Saturday, August 27, 2016

Oklahoma Kicks Off National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month Early, Expanding Research Efforts

OU CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL (Aug. 26, 2016)— September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. In Oklahoma, it's beginning a week early this year. On Friday, officials with the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer in Children, the Stephenson Cancer Center (SCC), the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) and the Children's Hospital Foundation (CHF) announced a new initiative to expand childhood cancer research efforts in the state.

Patients, survivors of childhood cancer, their families, healthcare professionals and advocates were in the Samis Education Center at OU Children's Hospital for the announcement.

With an upfront combined investment of $2.2 million, the research partnership will recruit three externally-funded pediatric cancer researchers, expand pediatric clinical trials statewide and establish a pediatric cancer research fund to support future research aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding of childhood cancers.

Up to $1 million annually from an existing TSET research grant to Stephenson Cancer Center will be allocated to increasing access to cutting-edge cancer treatment for children statewide.

“Many of today’s cures come from innovation and creativity spawned by researchers at universities. This partnership, along with others, funds important endeavors intended to improve the health of all Oklahomans,” said Jim Gebhart, chairman of the TSET Board of Directors. “It is our hope that this partnership will lead to transformative cancer treatment and historic cures for childhood cancers.”

The Jimmy Everest Pediatric Oncology Program located on the OU Health Sciences Center campus is Oklahoma’s most comprehensive pediatric cancer program. Under the leadership of Dr. William Meyer, Ben Johnson Endowed Chair and Chair of the Jimmy Everest Section of Pediatric Hematology / Oncology at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, the Jimmy Everest Center Program has developed an outstanding clinical team of physicians and staff dedicated to treating this devastating disease.

As part of the Stephenson Cancer Center’s application to the National Cancer Institute for designation as a comprehensive cancer center, the center will make pediatric cancer research a key area of focus.

“It’s exciting to learn Oklahoma is considering a sustainable initiative for children's cancer research, said Dr. Crystal Mackall, associate director of the Stanford Cancer Institute. “Relatively little funding goes to research new, more effective treatments for cancer in children. This development in Oklahoma is a welcome bit of news and certainly hope this effort is successful.”

State Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, attended the announcement. Thomsen's four-and-a-half year old son, Tal, died in 1998 from complications from the treatments for a brain stem spinal cord tumor after a three year battle.

"It's an honor to be part of this collaborative effort to make childhood cancer research a priority for our state," Thomsen said. "Having walked down the challenging path of pediatric cancer with our son, my wife and I understand just how important innovation is to not only providing a cure for these kids but also a better future and quality of life."

State Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, also attended. Nelson's 10 year old daughter, Grace, was diagnosed with cancer nearly two years ago. She was treated at the Jimmy Everest Center and is currently in remission.

Nelson said he was inspired to raise the possibility of using TSET earnings to fund pediatric cancer research after watching his daughter battle cancer and after learning about how relatively little is spent on researching childhood cancer.

"My eyes were opened to the need after Grace's battle," Nelson said. "But more than anything, I was motivated from a type of survivor's guilt as my child survived cancer while other children I had come to know, who were fighting cancer at the same time, did not survive. Being in the Legislature put me in a position to raise the issue with the right people and I did and I'm thankful that TSET and the other partners heard the need and are helping."

Pediatric Cancer Research Funding Partnership At a Glance:

• $2.2 million up-front start-up cost to recruit three top pediatric cancer researchers with funds from the Children’s Hospital Foundation, OU Health Sciences Center, and Stephenson Cancer Center

• $1 million annual support from TSET

• Allocate TSET funds annually to be used as seed grants for new, emerging pediatric cancer research.

• Funding partnership will increase clinical trial availability in Oklahoma

• Provide additional support for cooperative research with partners throughout the state of Oklahoma

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