The Childhood Cancer Blog

The Future of Childhood Cancer Research: Student Researchers

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By: Trish Adkins

Congratulating the graduating class of 2023 POST grantees.

The Pediatric Oncology Student Training (POST) program is a special category of grants awarded by Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) for undergraduate, graduate and medical students who have an interest in pediatric oncology research. The program is short – just 10 weeks – but the impact is life changing: POST grantees often go on to be the scientists who find breakthroughs and push towards more cures for kids with cancer. 

“The POST program is a wonderful opportunity to inspire the next generation of childhood cancer researchers and clinicians,” said Dr. Adam Durbin, an ALSF-funded researcher from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

Dr. Durbin serves as a mentor in the POST grant program. Mentors may have a student join a study already in progress or start a new project. 

“Mentoring is an enormous part of what we do – teaching and guiding students. It is a pleasure to witness bright young minds grab a hold of complex problems in childhood cancer and be a part of their study. This will no doubt lead to new solutions for these awful diseases,” said Dr. Durbin. 

ALSF has funded more than 400 researchers since launching the grant category in 2011. Among that first-funded class is Dr. Yang Ding. Mentored by Dr. Kai Tan and Dr. Sarah Tasian, both ALSF-funded researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Dr. Ding used her time as a POST grantee to study the cardiac side effects of chemotherapy on children with leukemia. In 2020, she received a Young Investigator Grant from ALSF, and continued her study of less-toxic treatments for leukemia.

“We always want to develop as much convincing preclinical data as possible and that means doing really high-quality science in the lab and validating it very extensively before bringing it to patients,” said Dr. Ding. “Alex's really steps up and helps us with that. It helps fund this very necessary and critical research before we can ultimately translate these discoveries to improve cures for children with cancer.”

Read more about Dr. Ding's research

This year, ALSF awarded a record 45 POST grantees at 23 institutions. ALSF continues to make efforts to increase diversity in the pediatric oncology research community by supporting the next generation of biomedical researchers from underrepresented communities. Approximately one-third of the 2023 ALSF POST program awards were reserved for students who identify as being from a racial and/or ethnic group that is underrepresented in the scientific workforce as defined by the NSF and NIH. 

The students studied virtually every childhood cancer type from brain tumors to sarcomas to Wilms tumor. They also did work in emerging fields like CAR T immunotherapy, precision medicine and predisposition factors. As part of the cohort this year, the 2023 POST grantees started their own team for The Million Mile, the annual ALSF fundraiser during September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. 

The next round of POST grants will be awarded for summer 2024. 

Meet all the 2023 POST grantees here

ALSF supports all phases and stages of childhood oncology research. Attracting and retaining the best and brightest early career scientists is critical to the future of childhood cancer research. Funding at this stage will encourage and steer promising researchers toward long-term careers in pediatric oncology investigation. Learn more about the ALSF grant program.