It’s a safe bet that when a group of prominent cancer researchers get together to share news about progress, researchers supported by St. Baldrick’s donors will be among them. This was true of the June 2018 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the largest gathering of cancer professionals in the world. This year, St. Baldrick’s was a prominent part of this significant event. Read on to learn more …
St. Baldrick’s Senior Director of Advocacy and Government Relations, Danielle Leach, speaks during the presentation of the Partners in Progress Award at the ASCO conference. Photo by © ASCO/Matt Herp 2018
An ASCO meeting is like a city within a city, with more than 32,000 professionals attending, from patient advocates to academic researchers to biotech movers and shakers. Each year, the news announced at this meeting has far-reaching implications for the future of research, outcomes for patients, and even stock prices of companies involved in new advances.
For some kids with cancer, getting a bone marrow transplant can be a blessing, but for others it can be a curse. That’s because of a complication called Graft-Versus-Host Disease or GVHD, which not only causes immense suffering — it can also be fatal. Enter Dr. Melissa Mavers, a St. Baldrick’s Fellow who aims to stop GVHD in its tracks and help kids with cancer live long, healthy lives after transplant.
Dr. Melissa Mavers works in the lab at Stanford University Hospital. A St. Baldrick’s Fellow, Dr. Mavers is an instructor of pediatrics in the Division of Stem Cell Transplantation and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University.
For a kid with cancer and their family, a bone marrow transplant can mean a clean slate and a new beginning. But it’s not easy. The procedure involves intense, high-dose chemotherapy and sometimes radiation, which wipes out the kid’s bone marrow cells and immune system. This forces them to remain in isolation at the hospital, so they don’t get sick.
“The destroyed cells are then replaced with cells from a donor to not only help rebuild their defense systems and their ability to make blood but also to fight any last cancer cells that remain,” explained Dr. Mavers.
For kids diagnosed with a rare and fatal type of brain tumor called DIPG, or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, there is no cure and treatments are heartbreakingly scarce. St. Baldrick’s researcher Dr. Mark Souweidane is on a mission to change the bleak statistics on DIPG survival. Learn about his groundbreaking work so far and what’s coming next.
BREAKING NEWS: The promising results of Dr. Souweidane’s groundbreaking research have just been published in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet Oncology! Supported by St. Baldrick’s, this Phase 1 clinical trial involved the injection of a cancer-fighting drug directly into the tumors of children with DIPG. There were exciting results — no serious side effects or dose-limiting toxicities were observed in the kids who participated, which means that the therapy has been deemed safe for use in pediatric patients. Thanks to St. Baldrick’s support, this promising trial will now expand to multiple institutions, giving hope to kids with this currently incurable, fatal tumor and to their families.
DIPG life expectancy is devastatingly short — with many kids dying within two years of diagnosis. Dr. Mark Souweidane wants to change that.
For kids with DIPG, treatment with radiation just lets them live a little while longer. Traditional chemo doesn’t work because of the blood-brain barrier. Tumor removal with surgery is out of the question, because the cancer is intertwined with the delicate tissues of the brainstem, which regulates breathing and other vital functions.
So, what does a doctor working on DIPG do to help these kids?
June is National Cancer Survivors Month and St. Baldrick’s is dedicated to funding research that saves more lives and helps more survivors! Thanks to donors like you, we’ve funded $17 million and counting in survivorship research grants, so kids with cancer can thrive after treatment ends. Take a peek at just a few of our grants that are making a big difference for childhood cancer survivors…
2014 Ambassador Lauren is a childhood cancer survivor and dreams of becoming a pediatric oncologist. She says she wouldn’t be here without childhood cancer research.
1. Dr. Jonathan Fish with the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, St. Baldrick’s Scholar Grant
Dr. Jonathan Fish with the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.
Thanks to funding from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Dr. Fish and his colleagues were able to form the ‘Survivors Facing Forward’ program at New York’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center in 2008. Since the beginning of the St. Baldrick’s award, the program has grown to follow over 625 survivors and is now one of the top survivorship programs in the New York area. The program provides survivors with an array of services – from oncology to psychology, cardiology, fertility counseling and many more – that are coordinated to meet their unique needs and help them live full, healthy lives. In addition, the program has served as a powerful platform for research into the challenges faced by survivors, including iron overload, vascular resistance, adherence to screening recommendations and genomics.
