2017 Innovation Award Recipient:        Amanda Balboni Iniguez, PhD

Dr. Amanda Balboni Iniguez had a passion for science from a very young age and was inspired to become a cancer biologist in high school, when she became involved in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser. “Hearing stories from cancer survivors motivated me to pursue a career as a cancer scientist,” she says. “My ultimate goal is to develop new therapies that will improve survival with decreased side effects for pediatric patients.”

Her current research focus is on a class of compounds to treat pediatric neuroblastoma, a devastating cancer that most commonly affects children age five years or younger. Neuroblastoma typically forms in immature nerve cells resulting in tumor growth in the neck, chest, abdomen, or spine of the child. Currently, there are few effective treatments for neuroblastoma, and the disease accounts for 15% of all childhood cancer deaths.

Dr. Balboni Iniguez is targeting epigenetic regulators in cells as an innovative approach to shutting down the disease. These regulators act as the on/off switches controlling the production of proteins. In cancer cells, the switches often malfunction, allowing the cells to grow out of control. Dr. Balboni Iniguez's work has profound implications for the clinical treatment of high-risk neuroblastoma and may offer an effective treatment strategy for patients with advanced disease. Her discoveries in this field may translate into treatments for other cancers as well.

Dr. Balboni Iniguez's work in neuroblastoma builds on her research accomplishments in another pediatric cancer, Ewing sarcoma, which is a rare solid tumor of the bone or tissue surrounding the bone that strikes children and young adults. This research selectively targeted a protein driving the disease and identified a molecule that inhibits its progression, offering an opportunity for clinical treatments. Her discovery also increases our understanding of this childhood cancer’s cell biology, and has been submitted to the prestigious journal, Cancer Cell, for publication.

“It was a huge surprise to me to win the Jake Wetchler Award for Pediatric Innovation." says Dr. Balboni Iniguez. "...it is encouraging any time you receive recognition for your work, however, this is particularly special for me. It was an honor to meet the founders of the Jake Wetchler Foundation, who have bravely championed for innovative research in the field of pediatric oncology and are very familiar with the unique challenges this field faces... I continue to dedicate my life to understanding some of the most devastating pediatric cancers and I hope to make a real difference in the lives of children affected with these diseases.”