Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pediatric Cancer Foundation hopes keeping research money local will mean faster cures for kids

Suzan Harrison gives a round of applause to her daughter Emma, 8, who has been receiving treatment for leukemia for more than two years. A local charity is funding a clinical trial focused on helping children who suffer a relapse.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Suzan Harrison gives a round of applause to her daughter Emma, 8, who has been receiving treatment for leukemia for more than two years. A local charity is funding a clinical trial focused on helping children who suffer a relapse.

On Dec. 7, Emma Harrison will have her last treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, the most common childhood cancer. For more than two grueling years, the St. Petersburg third-grader has endured a combination of chemotherapy agents her mother, Suzan, describes as "unbelievably harsh" but that cures 80 percent of kids with ALL. The chemo ordeal is almost over but, "I'm already worrying about a recurrence," Suzan said. "They can relapse at any point in the process." So she is closely watching a Florida clinical trial, bankrolled by a local charity, aimed at helping the 500 American children who suffer a relapse each year.

Metformin, a widely used drug for Type 2 diabetes, has shown promise as a cancer fighter. But it has never been tried for that purpose in children — though it's used by young diabetics.

"We have good evidence at the University of Miami that metformin actively kills leukemia in the laboratory," said Dr. John Goldberg, a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

But money for costly clinical trials usually comes from the federal government, major drug companies or private institutions. Applying for and winning such grants is time consuming, mired in paperwork, and the studies rarely give researchers much local control.

So Goldberg turned to a little-known resource: the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, a small Tampa-based charity founded in 1991 by Melissa Helms and Risa Trammel, Tampa mothers whose infants had cancer.

After 15 years of sending small amounts of money to large institutions, the group became dissatisfied with how long it took to get clinical trials started. So it created the Sunshine Project, to identify and fund teams of hand-picked researchers to conduct clinical trials.

It has launched two clinical trials at 10 hospitals since 2005 and is preparing to launch a third next year, though it's too early to report their final results.

"We wanted to accelerate the finding of new drugs and the only way to do that is to take it back in-house and do it ourselves,'' said Nancy Crane, the foundation's executive director. "Our doctors like it and our donors like it.''

Dr. Damon Reed, medical director of the Sarcoma Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, is a principal investigator with the Sunshine Project.

"There are clear advantages when it comes to working with small groups," he said. "Large groups have done wonderful things for pediatrics, but their clinical trials are often tightly regulated, with no institution in Florida having access to those early-phase trials."

The metformin clinical trial is being conducted at seven medical centers, including three in the bay area. PCF has pledged to raise $274,000 a year to fund Phase 1, which tests the drug's safety in children with cancer. The next phase will focus on how it works against cancer, but children who participate now have the opportunity to benefit.

Without a formal clinical trial that follows scientific protocols, doctors can't experiment on patients, no matter how desperate the situation.

"For a study like this, Florida children would have to travel out of state to participate," said Goldberg, "Under this model we can provide experimental treatment to Florida children, in Florida."

Suzan Harrison's anxiety is somewhat alleviated by knowing the research is under way. "I hope we never have to participate in a clinical trial, but I'm very grateful to think that it would be available," she said.

Contact Irene Maher at [email protected]

Learn more

For more information about the Sunshine Project and the Pediatric Cancer Foundation, go to fastercure.org or call (813) 269-0955.

Pediatric Cancer Foundation hopes keeping research money local will mean faster cures for kids 10/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 10:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena

    Blogs

    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack

    World

    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

    K12

    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.