Hyundai Hope on Wheels Awards $500,000 to Support Cancer Research

Since its launch in 1998, Hyundai Hope on Wheels has awarded more than 1,000 research grants to improve outcomes and treatments for children diagnosed with cancer. This year marks Hyundai’s 24th consecutive year in the fight against childhood cancer, making it one of the longest-running corporate social responsibility efforts in the automotive industry.

This October, representatives from Hyundai Hope on Wheels and several local dealerships awarded a total of $500,000 to support groundbreaking cancer research. Linda McAllister-Lucas, MD received the Hyundai Scholar Hope grant for $300,000 and Archana Ramgopal, DO received the Hyundai Young Investigator grant for $200,000. Funding for both projects will begin in January 2023. Following the ceremony, patients at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh left their handprints on a Hyundai vehicle, and the awardees!

Treating a Challenging Brain Tumor

Dr. McAllister-Lucas’ research examines treatment for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), an aggressive and challenging brain tumor. DIPG is one of the most challenging cancers to treat due to its location on the brainstem and due to the unique features of the cancer cells and the immune cells found within these tumors, which promote DIPG tumor growth. Currently, DIPG has a survival rate near 0%.

The treatment focus in Dr. McAllister-Lucas’ research is using targeted immunotherapy on a particular intracellular signaling protein called MALT1 to re-engage the immune system to combat DIPG and to reduce DIPG tumor cell survival.

Investigating a Potentially Deadly Cancer Treatment Side Effect

If a child has a blood cancer like leukemia that cannot be cured with standard therapy, they can undergo a bone marrow transplant to get an entirely new immune system that can help eradicate their cancer. In this process, the immune system of the donor replaces the immune system of the patient and then attacks the leukemia cells. The downside is that sometimes immune cells from the donor also attack other cells in the patient, causing skin rashes, gut inflammation, and liver injury.

Together, these complications are called ‘graft versus host disease (GVHD), a terrible post-transplant event that can even lead to death in patients otherwise cured of their cancer. In preliminary work, Dr. Archana Ramgopal has found that the development of GVHD is a very energy demanding process for the immune cells that cause it. Dr. Archana Ramgopal will use knowledge of this increased energy demand to investigate how to “turn off” these disease-causing cells.

UPMC Children’s Young Investigators Become Cancer Research Leaders

Hyundai Hope on Wheels has now awarded UPMC Children’s more than $3 million to support cancer research, including 6 current researchers awarded in the past 4 years. UPMC Children’s has especially excelled in receiving the Young Investigator Awards, which are meant for early career physician-scientists who are poised to make a difference in the field of pediatric oncology. These awards come at a particularly critical time, as they allow the recipients to make the transition from Fellow to independent investigator.

Our Young Investigators awarded have gone on to win additional prestigious research awards and have significant findings that will help advance the care and treatment of future children battling cancer.