Why I Cure: Pediatric brain tumor researchers fighting for futures.

The battle against pediatric brain tumors isn’t just for a cure. It’s for a better cure: A cure that offers children a future free of recurrence and side effects.

“More poisons are not the answer. But cancer is elusive, a masquerading enemy that knows no boundary,” says Elias Sayour, MD, PhD, University of Florida Health Shands Children’s Hospital and Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program.

As we continue to spotlight the pediatric brain tumor community’s reasons for Why I #CareCureThrive, we asked individuals on the front lines of research what keeps them fighting such a formidable foe. {ICYMI: Check out Dana-Farber’s Dr. Mark Kieran in our first Brain Tumor Awareness Month article.}

For many, the answer to Why I Cure. is personal.

Tom Curran, PhD, FRS

Tom Curran, PhD, FRS, Executive Director, Children’s Research Institute, Children’s Mercy Kansas City, is a member of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Research Advisory Network. He writes:

“I met a child. A bright, happy, ray of sunshine who warmed the hearts of everyone she met with her infectious smile. So knowing, so smart. She understood exactly what it meant the instant she was told her brain tumor had come back. How hard she tried to console her parents, whose haunted looks betrayed their worst nightmare. Medicine and science had failed, there were no explanations, no understandings, and no hope.

“I had to do something. There had to be a better way. So, I changed my research direction and accepted the challenge to harness the very best science and technology to chart a better path for children with brain tumors- to restore hope.

“When I struggle, when things don’t go fast enough, when obstacles hinder progress, I remember that knowing smile … and those awful, haunted eyes.

Susan Blaney, MD

Susan Blaney, MD, Deputy Director of the Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, and Executive Vice Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, shares a similar story in a recent article on curethekids.org:

“Almost 30 years ago, the parents of a dying boy with a brain tumor desperately asked me why there wasn’t more pediatric brain tumor research. From that day forward, I started to focus my clinical translational research efforts in this area. Although we have made some progress in positively impacting the outcome for children with brain tumors, this progress is limited when compared to other tumors.

“Nevertheless, we are in a very exciting era of discovery where new insights into the biology of pediatric brain tumors are being made on a daily basis.”

One of those areas of discovery is the field of immunotherapy.

Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD

Duane Mitchell, MD, PhD is another Research Advisory Network member and Co-Director of the Preston A. Wells, Jr. Center for Brain Tumor Therapy and Director of the University of Florida Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program.

He leads Sayour and other members of the program’s clinical and laboratory research team in caring for pediatric patients with brain tumors and finding a cure for malignant brain tumors.

“A major area of emphasis within our center is on harnessing the power of the immune system to combat invasive brain cancers in children,” says Mitchell. “We have ongoing clinical trials evaluating cancer immunotherapy for the treatment of pediatric brain tumors.”

“The immune system protects us, and contains the versatility and evolutionary processes to combat brain cancer’s heterogeneity,” explains Sayour. “Like a virus, cancer pretends to be a part of us when it is not. Just as the immune system can be educated to eradicate masquerading enemies like viruses, so too can it be re-educated against cancer while sparing normal tissue.”

Elias Sayour, MD, PhD

“The chameleon that is cancer is an enigma, but not one without an answer. If we fight as hard as these children are fighting for their lives, while working with one another, we will unravel cancer’s mysteries and defeat it.”

It’s not an easy fight, but today’s work will pave the way for better treatments, increased survivorship and a higher quality of life.

Nalin Gupta, MD, PhD

“Each family and patient I take care of face an event that they could never anticipate,” says Nalin Gupta, MD, PhD, Chief, Division of Pediatric Neurosurgery at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and co-site director for one of the PBTF Institute Grants.

“It changes their lives and most need all of their energy to make it through the weeks and months following a diagnosis of a brain tumor. It’s impossible for them to imagine at that time how that tumor started, how does it grow, and more importantly how can we cure them.

“In the research area, I view our mission as looking at that long view; looking past this immediate challenge to a path forward. Ultimately, I believe that the work we do provides some hope and encouragement for the families who are focused on the here and now.”

You can help us fight for futures by donating directly to research funding.

To ensure our research funding makes the greatest impact, we partner with top childhood brain tumor experts on our Research Advisory Network. They contribute insights that help shape funding priorities and evaluate the impact of our research investment on the lives of children diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Learn more about the PBTF’s current research grants and Research Advisory Network at curethekids.org/research.

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