Newly-funded CureSearch and SebastianStrong Foundation project aims to develop immunotherapy treatment for pediatric leukemia

Media Contact: Margetta Thomas, Communications Manager   

Novel immunotherapy approach could improve survival rate for acute myeloid leukemia

Bethesda, Md. – September 15, 2021 – CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, in partnership with the SebastianStrong Foundation, has awarded a three-year, $270,650 CureSearch Young Investigator grant to University of Colorado Cancer Center member Mark Kohler, MD, PhD, who will develop a new treatment approach for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a rare blood cancer in children.  

While improved treatment options for pediatric leukemia have increased patient survival rates, certain subtypes will not be cured with conventional chemotherapy. In fact, AML patients who do not respond to treatment, or experience recurrence after treatment, usually survive fewer than six months.  

CAR T-cell therapy is ideal for patients whose disease no longer responds to chemotherapy, as it relies on the immune system to eliminate leukemia cells. Dr. Kohler will develop two CAR T-cell approaches for AML, which will decrease the leukemia cells’ ability to avoid treatment and reduce toxicity in children with relapsed AML.  

“Unfortunately, a significant number of patients with AML will not be cured with conventional cytotoxic therapies,” said Caitlyn Barrett, PhD, National Director of Research and Programs at CureSearch. “For those who have AML that returns after treatment, CAR T-cells that target multiple proteins on the surface of the cancer cell have the potential to provide more specific and lasting therapeutic benefit.” 

At the conclusion of this three-year project, Dr. Kohler aims to move these new immunotherapy strategies into early phase clinical trials. If successful, this novel approach can potentially be applied to other forms of childhood cancers with poor prognoses. 

“CAR T-cells have revolutionized the treatment of pediatric patients with relapsed acute lymphocytic leukemia or ALL,” said Dr. Kohler, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “Through this award from CureSearch and the SebastianStrong Foundation, we have the opportunity to reimagine CAR T-cell therapies to meet the needs of children and young adults with AML.” 

Historically, pediatric cancer research funding hasn’t translated to new treatments. CureSearch takes a unique funding approach and collaborates with key players in the pediatric cancer ecosystem, such as SebastianStrong Foundation, to fund projects that are most likely to become a drug and quickly reach patients. 

“We are excited and proud to partner with Dr. Kohler and CureSearch on this project. We’ve seen the results CAR-T cell approaches have had on ALL and are very excited about the potential of bringing similar successes to AML,” said Oscar Ortiz, Executive Director and Co-founder of SebastianStrong. “Our ultimate goal is to create more potential treatments for kids facing a cancer diagnosis. We want the research that we fund to provide hope so that parents don’t have to hear the devastating words that so many parents hear every day, “we’re out of options”. 

Dr. Kohler’s research was selected as a recipient of the SebastianStrong Foundation’s annual Discovery Science Award. The award is granted to research projects that use innovative methodologies and out-of-the-box approaches in the quest for less-toxic cures. 

About CureSearch for Children’s Cancer 

CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, a national nonprofit organization based in Bethesda, MD, works to end childhood cancer by driving targeted and innovative research with measurable results in an accelerated time frame. CureSearch focuses on advancing the strongest research out of the laboratory and into clinical trials and development, where better, less-toxic treatments can quickly help children. 

About SebastianStrong 

SebastianStrong was founded in 2017 to honor the life of Sebastian Ortiz (2000-2016) and his courageous 14-month battle with rhabdomyosarcoma. Since then, the Foundation has awarded more than $1.2 million in grants to fund new and cutting-edge medical research across the country in the hopes of one day eradicating childhood cancers. The Foundation also provides financial support to assist kids and their families with the hardships of battling cancer. To learn more, follow us @SebsStrong (Instagram and Twitter) and @SebastianStrong (Facebook), and visit us at 

About the University of Colorado Cancer Center 

The University of Colorado Cancer Center is Colorado’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and one of only four in the 10-state Rocky Mountain Region, creating a nexus of world-class doctors and researchers focused on discovering and delivering new ways to prevent and treat cancer. 


Children’s Hospital Colorado is one of the nation’s leading and most expansive pediatric healthcare systems with a mission to improve the health of children through patient care, education, research and advocacy. Founded in 1908 and recognized as a top ten children’s hospital by U.S. News & World Report, Children’s Colorado has established itself as a pioneer in the discovery of innovative and groundbreaking treatments that are shaping the future of pediatric healthcare worldwide. Children’s Colorado offers a full spectrum of family-centered care at its urgent, emergency and specialty care locations throughout Colorado, including its location on the Anschutz Medical Campus, and across the region. In 2019, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs, opened as the first pediatric-only hospital in southern Colorado. For more information, visit, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top