment options and cures for children’s cancers, specifically rhabdomyosarcoma? He says the clinical trials are not based on cutting-edge science, the “value proposition” for pharma is small, and we need better science behind the treatments that have been proposed.
In ARMS, every single tumor cell is driven by a unique and powerful translocation, yet there are few therapies directed at this translocation. He knows we can do better.
Of course, the biggest driving factor for him are the superheroes.
“I met several children with metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma during my radiation oncology residency at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and I was frustrated that we could offer nothing more than palliative treatments for them.”
Today, in addition to treating ARMS and other rare cancers in his lab during the day, and being a biotech entrepreneur on the weekends (he just started his second company, Cybrexa Therapeutics, which will create a new class of tumor-targeted DNA repair inhibitors), he manages to find time to play the drums.
“I have played drums for 30 years and oddly, I am now in a band with a fellow CNS RadOnc faculty member at Yale, who actually was the trombone player in our ska band at Yale between 1995-98 – more than 20 years ago! We opened for They Might Be Giants and the Indigo Girls. We were quite good.”
His band has recruited their RadOnc Physician Associate as the lead vocalist, and if this takes off, their dream is take a leave of absence and go on tour. But don’t worry, they aren’t quitting their day jobs any time soon.
When you think about it, music and science have a lot in common: they’re guided by logic and formulas, they require creativity and passion, and they’re inspirational – just as inspirational as the superheroes Dr. Bindra is fighting for.
“Kids are resilient, brave and fearless. Childhood should be a happy time, filled with play. The kids I treat constantly amaze me with their persistence, outlook and optimism to beat their disease. They truly are superheroes.”
We think Dr. Bindra is a heroic sidekick, and we hope he continues to research to the beat of his own drum.
Help us fight the villain cancer in our countdown to National Superhero Day by donating toward lifesaving research. Support sidekicks like Dr. Bindra so he can help superheroes live longer, better and healthier lives.
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