Young investigator given research boost from national grant

Dr. Rikhia Chakraborty is a young scientist with a distinct goal – to find the causes that potentially lead to Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH), a rare cancer mainly affecting pediatric patients, and determine the best way to prevent and treat the disease. Chakraborty’s research was recently recognized by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation with a Young Investigator Grant worth $100,000. The grant, which provides two years of research funding, is designed as start-up funds for new scientists at the end of their fellowship training or early in their research career.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation raises money to help fight childhood cancer. With only 4 percent of federal research dollars dedicated to pediatric cancer research, grand funding is incredibly coveted by those trying to find a cure or prevention. The grants given by the foundation are designed to fill a critical void in funding for this kind of research. For Chakraborty, it is an exciting resource for her research.

“This grant helps enormously in pursuing my research goals as a young investigator,” Chakraborty said. “It’s also a great platform to know that your peers acknowledge the importance of your research.”

“While this disease is extremely rare, thanks to Drs. Kenneth McClain and Carl Allen, Texas Children’s has a biorepository with the largest number of tissue from patients with LCH,” Chakraborty said.

Fatality rates for the disease are comparable to Leukemia, roughly five in a million patients. Despite similar incidence and survival, LCH patients have benefited from far less research funding and attention than other childhood cancers, likely due to incomplete understanding of the disease. The treatment is just as difficult. “The main goal for us at this point is to look at what is cause of this disease. “She said the team has looked into the available patient cohort to define the genome wide somatic mutations that characterize LCH. “We are trying to define the genome wide somatic mutations for this disease and how the different contributors ultimately orchestrate LCH pathogenesis,” Chakraborty said. “Finding genetic mutation will help in future targeted therapeutic strategies.” By discovering what’s causing LCH, the team hopes to design a drug to combat the changes caused by the genetic mutation.

Chakraborty said Texas Children’s has served as a great platform for her research by allowing for collaboration within the medical center. Her aim is to better understand what causes the diseases with the help of this grant, unfolding the molecular mystery and allow for better drug design to combat and prevent it. So what may cause LCH?

“It’s hard to pinpoint at this time,” Chakraborty said. “This grant will allow me and the entire team led by Drs. Allen and McClain to determine that answer and in turn come up with targeted therapeutic strategy.”