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The Kidney Cancer Association (KCA) awarded six grants to six investigators pursuing innovative kidney cancer research across a spectrum of focus areas. The KCA distributed a total of $412,500 in research funds.

All the awards support early- to mid-career investigators but three of the six awards supported proposals focused on rare types of kidney cancer. Rare kidney cancer types include the 20-25% of diagnoses that are not clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC), which is the most common kidney cancer type. These rare types are typically underfunded and understudied. Consequently, people with rare kidney cancers face greater challenges in diagnosis, treatment, maintaining good quality of life, and access to and eligibility for clinical trials.

“We have the evidence – both empirical and anecdotal – to take a highly focused approach to kidney cancer research funding based on what we know to be areas of need and areas where major progress for patients is both necessary and possible,” said Dr. Salvatore La Rosa, KCA’s Chief Scientific Officer. “By encouraging top-notch researchers to direct their efforts to rare kidney cancer types through three of our Focus Awards, we hope to open the floodgates of discovery and generate excitement about the future for the whole kidney cancer community.”

One of the four Focus Awards – the Translocation RCC Focus Award – was granted in partnership with Joey’s Wings Foundation, a KCA Affiliate Partner organization supporting pediatric kidney cancer patients and their families with a focus on translocation renal cell carcinoma. Founder Kathy Liu’s son Joey was diagnosed with stage IV translocation RCC in 2013 and died in November 2014.

Dr. Prateek Khanna of the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts received this award for work to find treatment target proteins on translocation RCC cells.

“Joey’s Wings is deeply appreciative of the translocation RCC research opportunity that this Focus Award will make possible. By highlighting the significance of translocation RCC research, we are not only elevating the understanding of this rare cancer type, but also encouraging advancements in diagnosis, treatment, and patient care,” Liu said.

The Unclassified/Papillary Focus Award was supported in full by Brandon Butera and Maggie Valdes after one year of fundraising. Butera, 28, and Valdes, 28, high school sweethearts who are now engaged, are in the midst of managing Butera’s stage IV “unclassified” kidney cancer diagnosis. Valdes is currently the KCA’s Manager of Corporate Partnerships.

Butera and Valdes said: “Every year, too many patients are diagnosed with a rare type of kidney cancer. It is difficult to fight a disease about which we know so little. That’s why this research is essential. This Focus Award will help us further understand and quantify this disease, and we are thrilled about it. Thank you to the KCA and thank you to our family and friends who donated to make this research possible.”

Dr. Shinji Ohtake at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine will receive funding through the Unclassified/Papillary Focus Award to examine how the loss of a specific gene affects both papillary and unclassified types of kidney cancer.

Dr. Niki Zacharias Milward at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas received the Chromophobe RCC Focus Award for work to identify treatment targets in this cancer type.

Dr. Brendan Guercio of the University of Rochester Medical Center received the Interdisciplinary RCC Focus Award for work on the relationship between gut bacteria and immunotherapy, an award supported by the Michael and Ina Korek Foundation.

Dr. Maria Carlo at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, New York and Dr. Rana McKay at the University of California San Diego received the two Trailblazer Awards, which fund exceptional research proposals in any aspect of kidney cancer, for work on a new understanding of RCC gene pathways and the ability to predict response to immunotherapy in RCC patients, respectively.

“We had a very competitive applicant pool,” said Dr. Sumanta Pal, a medical oncologist at City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California, member of the KCA’s Medical Steering Committee, and Chair of the KCA’s Grant Committee. “Kidney cancer research has come a long way in the past several years and it’s exciting to see even more researchers thinking creatively about how to improve clinical options for patients across the spectrum of this dynamic disease.”

“Our goal with the grant program this year was to join forces with fellow advocates to fund researchers who are promising, who are working in areas where we know we can advance the science, and who’s work will directly benefit people who live with kidney cancer every day,” said Gretchen E. Vaughan, KCA’s President and CEO. “I’m thrilled with the quality of projects we get to support. Seeing their passion drives us to continue working – through our grant program, through legislative advocacy, and through education and services – towards opportunities to support even more research that will change and perhaps even save lives.”

The KCA’s Award Program’s 2023 cycle began in March 2023 with applications accepted through mid-April 2023. The 2024 Award Program will open again in spring 2024.

Trailblazer Awards ($75,000)

Maria Carlo, MD – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Research project: Role of germline and somatic variants in NRF2 pathway genes in renal cell carcinoma

Rana McKay, MD – University of California San Diego

Research project: Dissecting predictors of response to immunotherapy in patients with renal cell carcinoma

Translocation RCC Focus Award, in partnership with Joey’s Wings Foundation ($75,000)

Prateek Khanna, MD – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Research project: Therapeutic targeting of cell surface antigens in translocation renal cell carcinoma

Unclassified/Papillary RCC Focus Award, supported by Brandon Butera and Maggie Valdes ($75,000)

Shinji Ohtake, MD – Unviersity of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine

Research Project: Development of Models of NF2 loss in papillary and unclassified variant of kidney cancer

Chromophobe RCC Focus Award ($75,000)

Niki Zacharias Millward, PhD – MD Anderson Cancer Center

Research project: Leveraging patient-derived xenograft models to identify and therapeutically target metabolic hallmarks of chromophobe renal cell carcinoma

Interdisciplinary RCC Focus Award, supported by the Michael and Ina Korek Foundation ($37,500)

Brendan Guercio, MD – University of Rochester Medical Center

Research project: Associations of diet with the gut microbiome among patients with advanced/metastatic RCC receiving immune checkpoint inhibition


About the Kidney Cancer Association

The Kidney Cancer Association is a global community dedicated to serving and empowering patients and caregivers, and leading change through advocacy, research, and education in order to be the universal leader in finding the cure for kidney cancer. Founded in 1990 by Eugene P. Schonfeld and a small group of patients and doctors in Chicago, Illinois, the KCA has grown into an international non-profit organization based in Houston, Texas. The KCA promotes scientific advances through two annual research symposiums and a robust grant program, participates in legislative advocacy, and seeks to be a source of education and resources for patients, caregivers, and anyone impacted by kidney cancer.

Media Contact

Radha Chitale
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847.332.1051 ext. 113 | [email protected]