With the holiday season upon us and another year drawing to a close, it’s a great time to reflect on some of the major research accomplishments of doctors and scientists whose work on childhood cancers benefited from the support of St. Baldrick’s donors like you.
There’s much to be thankful for. All things considered, 2018 was a remarkably successful year for childhood cancer research, with much of that success spurred on by grants funded by St. Baldrick’s. Of course, none of this would have been possible without our generous donors.
Dr. Kohanbash’s cutting-edge research on ependymomas is supported by a Hero Fund in memory of Henry Cermak, who passed away in 2008 after a long, 2-year fight that included many surgeries, chemo regimens, and 93 rounds of radiation.
The St. Baldrick’s Foundation has announced its 2018 Infrastructure Grant recipients. In total, the grants amount to more than $1.7 million and will be spread across 29 US-based institutions.
For more than a decade, Dr. McLean has been participating in head-shaving events with the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. That’s right – not only does Dr. McLean help fight cancer at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, N.C., he’s also one of many researchers who help raise money for childhood cancer research by having his own head shaved clean.
It’s a fact the friendly doctor laughs off by pointing out he doesn’t have a lot of hair to shave away in the first place.
“The first time I shaved my head, I was nervous,” Dr. McLean joked. “But then I did it, and I quickly realized, you know, it’s not that big of a deal – my hair is pretty short anyways.”
Dr. Tom McLean, winner of a 2018 Infrastructure Grant, has shaved his head for St. Baldrick’s 10 times.
An ependymoma is a cancerous tumor that emerges in the brain or anywhere along the spine, from the neck all the way down to the lower back. These tiny tumors take shape in cells found in the spinal cord or the brain’s ventricles, cavities that contain fluid responsible for cushioning our brain and preventing injury.
Ependymomas tend to start out very small and grow slowly over time – sometimes many years – meaning they can be hard to catch. Early symptoms range from seizures to headaches and blurry vision. Because there are many other conditions with these same symptoms, it can be difficult to diagnose ependymomas, especially in kids, who may have trouble explaining how the issue affects them.
Dr. Kohanbash’s St. Baldrick’s grant is supported by a Hero Fund in memory of Henry Cermak, who passed away in 2008 after a long, 2-year fight that included many surgeries, chemo regimens, and 93 rounds of radiation.
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?
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.
McKenna Claire was 7 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor called DIPG. The McKenna Claire Foundation was established in her memory and in 2013, St. Baldrick’s partnered with the McKenna Claire Foundation to fund DIPG research, like the work done by Dr. Rameen Beroukhim at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Honored Kid McKenna Claire was bright, spirited, and loved soccer and gymnastics. McKenna was full of grace, joy and grit through it all, even as her childhood cancer progressed and she could no longer run across a soccer field, jump on a trampoline, talk or swallow. She died just six months after her diagnosis with a rare, fatal type of brain tumor called DIPG – weeks before her birthday. She would have been 8 years old.
Stories like this are why St. Baldrick’s researcher Dr. Rameen Beroukhim studies DIPG, otherwise known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. In fact, McKenna’s photograph hangs in his lab.
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is tough for doctors to treat. Because of that, the intense treatment needed to beat AML can be especially tough on the kids who have it. St. Baldrick’s researcher Dr. Anders Kolb wants to change that with targeted therapy. To do this, he’s getting a little help from his friends – including St. Baldrick’s.
Dr. Anders Kolb is one of St. Baldrick’s newest grantees.
Many kids in treatment for AML are getting hammered by strong treatments, like intense chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. These therapies can save their lives, but often come with a steep cost as they grow up.
“There’s only so much we can do with the tools in our toolbox,” said Dr. Anders Kolb, who works at the Alfred I. Dupont Hospital for Children in Delaware. “We have five different hammers and they’re all really big hammers. We don’t have anything that is more subtle and more targeted.”
Not yet, at least.
Kids are special, and childhood cancers are different than adult cancers. That’s why we’re funding research to find new therapies and cures just for kids.
We asked our researchers, “In the last 10 years, what’s been the greatest achievement in the field of pediatric cancer research?”
Here’s what they had to say.
Dr. Dan Wechsler is one really busy — and sometimes bald — pediatric oncologist. Read on for more about this hardworking St. Baldrick’s researcher and everything he’s doing to help kids with cancer.
Dr. Dan Wechsler goes under the clippers with a little help from a friend.
Dr. Dan Wechsler admits that he doesn’t get much sleep.
Working at Duke University Medical Center as chief of pediatric hematology-oncology, Dr. Wechsler is also a St. Baldrick’s-funded researcher, a six-time shavee, a grant mentor, an event speaker, and a grant reviewer with the St. Baldrick’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
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