St. Baldrick’s Foundation grant will expand pediatric cancer research at UCSC

Two women smiling as one shave the hair off the other's head.
The Genomic Institute's Rose Miyatsu at the St. Baldrick's Brave the Shave event in 2022. (photo by Nick Gonzales)

A new $100,000 grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation will provide UC Santa Cruz’s Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative funding to expand efforts to study rare pediatric cancers. 

The Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative, a project of the UCSC Genomics Institute, uses computational approaches to study RNA sequencing data from pediatric cancer cases that doctors can then use to diagnose and treat rare diseases. They have built a database of childhood cancer tumor types, gathering patient data across institutions to better study the rare conditions and allow other researchers access to a more robust dataset. 

“I am continuously impressed and inspired by the passion, collaboration and commitment to change from everyone who is touched by pediatric cancer and hope that we will soon see the day when every child with cancer can expect a cure,” said Olena Vaske, associate professor of molecular, cell, and developmental (MCD) biology and co-principal investigator at Treehouse. 

With the new grant, Treehouse researchers will continue to build out their database with data from 25 studies on pediatric sarcomas, a rare and difficult-to-treat cancer type and work to make their database more accessible to researchers who do not have a computational background. 

They also plan to create new programs to further study pediatric cancer tumors in order to find more treatment targets and move into clinical studies to ensure their approach can be used in clinics to treat children with cancer. 

Treehouse was founded in 2013 by Vaske, Distinguished Professor of Biomolecular Engineering and Director of the Genomics Institute David Haussler, Professor of MCD Biology Sofie Salama, Project Scientist Melissa Cline, and Katrina Learned, then the quality assurance manager for the UCSC Genome Browser whose daughter had recently been diagnosed with  cancer in her first year of life. Isabel Bjork, then-executive director of the Genomics Institute also contributed to the Treehouse leadership. Learned’s daughter thankfully survived, but learning first-hand about the research gap for childhood cancers motivated her, Vaske, and Haussler to look for new treatment options in RNA. 

Thanks to the much-needed funding from  St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Treehouse has grown into a vibrant research program with multiple collaborators across the U.S. and internationally. 

About St. Baldrick's:
Every 2 minutes, a child somewhere in the world is diagnosed with cancer. In the U.S., 1 in 5 will not survive. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation, the largest charity funder of childhood cancer research grants, is on a mission to Conquer Kids’ Cancer by supporting the most promising research to find cures and better treatments for all childhood cancers. When you give to St. Baldrick’s, you don’t just give to one hospital – you support virtually every institution with the expertise to treat kids with cancer across the U.S. St. Baldrick’s ensures that children fighting cancer now — and those diagnosed in the future — will have access to the most cutting-edge treatment, by supporting every stage of research, from new ideas in the lab to the training of the next generation of researchers, to lifesaving clinical trials. Visit and help #ConquerKidsCancer.