“The Victories in the Clinic are Worth It”

How Dr. Gruber is Building off V Foundation-Funded Groundwork

When Tanja Gruber, M.D., Ph.D., found out she received a V Foundation grant in 2013, she was surprised and encouraged by the investment in her research on acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in infants. As an early-career investigator at St. Jude’s, it was difficult to earn funding for research ideas.

But the V Foundation grant led to other grants and great advancements throughout her career.

“Funding from the V Foundation made preclinical studies on new treatment approaches for high-risk infants with leukemia possible. It laid the groundwork for a clinical trial in these patients with promising results. We are building on this therapeutic approach with a successor study that is launching in 2023. Our long-term goal is to cure every infant with leukemia,” said Dr. Gruber.

Now the Division Chief of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, Stem Cell Transplantation & Regenerative Medicine and Associate Director for Childhood Cancer at Stanford Cancer Institute, and the Director of the Bass Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, Dr. Gruber continues to move the needle forward in the field of cancer research.

Dr. Gruber’s area of study of ALL in infants is extremely high-risk, and survival rates are low. Her passion for this line of research started as a fellow at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. She was drawn to care for patients with high-risk diagnoses and patients that might not be responding to traditional treatments, with the hope that the research she is doing will directly benefit patients.

“Every time an infant with leukemia is cured with the treatment approach developed in my laboratory, I am proud. Rejection is commonplace in the field of science, but the victories in the clinic are worth it. To see an infant grow up before your eyes and beat cancer is the ultimate reward."
Dr. Gruber

Dr. Gruber is extremely thankful for the V Foundation for Cancer Research and the investment it made in her career. She’s thrilled to be a mentor to other researchers beginning their careers. She credits her mentors for inspiring her as a student and young investigator.

“I’m a product of fantastic mentorship from a series of individuals over the course of my career,” Dr. Gruber said. “Now, to be able to provide that to young people coming up in the field, it feels really good. You want to give back what you yourself have received.”

As of February 2023, Dr. Gruber has authored two peer reviewed publications and has been cited 146 times on the work funded by the V Foundation. Her overall body of work includes 108 peer reviewed publications which have been cited over 3,600 times.

In 30 years, the V Foundation has funded nearly 1,200 grants totaling over $310 million in cancer research. Each grant, like the one Dr. Gruber received in 2013 that laid the foundation for her career, moves us toward Victory Over Cancer®.

“The V Foundation has been around for 30 years now, which is just incredible,” Dr. Gruber said. “Funding a lot of research that has made a big difference and impact in the outcomes of our patients. One of the fantastic things is the support of junior investigators, because they are the future.”

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