August 20, 2020

Hope On Wheels grant to enhance retinoblastoma research

Anthony Daniels, MD, MSc, has been awarded a $300,000 Hyundai Hope On Wheels Scholar Grant to study the design of more precise drugs to treat retinoblastoma, the most common ocular cancer in children.


by Jessica Pasley

Anthony Daniels, MD, MSc, assistant professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Radiation Oncology, and chief of the Division of Ocular Oncology and Pathology at the Vanderbilt Eye institute (VEI), has been awarded a $300,000 Hyundai Hope On Wheels Scholar Grant to study the design of more precise drugs to treat retinoblastoma, the most common ocular cancer in children.

Anthony Daniels, MD, MSc

Because retinoblastoma often affects both eyes, Daniels’ goal is not only to save the eye, but to preserve vision.

His team uses two procedures to help increase the number of eyes that can be saved from these cancerous tumors — intra-arterial chemotherapy, or IAC, that uses an endovascular microcatheter to allow a high concentration of chemotherapy to be administered directly to the tumor-bearing eye while limiting the toxic effects on the rest of the body, and intravitreal chemotherapy targeting vitreous seeding caused when tiny pieces of a large tumor break off into smaller tumor seeds inside the eye. Intravitreal treatments call for the therapeutic agents to be directly injected into the eye.

“While the current drugs that we use are effective in treating the cancer, they are very toxic to the eye,” said Daniels. “In saving the eye, we also want to save the patient’s vision. Vision loss is a big problem with a disease that affects both eyes 40% of the time.”

The grant will help fund a study seeking to identify a class of proteins in retinoblastoma with pathways that may be involved in tumor formation, in hopes of developing therapies that are more effective and less toxic, therefore sparing normal tissue and preserving eyesight.

“We are working on targeting the molecular machinery of the cancer cells themselves in order to spare the normal functional tissues in the eye. We are good at saving lives and we have gotten much better at saving eyes,” said Daniels. “I want to move toward keeping lifelong vision for these patients as well.”

Debra Freidman, MD, MS, E. Bronson Ingram Chair of Pediatric Oncology, said the Hope on Wheels grant is the single largest award received to date from the organization, and comes at an incredibly exciting time for the research enterprise.

“Dr. Daniels has a novel animal model of retinoblastoma, which is very similar to the way the tumor presents in children, and that allows his team to test new drugs and to study novel delivery mechanisms for retinoblastoma,” said Friedman.

“There is no other center in the country that has a drug discovery pipeline like this established.”

“This work takes advantage of multiple areas of expertise within Vanderbilt that allows for collaborative efforts. The end result for this work is drug development. Ultimately our goal is to advance therapies to improve treatment and enhance supportive care. The support from Hyundai has been essential in our pediatric oncology research efforts,” Friedman said.

Hyundai Hope On Wheels has awarded more than $1.6 million in funding to pediatric cancer research at Vanderbilt. The company and local dealerships began their partnership with the hospital in 2007.