Every year, 15,780 children are diagnosed with cancer, which is the leading cause of medical deaths among American youth, according to the National Cancer Institute. The average age at diagnosis is 6 and too many children with cancer lose their most productive years. September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, designated by Congress several decades ago at the urging of a group of parents whose children had cancer. They sought to raise awareness of the types of cancer that mainly affect children and raise funds for research and family support.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) the federal agency that funds most cancer research allocates only a small proportion of its research dollars to pediatric cancer. For fiscal year 2014, only $1 was spent on research for childhood cancers for every $20 spent on adult cancers. Scientific studies of childhood cancers are important since even leukemia, which is found among both adults and children, has a different molecular structure in each group.
Medical research is a long and challenging process from basic research in a laboratory to clinical trials of potential treatments with patients. Government programs typically don’t cover the costs of early research and pilot studies needed to advance medical science. As a result, philanthropy is increasingly important to support this work. In southeastern Michigan, the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation has brought together generous individuals, foundations and businesses to support physicians and researchers from Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Wayne State University and the Karmanos Cancer Institute.
These physician-scientists are investigating possible genetic and environmental factors in childhood cancers, as well as potential new treatments. Children’s Hospital of Michigan, along with Memorial Sloan Kettering, a major cancer center in New York, are testing sites for a new form of antibody therapy to combat neuroblastoma, the most common pediatric solid tumor.
Young cancer patients from several states and foreign countries are receiving this antibody therapy in Detroit, through NCI-funded clinical trials. This new treatment was developed by Detroit-based physician-scientists whose pre-clinical research was funded by generous local individuals and foundations. Metro Detroit is fortunate to have dedicated, innovative medical researchers and a community that supports them. The only barrier to continued progress is the need for additional funding.
Tony Werner, CEO
Children’s Hospital of Michigan Foundation