Behind the Scenes: Selecting a Dream Team

by Becky C. Weaver, Chief Mission Officer, St. Baldrick's Foundation
March 15, 2013

Formerly known as the St. Baldrick’s – Stand Up to Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team, this team is now the St. Baldrick’s EPICC Team (Empowering Pediatric Immunotherapies for Childhood Cancer).

This is a cause that makes people do things they never thought they’d do.  I was reminded of that in a different way on February 27.

The researcher clearly was surprised with himself. He smiled, looked at Dr. Phillip Sharp, and said politely, “Well, I’ve never argued with a Nobel Laureate before, but…” — and then made a point for the group to consider. It was a day full of scientific debate — lively, respectful, and thorough.

I was in Philadelphia, in a room full of brilliant scientists in the final stages of choosing who would receive a 4-year grant of $14.5 million. This is a big deal in the world of childhood cancer research: the first Stand Up To Cancer – St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Cancer Dream Team.

Your support is making this historic grant possible, so while I can’t reveal the winning team just yet (it will be announced April 7), I’d like to take you into that room for a behind the scenes look.

Earlier in the day, two people from each of the top four Dream Team applicants had presented their research proposal, and then answered questions from the reviewers. Each team consisted of researchers from many institutions united for what some at St. Baldrick’s call a “big hairy audacious goal.” The stakes were high.

I was impressed with how effectively Dr. Sharp chaired the all-day meeting, but he’s famous for something far more remarkable:  the 1977 discovery of RNA splicing, which fundamentally changed scientists’ understanding of the structure of genes and earned him and Dr. Richard J. Roberts the 1993 Nobel Prize.

The review committee was co-chaired by experts representing the two organizations jointly funding this grant: For the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Dr. Jeffrey Lipton, past president of the American Society of Pediatric Hematology Oncology (ASPHO) and the architect of our funding program, which now makes more in childhood cancer research funding grants than any other charity. For Stand Up To Cancer, Dr. Lee Helman, Scientific Director for Clinical Research at the National Cancer Institute.

Throughout spirited discussions, the goal was kept front and center all day: to determine which Dream Team was likely to make the biggest impact — not just more knowledge about cancers, but new treatments to help more children survive to live healthy lives.

Honestly, I couldn’t understand the complexities of the scientific deliberations, but here are a few comments we can all grasp:

“Reading these proposals was like a glimpse into the future.  These are people who are going to take research truly into the 21st century.”

“These applications are bringing out ideas we wouldn’t otherwise see.”

“If we had any doubt that this grant would make a huge impact, those doubts should be put to rest now.”

That’s the power of a $14.5 million grant!

We’re all capable of surprising ourselves in our own ways with the things we do in the fight against childhood cancer.

St. Baldrick’s shavees and volunteers often surprise themselves and their friends and families, too — not just with the act of shaving their heads, but also with the amount they are able to raise for lifesaving research.

Because of your incredible support, the Stand Up To Cancer – St. Baldrick’s Pediatric Dream Team is sure to accomplish the unexpected over the next four years, as well.

Check back in April for the announcement of the winning Dream Team!

Help us continue to fund the very best in childhood cancer research:

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