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$5.7 million will help kids with cancer: Levine Children’s Hospital to create a pediatric cancer research program. [The Charlotte Observer, N.C.]

Feb23

Feb. 24Experimental cancer treatments for children who have run out of other options are becoming available at Levine Children’s Hospital thanks to $5.7 million in gifts from eight charities and families in Charlotte.
The gifts, announced Tuesday, will create a pediatric cancer research program to offer experimental drugs to children who have cancers that recur after initial treatment fails. Until now, these children and their parents have had to travel to other medical centers, often out of state, for help.
Officials of the 2-year-old children’s hospital, which also offers bone marrow transplants, hope the research program will not only keep local patients in Charlotte but attract others and boost its national profile. "Our vision is to have referrals from outside our immediate area," said Dr. Javier Oesterheld, director of developmental therapeutics. "Our goal is to become a destination site."
The group of donors, called Carolinas Kids Cancer Research Coalition, includes the Leon Levine Foundation, whose $10 million gift helped build the children’s hospital, which is part of Carolinas Medical Center. For the research program, the Levines promised $1.85 million to match the total of other donations.
The second-largest gift is $1million from the Alex Hemby Foundation and the family of the late Torrence and Hilda Hemby. The Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Center will be named in memory of Torrence Hemby, and an endowed fund will be created in his honor.
Other commitments are $500,000 from the Adam Faulk Tanksley Foundation; $300,000 from the Baby J Ladley Fund; $300,000 from the Quail Hollow Championship; $250,000 from drumSTRONG; $250,000 from Brett’s Ride for Rhabdo; and $250,000 from 24 Hours of Booty.
As part of the new pediatric research program, doctors at Levine Children’s will be able to offer so-called Phase I trials, which are initial studies of new drugs and treatments. Even before Tuesday’s announcement, the program began offering two such trials for patients with recurrent leukemia or neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve cells.
Four patients already have enrolled, including one who is having an "excellent response," Oesterheld said.
The closest centers that offer similar trials for those diseases are Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis or Children’s Hospital Boston, Oesterheld said.
"Those patients were headed there, and we were able to offer something closer to home," he said.
Unlike adults, most children with cancer are treated as part of clinical trials, where their treatment is closely supervised. Researchers collect data on outcomes and side effects so that treatments can be improved in a methodical way.
"The advances we’ve made in pediatric oncology have come through this very careful adherence to protocol," said Dr. Ian Davis, a pediatric oncologist at UNC Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Cancer Center.
UNC and Duke are among medical centers in the Carolinas that also offer clinical trials for children with cancer, but UNC offers only one Phase I study and Duke has none at this time. Davis said it was good to hear that the Charlotte program will focus on Phase I trials. "We all are sometimes disappointed when we have to send patients to New York or Philadelphia to get therapies that we could conceivably deliver here."
The goal of Phase I studies is not to cure illness, but to find out the safest dose of a new drug by trying it out on a limited number of patients, usually 10 to 15. Later studies, called Phase II and Phase III trials, include larger numbers of patients and focus on determining the effectiveness of a treatment and comparing it to approved therapies.
Former cancer patients and their parents and representatives from the donor groups celebrated Tuesday’s announcement by mingling and taking pictures in the children’s hospital’s glass-walled atrium.
Bevie Hemby, one of three daughters of Torrence and Hilda Hemby, said her family wanted to honor their father, who died in 2008. "It would make him smile to know that these children can stay in their own hometown and get care in the hospital that he always believed in."
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Copyright (c) 2010, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.
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