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Letter from Dr. Jim Olsen with Unravel Pediatric Cancer
Through unprecedented collaboration among pediatric oncologists and researchers, we improved survival for children with cancer from roughly 5% to 75% in the course of an average lifetime. Think about that for just a moment.
Unfortunately, most of those gains were made through the use of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, both of which are highly toxic to each child’s body and both of which leave lasting side effects such as learning disabilities, hearing loss, kidney failure, and second cancers caused by the initial treatments.
Now, our teams aim to discover less toxic and more effective therapies for children with cancer. A type of childhood leukemia that was once a death sentence now has 93% remission rate and 90% survival through a treatment that teaches the patient’s immune cells how to kill cancer cells without chemotherapy or radiation. A type of brain cancer that previously caused blindness and life-long hormone loss is now successfully treated in 90% of children who simply take one pill a day, with no hair loss, no vomiting, and few other side effects.
These are the miracles that we’ve dreamed of since the 1970s. The problem is that cancer is not one disease. Rather, there are multiple types. To achieve high cure rates with low toxicity, we need to design therapeutics that specifically target each type of cancer with minimal damage to normal cells. We have the knowledge to do this for more childhood cancers. What slows us down is the lack of funding to drive these programs forward.
When our lab discovered Tumor Paint, a scorpion-derived mini-protein that aids surgeons in safely removing pediatric brain cancers from normal brain tissue by making the cancer “light up,” traditional funding sources such as Federal Grants were not available to pay for the scientists, even though they only made $35,000 per year. The work was considered too “high-risk.” Fortunately, the community rallied and paid for two scientists, and now Tumor Paint has been used in more than 100 cancer patients with excellent results.
Each month that you train at Omni Fight Club, you are saying, “I believe in you and your team, Jim. I want you to conduct high-risk research because that’s what it takes to have big impact.” Your continued commitment over the course of a year could fund several scientists in our lab. Each of our scientists works with similar intensity to those of you in the gym – all day, every day – to develop more effective and less toxic therapies for the kids who will be diagnosed with cancer in the coming years.
Thank you – we love and appreciate you!
Jim Olson, MD, PhD
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center