03 March 2008

Raising the bar

One of my supporters for St Baldrick's offered me a conditional contribution. (As if shaving my head was not conditional enough!) The terms: since it's a St. Patrick's day event (in Chicago, no less) I need to dye my hair green before going under the razor. So there it is: I hereby commit and pledge that I will go green and post the pictures of my verdant locks prior to shaving!

So, if you haven't, c'mon, click the link and pony up a couple of bucks for kids' cancer research.

As it happens, faithful reader and personal friend EMH (M/N 977) is a pediatric oncologist who is applying for a grant from St Baldrick's! I have been lucky enough to get a perspective into kids' cancer from the fundraising side, from sharing the experience of cancer patients like Nathan and Henry, from the clinical side in my training, and now from the research side.

EMH (M/N 977) is currently working on medulloblastoma, the very same cancer that Henry is fighting as you read this. She describes her work thusly:

As a pediatric oncologist, I am acutely aware of the need for more
effective, less toxic drugs for kids with cancer. Our lab's focus is
medulloblastoma, which is the most common malignant brain tumor in
children. While cure rates can be up to 80% for standard risk
patients using a combination of neurosurgery, chemotherapy, and
radiation, patients under the age of three have only about a 30%
chance of cure. Kids who are cured typically have significant side
effects from therapy, such as deafness, difficulties with walking,
speech difficulties, and growth failure.

Our lab is looking for better drugs for medulloblastoma. We have
developed a transgenic mouse model in which the mice get metastatic
medulloblastoma. This is really important, because nearly all
children who die of medulloblastoma die of metastatic disease. If the
candidate drugs we're testing work to treat medulloblastomas in our
mice, we will move the drugs toward clinical trials. We have a great
track record in moving drugs from the lab bench to the bedside. At
present I believe that there are five national clinical trials open
for pediatric brain tumors. Our lab initiated four of them. I hope
to initiate one of the next ones.

Sadly, it is harder than ever to get research funding. Fewer than 10%
of NIH grants are funded. Companies that develop drugs typically
focus their research on common adult cancers, since they need to be
able to recoup their research and development costs through drug
sales. Since pediatric cancer is rare, there will never be profit in
developing drugs for this small but very important group of patients.
Thus, private funding is critical to finding cures for childhood cancer.

The St. Baldrick's Foundation is a group that is making big strides
towards curing childhood cancer. Private groups raise money by
sponsoring "shavees" to shave their heads in solidarity with children
undergoing treatment for cancer. These funds are granted to doctors
and scientists doing cutting-edge research in pediatric oncology.
Like many physician scientists, I rely on private funding to move my
work forward. Children with cancer rely on all of us to find cures
for them, fast.

Thank you for supporting the families you know who have been touched
by childhood cancer, the brave souls who are shaving their heads for
the cause, and the St. Baldrick's Foundation for uniting our efforts
across the country.
I can't add much to that sort of testimonial. Help her out by making a small (or large) gift. And, if you feel up to it, head on over to Henry's site and send them some love. They could use it right now.


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