Posts tagged ‘THON’

Pediatric survivorship program provides support after treatment

Penn State Hershey program is supported by Four Diamonds.

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An event on Feb. 21 brought the excitement of Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The THON Reveal Party in the Tree House Café coincided with the final moments of the 46-hour dance marathon. Those moments included the final “reveal” that the latest effort had raised $9.8 million for Four Diamonds, whose mission is to conquer childhood cancer. One of the programs supported by Four Diamonds is the pediatric cancer survivorship clinic.

Each year, as the rate of children cured from pediatric cancers increases, so does the need for ongoing care of the young survivors.

Six years ago, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital started a survivorship clinic to educate children and young adults who have completed their cancer treatments about the therapy they received and possible late-arriving side effects of it.

“Most of the time, therapy-related complications happen several years after therapy is finished, when they are young adults,” said Dr. Smita Dandekar, head of the program. That’s why children are invited to the program at least five years after their original diagnosis, and at least two years after they have completed their treatments.

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February 22, 2016 at 10:58 am Leave a comment

‘Four Diamonds is absolutely instrumental for testing novel ideas’

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Four Diamonds support brings new pediatric cancer researchers to Penn State College of Medicine

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s THON Weekend is Feb. 19-21. Students will dance for 46-hours to support pediatric cancer patients. To date, $127 million has been raised and donated to Four Diamonds, a foundation that supports the families of pediatric patients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and the cancer research done here. For more information on THON, or to watch the activities live, visit THON.org. For more information on Four Diamonds, visit FourDiamonds.org.

Their journeys started halfway around the world, but their shared passion for uncovering the causes of pediatric cancer brought them to Penn State College of Medicine. Dr. Wei Li is originally from Peking, China, and Dr. Vladimir Spiegelman is originally from Moscow. Now both are in Hershey, through funding from Four Diamonds, working to understand how pediatric cancers develop in the hopes of discovering new lifesaving therapies.

Dr. Li, assistant professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, came from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Dr. Spiegelman, Pan Hellenic Dance Marathon Endowed Chair in Pediatric Oncology and professor in the Department of Pediatrics, was most recently at University of Wisconsin.

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February 16, 2016 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Four Diamonds assists families like the Hess family during cancer fights

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s THON Weekend is Feb. 20-22. Students will dance for 46-hours to support pediatric cancer patients. To date, $114 million has been raised and donated to Four Diamonds, a foundation that supports the families of pediatric patients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and the cancer research done here. For more information on THON, or to watch the activities live, visit THON.org. For more information on Four Diamonds, visit FourDiamonds.org.

Playing iPad games and shaking a tambourine may not seem special to the parents of most preschoolers.

But, for parents of children battling cancer, it’s the little things like these that can brighten even the darkest of days.

Providing normalcy in the midst of treatment is part of the services supported by Four Diamonds, the sole beneficiary of The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) happening this weekend.

Four Diamonds supports children and their families facing the challenges of pediatric cancer by paying for care and treatment not covered by insurance or other means as well as additional expenses that disrupt the welfare of the children.

Lydia Hess

Lydia Hess

One of those families is the Hess family from Harrisburg. Lydia was diagnosed with leukemia in April of 2014 at the age of 2.

Four Diamonds makes it possible for 16 specialty care providers to be available exclusively to Four Diamonds patients and their families – including child life specialists, a clinical nutritionist, a clinical psychologist, nurse specialists, social workers, music therapists, a clinical nutritionist, and pastoral care.

“All of those things have made Lydia’s life and our days so much easier,” said Julie Hess, Lydia’s mother. “Just to make one day easier is a big deal to us. We’ve had a lot of really hard days.”

Lydia’s diagnosis was a complete surprise to the family. Last winter, she had recurring fevers.

“She was 2 and interacting with other kids — going to preschool once a week, swim classes and church– so we figured she was just picking up all the germs,” Julie said.

In April, Lydia’s fever spiked higher than normal and she began complaining of finger pain. Julie and her husband, Brandon, suspected something unusual was happening.

“The pediatrician examined her and said ‘let’s do some x-rays, let’s do some blood work,’ but they never mentioned the word cancer or leukemia,” Julie said.

Two hours after Lydia’s appointment, her doctor called the family.

“You know when you get a call at home that quickly after you’ve been there, it’s not good,” Julie said.

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February 20, 2015 at 7:01 am Leave a comment

Pediatric experimental cancer therapeutics program’s success is thanks to Four Diamonds support

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s THON Weekend is Feb. 20-22. Students will dance for 46-hours to support pediatric cancer patients. To date, $114 million has been raised and donated to Four Diamonds, a foundation that supports the families of pediatric patients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and the cancer research done here. For more information on THON, or to watch the activities live, visit THON.org. For more information on Four Diamonds, visit FourDiamonds.org.

Dr. Valerie Brown

Dr. Valerie Brown

When Dr. Valerie Brown was hired as clinical director of the experimental therapeutics program in the Division of Pediatric Oncology/Hematology at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, she had a vision: Develop a menu of experimental cancer treatment options not available in the region.

Through funding from Four Diamonds, her vision is becoming a reality, helping young cancer patients find alternatives when standard care isn’t enough.

