By Scott Gilbert, Penn State
“I was happy at my former institution,” Dovat said. “Then I saw a video of THON and saw the energy of these kids. I never saw anything like it and was stunned. It really got me. I knew I wanted to be a part of this place, where there’s an upward trend.”
Dovat, associate professor of pediatrics, is no stranger to Penn State Hershey. He completed his residency at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in 1996, coming back in 2010 to continue pediatric cancer research that is funded by the Four Diamonds Fund.
Dovat studies the role of the gene Ikaros, which has been shown to prevent leukemia. One-third of leukemia patients are missing one of their two copies of the gene, and have a bad prognosis because of it. Even in children with both copies, the Ikaros gene is not functioning in those with leukemia, allowing the cancer cells to multiply and spread.
Dovat’s lab has discovered the protein that inactivates Ikaros. With this knowledge, he is exploring potential treatments that keep the protein from shutting down the protective qualities of the Ikaros gene. In addition, if scientists can learn how Ikaros works to prevent the leukemia cells from dividing, interventions may be developed that mimic the gene’s functions.
Those potential treatments are still years away. Research in the laboratory continues using human leukemia cells in a mouse model to gather the data to eventually conduct a clinical trial. Until then, the funding from THON and Four Diamonds Fund is important to supplement National Institutes of Health funding he receives.
“It’s essential,” Dovat said. “This is cutting edge research, and for cutting edge research you need philanthropy.”
Dr. Barbara Miller, chief, division of pediatric hematology/oncology, agrees, adding that the Four Diamonds Fund has sustained research labs during periods of difficult external funding.
“This support has allowed us to direct our research in the most exciting directions and to take chances with novel approaches which have paid off,” Miller said. “It has resulted in the development of the Experimental Therapeutics program by providing support for its infrastructure, allowing us to treat patients who have recurrent disease with state-of-the-art therapy in central Pennsylvania.
“We are so grateful to THON and Four Diamonds for helping us make advances in basic and clinical research to cure pediatric cancer,” she said.