Tuesday, August 21, 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
In Pinellas, three cases of the measles revive concerns about those who don’t vaccinate

In Pinellas, three cases of the measles revive concerns about those who don’t vaccinate

Pinellas County hadn’t seen a case of measles in 20 years. Then suddenly last week it had three, all from unvaccinated people. While some local physicians were not surprised that the highly contagious virus made its way back into Tampa Bay, mo...
Published: 08/21/18
Doctors couldn’t quiet the loud, nonstop crunching noise in her head

Doctors couldn’t quiet the loud, nonstop crunching noise in her head

Maryjane Behforouz’s attempts to ignore the disturbing noise in her head always ended in failure, leaving her feeling increasingly desperate. No one seemed to know what was causing the nearly constant clicking — or sometimes crunching — sound that wa...
Published: 08/20/18
Get off your duff and work those glutes

Get off your duff and work those glutes

What would you believe to be the largest and one of the strongest muscle groups you have? Here are a few clues. It’s a muscle group in your lower body that consists of three muscles that can produce tremendous power but are often weak and neglected. ...
Published: 08/20/18
Sunday Conversation: USF’s Joann Farrell Quinn keeps an eye on EI

Sunday Conversation: USF’s Joann Farrell Quinn keeps an eye on EI

As early as the age of 5, Joann Farrell Quinn observed people. • She just enjoyed watching them. Those days represented the infant stages of her interest in human behavior, but as an adult, she ended up working in investment management."Over the year...
Published: 08/17/18
Updated: 08/19/18
Children who lived with smokers are more likely to die of lung disease as adults, study says

Children who lived with smokers are more likely to die of lung disease as adults, study says

Childhood exposure to secondhand smoke is linked to lung disease decades later, according to a study published Thursday by the American Cancer Society.For 22 years, researchers have been following more than 70,000 adults who have never smoked. At the...
Published: 08/17/18
Ready for a little conditioning? Make like a football player or cheerleader with these moves

Ready for a little conditioning? Make like a football player or cheerleader with these moves

We all gear up for gridiron season in our own way.Some of us don a favorite jersey and fly the team flag from the front porch. Others pick out the best booth at the local sports bar and slide into place for a day of pitchers and wings. And then there...
Published: 08/17/18
Fentanyl use drove drug overdose deaths to a record high in 2017, CDC estimates

Fentanyl use drove drug overdose deaths to a record high in 2017, CDC estimates

Drug overdose deaths surpassed 72,000 in 2017, according to provisional estimates recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That represents an increase of more than 6,000 deaths, or 9.5 percent, over the estimate for the pr...
Published: 08/16/18
The hardest part: actually choosing the day of his death. ‘No one is ever really ready.’

The hardest part: actually choosing the day of his death. ‘No one is ever really ready.’

In the end, it wasn’t easy for Aaron McQ to decide when to die.The 50-year-old Seattle man — a former world traveler, triathlete and cyclist — learned he had leukemia five years ago, followed by an even grimmer diagnosis in 2016: a rare form of amyot...
Published: 08/15/18
Tampa Bay sports teams join forces to assist Times correspondent Joey Johnston

Tampa Bay sports teams join forces to assist Times correspondent Joey Johnston

The Tampa Bay Sports Commission along with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lightning, Rays, Rowdies and University of South Florida have teamed up to host a two week, community wide Team Tampa Bay for Joey J 50-50 Raffle. The raffle began Aug. 13 and will ...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/19/18
Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General ranked Florida’s second-best hospital in U.S. News study

Tampa General Hospital was ranked as Florida’s second-best hospital in the U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 Hospital Rankings released Tuesday, while Moffitt Cancer Center was named the country’s eighth-best cancer hospital.The rankings, which analy...
Published: 08/14/18
Updated: 08/17/18