Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Health

Pediatric cancer researchers gather in Tampa to share ideas, and hope for a cure

What began as a hope to help children with cancer in Tampa Bay grew to be something much bigger.

The National Pediatric Cancer Foundation is hosting its annual summit in Tampa this week, drawing dozens of physicians and scientists to discuss ongoing and future clinical trials with one mission in mind: curing cancer and saving kids. Ever since the 2005 launch of the foundation’s Sunshine Project, notable oncologists and cancer researchers from across the country have come together to collaborate on ideas and trials to cure cancer.

The project offered a new way to spearhead research and development, said Dr. Doug Letson, physician-in-chief at the Moffitt Cancer Center. As a pediatric surgeon, Letson said he was frustrated with the lack of opportunities to research children with cancer.

"There were a lot of researchers, scientists and labs out there, but no one had any money," he said.

And, according to the foundation, they didn’t do much sharing, keeping their work inside their own institutions.

In contrast, doctors and researchers meeting Thursday and Friday at the Marriott Airport Hotel have been hearing about their colleagues’ projects, and getting inspired in the process.

"The first time I sat in a room with all these brainiacs, it was truly amazing," said Melissa Helms, co-founder of the foundation. "No one has to wait for a paper to be published in a journal to hear about it at a street-level experience. They’re sharing it all in this room. That’s how we speed it up. It’s mind-blowing to watch that process take place."

As the mother of a child who was diagnosed with cancer and survived, the foundation became Helms’ passion project. And she was looking for new ways to fund projects that would spur more meaningful research.

"The foundation began as a way to raise money for seed grants," Helms said. "Someone would have an idea, and we’d give them $25,000 to bring it to the next level. But we started running out of places to spend money."

Eventually she was ready to raise even more money for cancer research. That’s where Letson comes in.

"We wanted to come up with a model that would fund research in a faster way than the normal routine," Letson said. "We wanted to remove all the politics from it and just focus on our mission. So that’s what we did."

The Sunshine Project has launched five Phase 1 clinical trials in just eight years. Its focus is on collaboration between doctors at different hospitals and medical organizations, Letson said, which isn’t that common in the U.S. The foundation rents lab space at Moffitt, which is used by those whose ideas are funded fully or partly through the pediatric cancer foundation.

"The medical culture in places outside of the U.S. are little more open to collaboration, but not necessarily in the U.S.," he said. "We wanted just doctors working together, no politics, putting their minds together to help kids."

Eventually word spread and the program started to grow. The foundation brought on Dr. Damon Reed, an oncologist with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, to help manage it.

The organization has grown from hosting six partner institutions to 22, and from 10 researchers coming to the annual summit to 78 this year. Partnering hospitals include the Children’s Hospital Colorado, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, the Levine Children’s Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

"We keep getting more and more trials," Reed said. "Our projects start at $25,000 and go up to million-dollar trials. We’ve gotten real big."

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

Comments
Many cancer patients juggle care along with financial pain

Many cancer patients juggle care along with financial pain

Josephine Rizo survived chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, but breast cancer treatment wrecked her finances.Money was already tight when doctors told the Phoenix resident she had an aggressive form of the disease. Then she took a pay cut after goin...
Updated: 9 hours ago

Hernando County officials gather to remedy ‘dearth of services’ for youth with mental illness

BROOKSVILLE — Educators, court officials, law enforcement officers and health care professionals met Friday to identify the best ways to keep local youth with mental illnesses out of the court system and provide treatment for those already in the sys...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Give your arms a workout, too

Give your arms a workout, too

In addition to appearance, it is very important to maintain strength in those arms, as they are needed for practically every upper body movement we perform. We often take our 23 arm muscles for granted, until we reach a point where it suddenly become...
Published: 05/22/18
Intermittent fasting seems to be a good thing, new report suggests

Intermittent fasting seems to be a good thing, new report suggests

Going long hours without eating isn’t good for us, we are often told. Our bodies need fuel regularly. Otherwise, we may become lethargic, tired and hungry. Our thinking can become mushy, our ability to work, and even play, hampered.Not so fast.A new ...
Published: 05/22/18
U.S. approves first drug developed to prevent chronic migraines

U.S. approves first drug developed to prevent chronic migraines

TRENTON, N.J. — U.S. regulators Thursday approved the first drug designed to prevent chronic migraines. The Food and Drug Administration’s action clears the monthly shot Aimovig (AIM’-oh-vig) for sale. It’s the first in a new class of long-acting dru...
Published: 05/18/18
Know your blood pressure numbers? Today (May 17) is World Hypertension Day

Know your blood pressure numbers? Today (May 17) is World Hypertension Day

Today (May 17) is World Hypertension Day, and the American Medical Association is encouraging people to monitor their blood pressure levels and get high blood pressure, or hypertension, under control. High blood pressure, sometimes referred to as the...
Published: 05/17/18
Study: Depression in men may lower chances for pregnancy

Study: Depression in men may lower chances for pregnancy

Women having trouble getting pregnant sometimes try yoga, meditation or mindfulness, and some research suggests that psychological stress may affect infertility. But what about men: Does their mental state affect a couple’s ability to conceive?The la...
Published: 05/17/18
Tampa General Hospital named among top 100 in U.S., second best in Florida

Tampa General Hospital named among top 100 in U.S., second best in Florida

TAMPA—Tampa General Hospital was named one of the top 100 hospitals in America for the fifth consecutive year, and second best in Florida, according to one health industry website.Tampa General is considered the best hospital in the Tampa area, accor...
Published: 05/16/18
Joe Redner asks Florida Supreme Court: Let me grow marijuana now

Joe Redner asks Florida Supreme Court: Let me grow marijuana now

Even though a circuit judge has ruled that Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner can grow and juice his own marijuana, he was barred from doing so until the appeals process is finished.So Redner’s lawyers filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court o...
Published: 05/15/18
Heated chemo is the key as Tampa General doctor tackles ovarian cancer

Heated chemo is the key as Tampa General doctor tackles ovarian cancer

Over the span of three weeks, Brenda Gotlen watched as her abdomen got bigger. Her lower stomach felt bloated."It got to the point that I looked nine months pregnant," said Gotlen, a 62-year-old Seffner resident. She made an appointment to see her pr...
Published: 05/15/18