Experimental therapeutics are typically phase 1 and 2 clinical trials. In phase 1 trials, researchers are looking for toxicity in the therapies. In phase 2 trials, the effectiveness of the therapies on specific cancer types is studied before testing in bigger studies.

“I really hit the ground running, and one of the things we needed to do was expand the portfolio because you don’t want to compete with other academic medical centers,” Brown said. “You want to offer things not offered at other places and be able to offer a variety of different studies for a large spectrum of cancer types.”

To help with that goal, Penn State Hershey joined several consortiums including the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium. The consortiums bring together several institutions all sharing the same goal by working together cooperatively, opening up access to a variety of clinical trials.

Brown has seen how the approach is working.

In one case, a child had neuroblastoma in remission and was set to participate in a study to keep the cancer in remission, called maintenance therapy. But as scans and imaging were completed, it was discovered that she relapsed and the cancer had returned.

“That meant she wasn’t eligible for the maintenance therapy study,” Brown said. “But instead of having to turn that child away with her disappointed mom, devastated with news that the neuroblastoma had returned, we had another protocol that is a treatment for relapsed neuroblastoma. If we didn’t have that portfolio of clinical studies ready, she would have had to leave and go somewhere else.”

In this case, the study is a personalized – or precision – medicine study. The tumor’s DNA and RNA are extracted from a piece of the tumor and are analyzed and compared against normal tissues in the body and other cancer type cells.

“Therapies are based on how the same tumor types typically react to treatment,” Brown said. “But each tumor is individual, and if the person has relapsed, we already know it isn’t reacting like a typical tumor. By analyzing the patient’s individual tumor, we try to find out what differences are making it react differently, and then we decide what we think will be the best difference to target for treatment.”

These results are then compared and prioritized by a computer program against a panel of about 200 agents – some of which are alternative like the spice curcumin, which is known to be active against cancers.

Those reports are then sent to primary investigators at the centers across the country that participate in the consortium. People are assigned to review the case and come up with a treatment plan based upon these reports, which is then discussed virtually through a tumor board.

“That day, as badly as I felt for that poor mom and child because she relapsed, I turned to our medical director and I said, ‘this is why we set up our program like we have. This is the vision we had, and it is benefitting our patients,’” Brown said.

Including studies in the Children’s Oncology Group, there are currently up to 40 trials available, with around 10 being early phase trials. Patients have travelled from nearby states to participate in the studies.

“People are coming from other states because the treatment options are not available there,” Brown said. “By word of mouth, and on social media from the parents, people have recognized that we are offering things that nobody is offering nearby.”

She continues to look for opportunities to connect Penn State Hershey doctors and scientists with peers at other institutions. She also actively looks for opportunities to move Penn State Hershey research in the laboratories into clinical trials through the consortiums.

“These parents are coming to us and are really at the end of the rope for their children,” Brown said. “You could offer, ‘I read a paper and they tried this and maybe…’ but the science side of me just can’t let that happen. We have to do this in a systematic way because we really want to make sure what we treat our children with is effective and not hurting them more. That can only be done in the context of studies and trials.”

All of this would not be possible without the support of Four Diamonds and the Penn State students who work hard throughout the year raising funds through THON.

“It takes time. It takes money. It takes resources,” Brown said. “Luckily I have a lot of those things here that I didn’t have at other places. Without the Four Diamonds’ backing, and its recognition of the importance of having an early phase program, none of this could happen and I wouldn’t be here. The money, in my opinion, has been well spent because even if these children don’t have the outcomes we want, we are contributing to the wealth of knowledge, and hopefully pushing it along so that the next child who walks through the door won’t have to go through a relapse or undergo such intense treatments.”

February 19, 2015 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment

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.

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

The story of Sir Millard lives on through The Four Diamonds Fund and THON

You may know the legend of King Arthur, but chances are you do not know the story of Sir Millard, the evils he faced or the battles he won, even though every year, the new-age knights he has inspired take up his quest to battle pediatric cancer.

Every year, those champions, in the form of 15,000 Penn State student volunteers, fight their battle via year-long fundraising that culminates in THON weekend at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania. This weekend marks the forty-first annual THON dance marathon.

Sir Millard, a.k.a. Christopher Millard, penned his story called “The Four Diamonds” before he died of cancer at the age of 14 in 1972. He had no way of knowing the legacy he would leave behind.

The day he died at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, his parents, Charles and Irma Millard, started the Four Diamonds Fund to raise money to assist pediatric cancer patients and their families with expenses outside those insurance will cover while their children are undergoing treatment.

Photo of the floor of the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State during a THON weekend packed with dancers and supporters.

THON fills the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State for 46 hours of dancing, music and emotional excitement one weekend each year.

THON weekend is a celebration of the efforts of the volunteers–joined by their fellow students, Four Diamonds Families, and their many supporters–who dedicate their time to raising money and increasing awareness for pediatric cancer.

It is the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, raising $89 million to date, more than $10 million last year alone. Participants hope to surpass $100 million with this year’s total, which exclusively benefits the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. (more…)

February 14, 2013 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

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