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childhood cancer

Camp Fantastic 2019

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Camp Fantastic 2019
On August 15, I spent the evening at Camp Fantastic, Front Royal, VA, with my wife Diane Baker (front) and all these incredible kids. Camp Fantastic allows children undergoing cancer treatment to spend a week around the campfire and feel like regular kids again. So far, more than 2,000 children have benefited from this wonderful program. I should note that camp volunteers are asked to wear funny hats, which I gladly did. So did Steve Chanock (middle left), the camp’s medical director and a researcher at NIH’s National Cancer Institute. He’s the one in the corn cap. Credit: NIH.

The Hats Have It

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Crazy Hats
What great fun it was to present an NIH Director’s Award to Steve Chanock for his 25 years of distinguished service as the medical director of Camp Fantastic, Front Royal, VA. Camp Fantastic allows kids undergoing treatment for cancer to spend a week around the campfire feeling like regular kids again. Camp Fantastic also has a rich tradition of asking volunteers to sport funny hats, and I got to share a fond memory with Steve, director of the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at NIH’s National Cancer Institute. (Yes, Steve is wearing a taco hat.) Applauding the moment is NCI’s Jim Doroshow. The ceremony took place at NIH on July 15, 2019. Credit: Laura Beane-Freeman

Around the Campfire at Camp Fantastic

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Dr. Francis Collins sings for children around a campfire at Camp Fantastic

I always have such a wonderful time each August visiting Camp Fantastic in Front Royal, VA. This year, I got to sing a few songs around the campfire with my wife Diane Baker and granddaughters Bailey and Norah. Camp Fantastic provides a unique, week-long camping experience for about 100 children with cancer. We were there on August 14, 2018. Credit: Chia Chi Chang


Working Toward Greater Precision in Childhood Cancers

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Pediatric Cancer

Credit: National Cancer Institute, NIH

Each year, more than 15,000 American children and teenagers will be diagnosed with cancer. While great progress has been made in treating many types of childhood cancer, it remains the leading cause of disease-related death among kids who make it past infancy in the United States [1]. One reason for that sobering reality is our relatively limited knowledge about the precise biological mechanisms responsible for childhood cancers—information vital for designing targeted therapies to fight the disease in all its varied forms.

Now, two complementary studies have brought into clearer focus the genomic landscapes of many types of childhood cancer [2, 3]. The studies, which analyzed DNA data representing tumor and normal tissue from more than 2,600 young people with cancer, uncovered thousands of genomic alterations in about 200 different genes that appear to drive childhood cancers. These so-called “driver genes” included many that were different than those found in similar studies of adult cancers, as well as a considerable number of mutations that appear amenable to targeting with precision therapies already available or under development.


FDA Approves First CAR-T Cell Therapy for Pediatric Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

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Emily Whitehead

Caption: Cancer survivor Emily Whitehead with her dog Lucy.
Credit: Emily Whitehead Foundation

Tremendous progress continues to be made against the Emperor of All Maladies, cancer. One of the most exciting areas of progress involves immunotherapy, a treatment strategy that harnesses the natural ability of the body’s own immune cells to attack and kill tumor cells. A lot of extremely hard work has gone into this research, so I was thrilled to learn that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced today its first approval of a promising type of immunotherapy called CAR-T cell therapy for kids and young adults with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)—the most common childhood cancer in the U.S.

ALL is a cancer of white blood cells called lymphocytes. Its treatment with chemotherapy drugs, developed with NIH support, has transformed ALL’s prognosis in kids from often fatal to largely treatable: about 90 percent of young patients now recover. But for those for whom the treatment fails, the prognosis is grim.

In the spring of 2012, Emily Whitehead of Philipsburg, PA was one such patient. The little girl was deathly ill, and her parents were worried they’d run out of options. That’s when doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia gave Emily and her parents new hope. Carl June and his team had successfully treated three adults with their version of CAR-T cell therapy, which is grounded in initial basic research supported by NIH [1,2]. Moving forward with additional clinical tests, they treated Emily—their first pediatric patient—that April. For a while, it was touch and go, and Emily almost died. But by May 2012, her cancer was in remission. Today, five years later, 12-year-old Emily remains cancer free and is thriving. And I’ve had the great privilege of getting to know Emily and her parents over the last few years.


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