THON support for pediatric research is even more than a dream come true

Dr. Valerie Brown, associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, thought THON was too good to be true when she came to Hershey in late 2013.

“I just didn’t believe that this support existed,” she says. “It was a dream come true, but even more.”

THON, or the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, is an annual fundraising event that supports the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund supports the families of children with cancer Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research at the College of Medicine. The 2014 THON, held this past weekend in State College, raised a record $13,343,517.33 for the Four Diamonds Fund.

Portrait of Valerie Brown, M.D., Ph.D.

Valerie Brown, M.D., Ph.D., clinical director of the Experimental Therapeutics Program at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital

With the help of THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, Dr. Brown is growing a cutting-edge experimental therapeutics program for pediatric patients with cancer and has brought the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. A consortium is a collaboration of physicians and scientists with different areas of expertise working together around a specific disease or type of disease. In a translational research approach, scientists and others work across their fields of study to move discoveries made in the laboratory to use in patients, and take what they learn with patient populations back to the lab for further study.

One of the goals of the consortium is to improve the outcomes for children with cancer by quickly determining a specialized treatment.

“A lot of treatment for patients with a disease that has come back or mutated is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it hits the iceberg,” says Dr. Brown. “You can’t avoid the iceberg, and so you need to have better lifeboats. Early phase clinical trials help us to build a better lifeboat.” (more…)

February 24, 2014 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

Researcher calls THON an inspiration for his work

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., director of the molecular oncology program at Penn State College of Medicine, has the same energy and devotion as THON participants about finding the cure for pediatric cancer.

“THON is not simply a fundraising event, it generates inspiration,” he says.

The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, is an annual fundraising event that supports the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund supports families of children with cancer at the Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research at the College of Medicine.

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., Four Diamonds Fund-supported molecular oncology researcher at Penn State College of Medicine

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., Four Diamonds Fund-supported molecular oncology researcher at Penn State College of Medicine

Wang has been studying pediatric cancer since he arrived at the College of Medicine in 2008. As a father, he understands what families with sick children endure. As a researcher, he always looks towards the future. His research focuses on autophagy, a process where the cancer cells eat themselves, resulting in a recycling process.

“Autophagy helps tumor cells survive the assaults of treatment,” Wang says. Cancer treatment causes stress to the cancer cells, which is supposed to kill them. Through autophagy, cancer cells are relieved from this stress and recycle toxic materials for survival.

(more…)

February 21, 2014 at 10:36 am Leave a comment

Penn State Hershey promotes healthy living at 2014 Farm Show

Across from stands selling sausages and strudel, nurses and other staff from Penn State Hershey check blood pressure, calculate Body Mass Indexes (BMI), and discuss smoking, physical activity nutritional knowledge.

Along with staff from CBS 21, they encourage visitors at the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Show to take a pledge against texting while driving, and chat with them about the benefits of regular exercise as they walk on a treadmill.

On the other side of the Main Exposition Hall, more Penn State Hershey nurses administer free flu shots at the Pennsylvania Department of Health booth. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is important to reduce the chances that one will get seasonal flu and spread it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through the community.

This is the third year that Penn State Hershey has been part of the annual Farm Show, and the second year it has helped give flu shots at the Department of Health booth.

Where to find us: 

Visit the Penn State Hershey booth (#5010) in the corner of the Main Exposition Hall next to the Pennsylvania Marketplace between 1 and 7 p.m. through Friday, January 10, and from 9 a.m. until noon Saturday, January 11.

Get a free flu shot between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day of the Farm Show at the PA Department of Health booth located behind the carousel in the Main Exposition Hall. (more…)

January 9, 2014 at 9:17 am 1 comment

Medical student asks the right questions and finishes second on recent episode of Jeopardy!

Each of the past three or four years, second-year medical student Johnna Mahoney took a timed, 50-question online qualification test to see if she could advance toward becoming a contestant on Jeopardy!, the popular TV quiz show she grew up watching.

In April of this year, the Penn State College of Medicine student finally got an e-mail inviting her to travel to New York City for an in-person audition – an honor given to only about 2,500 people annually. About 400 people appear on the game show each year.

“I always thought it was really cool – all the smartest people were on Jeopardy!” she said.

