In Honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

unnamedIn honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the T.J. Martell Foundation and all its supporters on behalf of the physicians, researchers and patients at the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases (CCCBD) at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).

For over two decades, the T.J. Martell Foundation has been a generous partner in the cancer research taking place at CHLA. In that time, the cure rates for childhood cancers have steadily increased due to research and improvements in treatment.

Seed funding from the T.J. Martell Foundation has helped our investigators perform initial work that has led to obtaining additional peer-reviewed research grants from the National Cancer Institute, the Department of Defense, and other foundations. Thus, leveraging funding from the T.J. Martell Foundation serves to further advance pediatric cancer research at CHLA.

Thirty years ago, neuroblastoma, a deadly form of cancer in young children, had a survival rate of less than 15% for those with the high-risk form of the disease. The T.J Martell Foundation has supported Dr. Robert Seeger’s field advancing investigations in this area and now the cure rate has increased to 45%. Drs. Seeger, Yves DeClerck, and Shahab Asgharzadeh are working to better understand tumor growth and spread and to develop new treatments to target the tumor microenvironment. This research may further improve the survival of children with neuroblastoma.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most frequent type of cancer in children. Dr. Nora Heisterkamp’s research focuses on the interaction between leukemia cells and the bone marrow that lead to resistance to chemotherapy. Her findings have revealed that “natural killer” cells grown from the blood of children with leukemia can be used to overcome this chemotherapy resistance in the laboratory, leading to a new approach in immunotherapy to be studied in a clinical trial.

A clinical study of dietary intervention designed to treat children who are overweight has been developed as a result of the research of Dr. Steven Mittelman, who studies how fat cells protect leukemia against chemotherapy. His laboratory explores the link between obesity and poor outcomes from childhood leukemia.

Dr. Anat Epstein was the first to demonstrate that a gene called PID1 has important functions in childhood and adult brain tumors. With T.J. Martell Foundation funding she continues to focus on understanding how that gene regulates brain tumor growth and how it can be used to sensitize brain tumors to chemotherapy.

The CCCBD at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is the only program supported by the T. J. Martell Foundation that focuses solely on childhood malignancies. With just 4% of U.S. federal cancer funding devoted to childhood cancer, such philanthropic support is vitally important in the quest to cure children with cancer and leukemia. The T.J. Martell Foundation is a valued partner in the fight against childhood cancer, which is a source of hope to children and families courageously facing cancer.

Alan S. Wayne, M.D.
Director, Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases
Head, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Blood & Marrow Transplantation
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Keck School of Medicine
University of Southern California

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