Dolphins Challenge Cancer and Children’s Tumor Foundation Partnership Advances NF Tumor Research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

A $1.7 million grant supports a Sylvester-led international consortium to study schwannomatosis.

Jesse Rodriguez, Assistant VP of Development, Sylvester; Abbey Sutton, Director of Development, Dolphins Challenge Cancer; Javier Sanchez, Executive Director, Dolphins Challenge Cancer; Monica Sohn, Chief Growth Officer, ChildrensChildren's Tumor Foundation; Annette Bakker, CEO, Children’s Tumor Foundation; Antonio Iavarone, M.D.; Shawn McGee, Executive Director of the Development and UCARE, Sylvester

Dolphins Challenge Cancer (DCC) and the Children’s Tumor Foundation (CTF) are teaming up to co-fund a study to find advancements in treatment for people with NF, a diverse group of genetic conditions known as neurofibromatosis or schwannomatosis which cause tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body.

The $1.7 million research grant to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, a part of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, was announced May 4 at Sylvester, coinciding with NF Awareness Month.

International Consortium Studying Schwannomatosis

The newly forged partnership between the DCC, the Miami Dolphins’ year-round cancer initiative and the NFL’s largest fundraising event, and CTF, the world’s leading organization dedicated to funding and driving innovative research into all forms of neurofibromatosis and schwannomatosis, will support research by Sylvester Deputy Director Antonio Iavarone, M.D., a world-renowned pediatric neuro-oncologist and expert in glioblastoma and other aggressive tumors. Dr. Iavarone will lead a highly collaborative international consortium studying schwannomatosis, one of the rarer forms of NF.

Javier Sanchez, Executive Director of the DCC, Gabriel Groisman, Board Chair of the Children’s Tumor Foundation, Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D. swap jerseys in celebration of the new partnership.
Javier Sanchez, executive director of the DCC, Gabriel Groisman, board chair of the Children’s Tumor Foundation and Sylvester Director Dr. Stephen Nimer swap jerseys.

In patients with schwannomatosis, a genetic predisposition causes the development of schwannomas, which are tumors that develop along nerves in the central nervous system and throughout the rest of the body, inflicting severe and often debilitating pain.

“We will study tumor samples and blood samples collected from five cancer centers in France and Italy, along with those collected locally, to better understand the tumors’ molecular characterizations,” said Dr. Iavarone, a professor of neurological surgery and biochemistry and molecular biology at the Miller School and principal investigator of the study. “This study will build on the knowledge generated by previous and very successful work we did in other forms of neurofibromatosis and schwannomatosis in collaboration with CTF. We are excited because, once we learn how these tumors develop, we can discover therapeutic opportunities.”

Leading-Edge Cancer Research

Using the advanced technologies and innovative research modalities available only at a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center like Sylvester, Dr. Iavarone and his team of Sylvester researchers will gain insight into the interaction between the tumor cells and the microenvironment as well as the genetic alterations that can cause schwannomatosis and other forms of NF, including neurofibromatosis.

Dr. Iavarone and his team will employ technologies that have never been used to study these tumors, such as novel, leading-edge single-cell analyses to unravel the contribution of the different cell types to the challenges of schwannomatosis.

The global study will produce vast amounts of data, which investigators will analyze using bioinformatics and computational biology aided by artificial intelligence machine learning. Dr. Iavarone believes this will mark a major milestone in understanding schwannomatosis.

Shared Vision

The decision to award Sylvester the $1.7 million grant stemmed from Dr. Iavarone’s longstanding commitment and expertise in NF research in partnership with the Children’s Tumor Foundation, reflecting CTF’s dedication to advancing knowledge in the field and improving patient outcomes. Dr. Iavarone previously participated in CTF’s $1 million schwannomatosis-focused Synodos collaborative, a multicenter study that revealed individual cells play distinct roles in contributing to schwannomatosis challenges.

Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center deputy director Antonio Iavarone, M.D.
Dr. Iavarone and team will employ technologies that have never been used to study tumors caused by NF.

The current project aims to build upon these insights by delving deeper into the specific contributions of single cells, thus aligning perfectly with CTF’s ongoing efforts to advance understanding and treatment in this area.

“With Dr. Iavarone’s track record of studying the cellular compositions of tumors, including neurofibromatosis low-grade gliomas, we are confident in his ability to apply these innovative approaches to shed light on the complexities of schwannomatosis,” said Annette Bakker, Ph.D., chief executive officer of the Children’s Tumor Foundation. “The current consortium, led by Dr. Antonio Iavarone and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and co-funded between CTF and the Dolphins Challenge Cancer, illustrates our commitment to driving the best research through collaborative and innovative endeavors. We believe strongly in the value of leveraging funding from partners to bring the best players together as a team to accelerate research, delivering effective and safe treatments to patients faster.”

Sharing a common vision to improve patients’ lives through research, the DCC is honored to forge this partnership with CTF to support Dr. Iavarone’s research.

“We’re excited to partner with the Children’s Tumor Foundation as we further our commitment to support our ‘one team, one fight’ efforts to fund specialized efforts like the one that Dr. Iavarone is leading,” said DCC Executive Director Javier Sanchez. “We are proud to team up with other industry-leading organizations to support world-class research initiatives at Sylvester. We believe this research is fundamental to best serving the South Florida community and beyond.”

That is a sentiment shared by the Children’s Tumor Foundation.

“We have kicked off a partnership that dreams are made of,” said Children’s Tumor Foundation Chair of the Board Gabriel Groisman. “The Children’s Tumor Foundation along with Dolphins Challenge Cancer teaming up with Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to fund groundbreaking NF research is just a perfect match, a match that the millions living with NF will benefit from. Together, the three organizations, along with Dr. Iavarone and many others, will get us one step closer to ending NF.”

Symbiotic Study

The results of Dr. Iavarone’s schwannomatosis study will be particularly valuable because previous NF research has shed new light on several forms of cancer and brain tumors.

“Dr. Iavarone has been a leader in brain tumor research for more than 20 years. The hope is that, by harnessing Sylvester’s clinical and research acumen for this schwannomatosis study, he can help change the clinical trajectory for many brain tumor patients as well,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester, Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and executive dean for research at the Miller School. “We see great potential to move the needle and improve patient outcomes, for both cancer patients as well as those with schwannomatosis, as Dr. Iavarone and his team conduct complex molecular analyses of schwannomas through the generous support of DCC and the CTF.” 

Tags: DCC, Dr. Antonio Iavarone, neurofibromatosis, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center