Curative chemotherapy for cancer was first realized in children. Survival rates for many of the common cancers in children improved dramatically through the last part of the 20th century. However, those cure rates have plateaued since the 1990s, and for some childhood cancers, we have seen little to no improvements.
While shavees and volunteers are raising funds to be used for grants, researchers are making their way through a rigorous grant application process. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation had over 100 reviewers from the pediatric hematology and oncology community review grants in 2012.
Each application is reviewed by at least three pediatric hematology/oncology researchers, using the same rating system used by the National Cancer Institute. If all three reviewers give an application an excellent score, it’s recommended for funding. (A poor score from all three means it’s not recommended.) If the scores vary or are not decisive, the application goes to a larger committee of reviewers to discuss and vote on a final score.
Sometimes many researchers at multiple institutions must band together in order to make real progress. That’s exactly what St. Baldrick’s Consortium Research Grants support. The largest of these grants is for the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), a cooperative research group with approximately 200 member institutions across the U.S. and beyond. Each institution receives a portion of this grant, distributed according to the number of patients treated on COG clinical trials, their best hope for a cure. In this way, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation funds virtually every institution qualified to treat childhood cancers. In addition, four new smaller consortia were funded this year, for a total of more than $10 million.
Spotlight on St. Baldrick’s funded International Neuroblastoma Risk Group (INRG) Database, co-chaired by Dr. Susan L. Cohn, University of Chicago.
International collaboration is crucial to meaningful progress and advances in childhood cancer research. Right now, all over the world, research is being done by the best and brightest investigators, but sharing information across continents or even between institutions is not an easy task. Imagine if the findings from researchers in Japan were made available to researchers in Australia and perhaps even combined with research being done in the U.S.? What could this mean for kids with cancer?
By St. Baldrick’s Scholar, Samuel Volchenboum, M.D., Ph.D.
I remember the day I met five-year-old Carley when she had come to the University of Chicago for a second opinion. Like 1,000 other US children each year, Carley had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, an often-deadly type of childhood cancer of the peripheral nervous system. In addition to tumors in her chest and abdomen, Carley had tumor cells in her bones and bone marrow. When I met her, Carley had already undergone six cycles of intensive chemotherapy that left her tired and with a weakened immune system. She had weathered two aggressive surgeries to remove the tumors left behind after chemotherapy. Despite all of this, Carley’s scans and tests showed that she still had tumors in her bones and bone marrow. Carley’s doctors recognized that children who still possess that much disease following this therapy have a very poor prognosis, so they referred her to the University of Chicago Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Diseases.
Spotlight on a St. Baldrick’s Consortium Research Grant
Sixty-two percent of childhood cancer survivors will develop at least one harmful, long-term effect from the very treatment that helped save their lives. Congestive heart failure is one such effect that survivors could face as a result of chemotherapy treatments.
Researchers at the University of Buffalo found that “some children who were treated with anthracylines [a chemotherapy drug], which are powerful antibiotics, developed serious heart problems, including congestive heart failure, later in life.” They also found that survivors could develop these cardiac problems anywhere from 1 to 15 years after the use of these drugs in their treatments.
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