Pediatric oncologist and scientist Dr. Alex Kentsis isn’t afraid to dig into what makes childhood cancer tick, especially if his hard work results in better treatments for kids with cancer. That’s why he’s our newest winner of the St. Baldrick’s 2018 Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award — a unique three-year, $250,000 grant that gives researchers the freedom to follow the science, without the restrictions of traditional grants. Read on to learn about the innovative work he’s already doing for kids with cancer and how the Arceci award will move his promising research forward.
Dr. Alex Kentsis is a pediatric oncologist and scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a father of two and the newest Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award winner. Unlike traditional grants which come with restrictions and are specific and constrained in their scope, this three-year, $250,000 grant allows researchers the freedom and flexibility to follow their passion for kids’ cancer research, their curiosity and the science, wherever it leads.
Dr. Kentsis is a big fan of asking, ‘Why?’ – especially when it comes to the fundamental nature of childhood cancer. Unlike adults, kids haven’t had time to damage their DNA. They haven’t aged, smoked or stayed out in the sun too long — so why do they get cancer?
I have something exciting to tell you, but first, here’s something I heard and quickly scribbled down during a meeting about research priorities: “It’s like we caught lightning in a bottle – and you just don’t know when that will happen again.”
That was one of our expert advisers talking about the amazing, incredibly fast and impactful work of the Stand Up to Cancer – St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Cancer Dream Team, funded jointly by the two organizations from 2013 through 2017. It was such a perfect description, it has stuck with me for more than a year.
This team of 150 researchers from eight institutions across North America has been working on new immunotherapy treatments for childhood cancers. In less than four years, their work is already saving lives.
Honored Kid Austin was diagnosed with a high-risk form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 2 years old. Now a survivor, he was one of the first kids treated on a trial of the immunotherapy Kymriah, which was developed with help from the Dream Team.
Every one of the experts who had looked closely at the team’s work agreed that this was work that must continue. To me, it was only natural for St. Baldrick’s to make that happen. And by St. Baldrick’s, I mean you – our donors and volunteers who make the funding possible.
So, I’m thrilled to announce that the Dream Team is back – with a new name and a continuing determination to find cures for childhood cancers.
The St. Baldrick’s – Stand Up to Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team will continue from 2018 through 2022, with primary support from St. Baldrick’s.
With its recent commitment of $500,000 for the Target Pediatric AML initiative, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation adds another chapter to its long story of support for innovative and impactful research in childhood acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
While great progress has been made over many decades to help children survive the most common childhood cancer – acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – the same has not held true for children with AML.
St. Baldrick’s is helping change that.
A child’s eyes see the love in their parents’ faces and the joy of their siblings. They see the vibrant colors in a box of crayons and the sparkle of rain on a flower. Sight helps kids navigate their classroom, their playground and their world. But what happens when pediatric cancer attacks that precious sense?
With retinoblastoma – an eye cancer in children that is usually diagnosed before the age of 3 years old – a kid can lose their vision to the cancer and their long-term health to the harsh treatment. They can even lose their lives.
That’s what tumor immunologist Dr. Vanessa Morales-Tirado and her St. Baldrick’s Summer Fellow, Zachary Goldsmith, are working to change.
Dr. Vanessa Morales-Tirado, with the University of Tennessee, works with Zachary Goldsmith, a St. Baldrick’s Summer Fellow and PhD candidate, in the lab.
What happens when you give a researcher funding and freedom to follow the science?
Just ask the Robert J. Arceci Innovation Award winner Dr. Kimberly Stegmaier. For her, that powerful combination of funding and freedom led to the discovery of a promising combination of molecules that could change the lives of kids with Ewing sarcoma, the second most common bone cancer found in children.
Jason Yustein, M.D., Ph.D., a St. Baldrick’s Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, explains Ewing sarcoma symptoms, treatment options, and research opportunities.
What is Ewing sarcoma?
Ewing sarcoma is a type of childhood cancer that is most frequently found in children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 20 years old.
Ewing sarcoma — the second most common bone cancer after osteosarcoma — often originates in the long, large bones of the body, including the hip, thigh, shin, chest, and arm bones.
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