Mahoney appeared on an episode of the show that aired in November, taking second-place and winning $2,000. To get there, she would go from a hope in Hershey to the audition in New York and then a taping in Los Angeles, finishing her Jeopardy! journey back home with family and friends in Lancaster when the episode finally aired and she could talk about the experience. (more…)

December 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm 1 comment

Kidney recipient gives thanks for anonymous donor and the gift of a second chance

On July 23, Melissa Masse celebrated her 34th birthday in the operating room of Penn State Hershey, watching Dr. Riaz Shah hold up a kidney while the medical team sang “Happy Birthday.”

Earlier that morning, doctors had harvested a kidney from her husband, Chris, and sent it to a major metropolitan area where it would be given to someone as unknown to the Masses as the donor whose organ became a birthday present for Melissa.

Melissa and Chris Masse holding flowers between them where their scars forever bind them as recipient and donor.

Melissa and Chris Masse hold flowers between them to mark the scars that forever bind them as recipient and donor in a chain that gave Melissa and three others a second chance at life with a healthy kidney.

The surgeries were just two links in a complex transplant chain that allowed four people to receive healthy kidneys despite not having compatible live donors. Known as a “kidney swap,” Penn State Hershey offers the program as an alternative to dialysis and years of waiting for a deceased donor organ.

Melissa had been diagnosed with diabetes at age 11, but it wasn’t until stomach trouble and vomiting sent her to an emergency department in August 2012 and doctors noted her poor kidney function that she was sent to a specialist. By the end of the year, the South Williamsport woman was added to the list of people waiting for a healthy kidney.

Because the average person waits more than six years for a kidney, and because the mortality rate for those on dialysis is 50 percent after five years, Melissa’s husband offered to be a live donor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a match. Nor was her boss. Or her best friend.

“I was devastated,” Chris said. He knew his wife was hoping for a live donor so there would be less chance her body would reject the new kidney. So he told transplant coordinator Vicky Reilly that he would donate his kidney to someone he had never met so that his wife could receive a healthy kidney from someone she had never met. (more…)

November 26, 2013 at 8:54 am 1 comment

Making inpatient cancer care better for patients and caregivers

Kurt Holtzer never had a problem racing up multiple flights of stairs to respond to code calls for his job at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. But when he couldn’t climb a single flight without doubling over to catch his breath in May 2012, he knew something was wrong.

After an initial diagnosis of asthma, and a battery of tests that lasted several weeks, he was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia and myelofibrosis, as well as a genetic mutation putting him in a high-risk category for survival. Without treatment, doctors gave him three months to live.

“I had recently lost my mother to lung cancer,” he says. “Having seen how my mother dealt with the chemo regimen, I didn’t want to go through that.” Because of his wife, Julie, and two children, he decided to do it: “I wasn’t ready to let go of her and the kids.”

So, on Memorial Day of last year, the life he had known ceased to exist. He fought fear, worry, and trepidation during nine rounds of chemotherapy, nine bone marrow biopsies and a stem cell transplant.

Holtzer’s cancer went into remission this spring, and he is back at work as a supervisor for the medical center’s biomedical team.

Each Friday, he takes his lunch break at 11 a.m. so he can take part in a weekly music and physical therapy program in the new inpatient adult cancer unit on the seventh floor. He shares his story, talks with others, and assures them he does understand what they are going through. (more…)

November 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm 1 comment

Heart surgeons give care from the heart

When doctors in Uganda told Shamim Nanukose that her 4-year-old son, Edwin Mugerwa, had a hole in his heart they couldn’t fix, she was horrified. She cried, asked questions the doctors couldn’t answer, and refused to leave without a promise that they would look for help.

Not far away, in another district of eastern Uganda, Jannat Mukwana was likewise terrified when she got a similar diagnosis for her son, Nuashad Muwaya, not yet a year old.

Because there are so few doctors and so many who need care in her home country, the attention given to each patient is minimal, Shamim said, through an interpreter. She knew her son had a heart condition, but she didn’t understand exactly what was going on or what the options were: “It leaves you much more confused.”

Eventually, both mothers got help from Children’s Heart Project, a program of international Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, which has brought more than 960 children to North America to receive life-saving heart surgery and treatment since 1997.

At the end of August, Children’s Heart Project paid for the boys and their mothers to travel to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital with an interpreter and identified a volunteer host family with the help of the First United Methodist Church in Hershey. (more…)

November 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm Leave a comment

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