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Barbara Savoldo, MD, PhD, speaks about she will use the Hyundai Hope on Wheels grant to support her reseach into new generation chimeric antigen receptor-based cell therapy for neuroblastoma.

Hyundai Hope On Wheels and Triangle-area Hyundai dealers awarded UNC Lineberger member Barbara Savoldo, MD, PhD, a $250,000 Hyundai Scholar Grant to support her research into a novel treatment for neuroblastoma, a cancer that most often occurs in children younger than 5 years of age.

Savoldo, who is a professor of pediatrics who specializes in hematology-oncology at UNC School of Medicine and UNC Children’s Hospital, was one of 24 researchers in the United States awarded a highly competitive, peer-reviewed Hyundai Scholar grant. In all, Hyundai Hope On Wheels will award more than $13 million in new pediatric cancer grants in 2016.

The grant will help fund Savoldo’s research of a new generation chimeric antigen receptor-based cell therapy for neuroblastoma. Specifically, her work is focused on genetically re-engineering a patient’s own immune cells to express chimeric antigen receptors that would allow the immune cells to recognize and hone in on the cancer cells. This positions the immune cells to launch an attack on the cancer.

A young patient practices for the hand-print ceremony following the check presentation.

“I am extremely grateful for Hyundai’s generous support of my research and for their longstanding commitment to pediatric cancer research,” said Savoldo. “The grant will enable me to continue my investigation into how best to harness a cancer patient’s immune system to more effectively recognize and attack the cancer, an approach that shown promise as a treatment for certain blood cancers.”

Savoldo was honored at an event held in UNC Children’s Hospital’s lobby on Monday. Among those speaking at the check presentation were Alex Ferm, 7, and his mother, Liz, who spoke about Alex’s experience being treated for T-cell lymphoma. The two acknowledged that the treatment was challenging at times, but Alex was quick to add that he enjoyed “having room service” while he was an inpatient.

Tim Turbyfield, senior manager of regional merchandising at Hyundai Motor America, said Hyundai’s Hope on Wheels program is a shared commitment between the company and the car dealerships. “We are committed to making a difference in the lives of children and in the fight against pediatric cancer,” he said. “Our approach for the last 18 years is to fund innovative research so that ultimately we find a cure. That’s why grant making efforts like today’s are so important.”

Hyundai’s Hope on Wheels program has provided UNC Lineberger with $600,000 in research support since 2011. It previously awarded UNC Lineberger member Ian Davis, MD, PhD, two grants totaling $350,000 to support his research to better understand and develop therapies for Ewing sarcoma, a rare cancer of the bone and soft tissue that primarily affects children and young adults, ages 10 to 20.

The event concluded with the Hope On Wheels hand-print ceremony. Several pediatric patients painted their palm of their hands and then made hand prints on a white 2016 Hyundai Tucson to commemorate their fight against the disease and to serve as a sign of Hyundai’s commitment to funding pediatric cancer research.

“As a Hyundai dealer, Hope On Wheels is one of the best things we do,” said Kevin Hand, general manager at Johnson Hyundai of Cary, NC. “This is not about selling cars or promoting our businesses. This initiative is truly at the core of who we are to make the world a better place.