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

A World Without Cancer – Guest Post

Dr. Margaret Cuomo is the author of “A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention;” she is a board-certified radiologist who served as an attending physician in diagnostic radiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. for many years. She was the keynote speaker at the T.J. Martell Foundation’s inaugural Women of Influence Awards at Riverpark in New York City.

We are honored to share her perspective here on Angelina Jolie’s courageous decision regarding the discovery of her BRCA1 genetic mutation and subsequent bilateral (aka “double”) mastectomy, as well as the implications for the cancer community.

Dr. Margaret Cuomo is the author of “A World Without Cancer: The Making of a New Cure and the Real Promise of Prevention.”

Angelina Jolie has my admiration for her courage in publicly describing her decision to undergo a bilateral (aka “double”) mastectomy. Her BRCA1 genetic mutation significantly increases her risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

According to Jolie’s New York Times op-ed piece, her doctors estimated that she has an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer. Women who have inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations account for 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers (for white women) in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Knowing that her own mother died at the age of 56 following her battle with cancer, Angelina Jolie, the mother of six children, decided to be pro-active, and decided to sharply reduce her risk of breast cancer by undergoing the mastectomy.

The question that I hope many women are asking is: “Is this the best that we can do in the 21st century?” After 41 years and more than 90 billion dollars spent since the War on Cancer was declared, we should expect more effective and less invasive solutions to reducing breast cancer, and all cancers.

Are the National Cancer Institute and the pharmaceutical industry committing enough of their intellectual and financial resources to the discovery of safe, new ways of detecting breast cancer and ovarian cancer in their earliest stages?  If a patient has a BRCA1 or BRACA2 mutation, are there techniques available to “turn-off” the faulty genes?

Is there a sense of urgency about finding new tests to detect breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and other cancers, that do not involve radiation – a known carcinogen?

The prevention of cancer should be our ultimate goal and it should have the full benefit of the National Cancer Institute’s and industry’s vast resources.

Our children are our future, and we should expect that their generation will prevent cancer without the traumatic solution that Angelina Jolie felt obliged to accept.