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U-M doctor to study disease he conquered as a teen with $250,000 from Hyundai

As a patient at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, Andrew Harris vowed he’d get better and work to help other kids battle graft vs. host disease

Andrew Harris was a 19-year-old college student when he received a shocking diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia. Harris received a bone marrow transplant but soon had to tackle another roadblock: graft vs. host disease, in which the transplanted immune cells attacked his body’s cells.

“But all through it, I thought, if I survive this, I want to come back and do something with my life to make this better,” says Harris, M.D. who now works on the pediatric cancer team at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the hospital where he was treated and alongside the doctors and caregivers who gave him his bone marrow transplant in 1998.

Harris is studying the disease he beat: graft vs. host disease, a leading cause of death for kids that have had bone marrow transplants.

Today, the Hyundai Hope on Wheels program gave C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital a check for $250,000 to support Harris’ research into graft vs. host disease in children who’ve had bone marrow transplants.

“We want to see if we can stop this disease in its tracks,” says Harris, who is father to three children and an avid soccer player. “Without this grant, this study would not happen. It is the first national study looking at whether we can predict which kids are likely to get graft vs. host disease.”

Hyundai Hope On Wheels® is the united effort of Hyundai Motor America and its more than 800 dealers across the U.S. to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to celebrate the lives of children battling the disease. For 2012, Hyundai Hope On Wheels plans to surpass $57 million in total donations to childhood cancer research since the program began in 1998. Hyundai Hope On Wheels is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Valerie Castle, M.D., chair of Mott’s Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, thanked the Hyundai officials who gathered at Mott to present the check.

“You’re helping us to spread the word about the importance of research. You’re helping us spread the word about the importance of investing in young people who are dedicating their careers to try to make a difference,” said Castle.

Harris is one of those people, Castle said.

Brian O’Malley, Regional Manager Hyundai U.S. Greater Chicago, presented Harris with the check and said that Hyundai hopes to promote the mission that more research funding is needed to eradicate childhood cancer.

Harris said the funds from Hyundai will allow him to partner with the Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research. He said he hopes through his research to develop a test to predict which patients are more likely to develop graft vs. host disease.

“This could make bone marrow transplants safer for children around the globe,” Harris said.

“I am so excited to welcome Hyundai as a partner with U-M. … I thank you so much for this.”

Patients from Mott placed their handprints in colorful paint on a new white Hyundai Tucson, the official vehicle of the Hyundai Hope on Wheels program. The car was parked in front of C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital Thursday morning. Children also placed their handprints on a banner.

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