Nine Stanford scientists receive cancer research funding totaling $13 million

The funding, from Cancer Grand Challenges, will help the researchers address difficult problems in cancer prevention, treatment-resistant cancers and therapies for pediatric solid tumors.

- By Erin Digitale

(From top, left to right) Paul Mischel, Michelle Monje, Howard Chang, Calvin Kuo, Emma Lundberg, Robbie Majzner, Carolyn Bertozzi, Ansuman Satpathy and Irving Weissman have received grants from Cancer Grand Challenges.
Courtesy of Cancer Grand Challenges

Nine Stanford scientists are among the recipients of large grants from Cancer Grand Challenges, a global funding initiative founded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute and Cancer Research UK. The funding was announced June 16.

Stanford scientists will receive about $13 million over the next five years to tackle a variety of problems in cancer research. The funding is a portion of $100 million being provided to four teams of researchers from institutions around the world. Each team will address a specific research challenge. Stanford researchers are contributing to three of the teams.

Study of extrachromosomal DNA

Paul Mischel, MD, professor of pathology and an institute scholar at Sarafan ChEM-H, will lead the study of extrachromosomal DNA, which consists of small, circular pieces of genetic information that drive tumor evolution and cause cancers in some individuals to become resistant to treatment. Extrachromosomal DNA is present in around a third of cancers and promotes aggressive tumor behavior.

“We’re poised to transform the collective understanding of many aggressive forms of cancer,” Mischel said. “We believe we can provide new insight into how to diagnose, monitor and treat patients for whom current therapies do not work.”

Mischel’s team includes Howard Chang, MD, PhD, professor of genetics and the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor in Cancer Research, and Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences, as well as scientists from 10 other institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany.

Next-generation immunotherapies

Four Stanford researchers are part of a team that will develop next-generation immunotherapies for children with solid tumors. Pediatric cancers are biologically different from tumors in adults, so immunotherapy techniques engineered for adult cancers often fail to help children. The researchers plan to engineer therapies that specifically target pediatric tumors, focusing on the cells’ surface markers and local environments and on using lab models specific to pediatric disease.

The team will include Robbie Majzner, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics; Carolyn Bertozzi, PhD, professor of chemistry, Baker Family Director of Stanford’s Sarafan ChEM-H, and the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences; Ansuman Satpathy, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology; and Irving Weissman, MD, the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor in Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research, and a professor of developmental biology and of pathology. This team is led by researchers at Children’s National Hospital (Washington, D.C.) and University College London, and includes scientists at eight institutions in the U.S., the U.K. and France.

Investigation of early-stage cancer

Calvin Kuo, MD, PhD, the Maureen Lyles D’Ambrogio Professor of medicine, and Emma Lundberg, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering and of pathology, are joining a team investigating very early stages of cancer development. Recent research has shown that many cells carrying cancer-causing mutations never become malignant. The researchers plan to explore how such factors as inflammation, aging or exposure to carcinogens may lead these cells to paths that cause cancer. The team will be led by scientists at UC San Francisco; the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer in France and the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Spain. They will seek new ways to prevent cancer. This team includes scientists at five institutions in the U.S., the U.K., Spain and France.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit

2024 ISSUE 1

Psychiatry’s new frontiers