BC Children’s Hospital Foundation recently honoured the Michael Cuccione Foundation for a $3-million gift to fund clinical trials and research into personalised treatments for pediatric cancer at the hospital, and officially revealed the naming of a special playroom for pediatric oncology patients at the Teck Acute Care Centre.
The Michael Cuccione Foundation Playroom was designed with the needs of pediatric oncology patients in mind. The playroom is a space where children living with cancer can come together to play, bond and build community.
“The Michael Cuccione Foundation has passionately supported pediatric cancer research initiatives for more than 20 years,” said Teri Nicholas, President and CEO of BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. “We are proud to honour their commitment to fund research, as well as their dedication to fulfilling Michael’s dream to end childhood cancer.”
The Michael Cuccione Foundation established the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program (MCCCRP) at BC Children’s Hospital, and has raised more than $15 million for childhood cancer research.
Through sharing his own experiences, Michael – who passed away at age 16 – helped create awareness and raise funds for childhood cancer research. The Michael Cuccione Foundation has played an instrumental role in countless projects and research initiatives at BC Children’s Hospital.
The Michael Cuccione Foundation’s most recent gift will help to accelerate bringing a specialized cancer treatment called CAR T-cell immune therapy, for cancers that are difficult to treat with traditional therapies, to BC Children’s Hospital in the new future. This innovative treatment utilizes the patient’s own immune cells to kill cancer cells and brings new hope for children and families living with this disease.
“Michael imagined a world without childhood cancer, and we honour his dream here tonight,” said his mother, Gloria Cuccione. “Our son had a deep understanding of the challenges kids face when they have cancer. They may feel scared, anxious or lonely, but we hope the playroom will give them light during their darkest days. Michael would be very proud today. ”
For more information about the Michael Cuccione Foundation and its support for BC Children's Hospital Foundation, visit bcchf.ca/stories/miracle-stories/michael-cuccione-foundation/.
About BC Children’s Hospital Foundation
As the province’s only full-service, pediatric acute care hospital BC Children’s Hospital serves the one million children living in BC and the Yukon. Since 1982, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation has partnered with kids, families, health professionals, and hundreds of thousands of people across the province to improve and advance care at BC Children’s Hospital, its research institute, and Sunny Hill Health Centre for Children.
Through the generosity of our donors, we are able to ensure the hospital is equipped with the most advanced medical technologies, that our researchers have the resources to conduct their ground-breaking work, and that we have the highly skilled health providers needed to care for the province’s sickest children. For more information, please visit www.bcchf.ca.
About Michael Cuccione Foundation
Michael Cuccione was a bright light who inspired many during his short life. Through sharing his own experiences, Michael – who passed away at age 16 – helped raise awareness and funds to support pediatric cancer research. Established in Michael’s memory, the Michael Cuccione Foundation has played an instrumental role in countless projects and research initiatives, including the creation of the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program at BC Children’s Hospital. Michael believed that “although one person can only do so much, together we make a difference.” To find out how you can make a difference and help fulfil Michael’s dream to end childhood cancer, please visit www.childhoodcancerresearch.org.
For more information, please contact:
BC Children's Hospital Foundation
T: 604.875.2345 x5547
A group of advocates for pediatric cancer patients have made it their mission to change that. Their proposal to Health Canada, released Thursday, calls for $15-million in funding over five years to cover out-of-province medical costs associated with clinical trials for children, adolescents and young adults with cancer.
In Canada, the majority of clinical trials involving pediatric patients take place in Toronto, followed by Montreal and Vancouver.
"I want Canadian children to have fair access to trials and treatments, no matter where they live in Canada or how much money their families have," said Helena Kirk, a 12-year-old leukemia survivor who helped spearhead the proposal with support from cancer organizations, pediatric oncologists and researchers across the country.
The call to action also urges Health Canada to create a working group and meet with researchers and advocates to address issues in the health-care system that affect young Canadians with cancer.
Each year, about 3,800 Canadian children, adolescents and young adults are diagnosed with cancer. Standard treatments can cure roughly 80 per cent of pediatric patients, according to one of the signatories of the proposal, Meredith Irwin, a staff oncologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. But the remaining 20 per cent, who suffer from recurrent metastatic cancers, have a dismal prognosis, she said. "Very few of them survive."
Clinical trials involving children and adolescents often use treatments already approved for use in adults, Dr. Irwin said. These treatments are considered experimental "simply because they have never been used in children," she said, "but there might actually be a way better rationale to use them than to do the same chemo we've been using since Terry Fox got treated."
Each province has a committee that reviews requests for out-of-province treatments and procedures, such as organ transplants, said David Eisenstat, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist and chair of oncology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "But as soon as you label the treatment as a clinical trial, or Phase 1 or Phase 2, then that's considered experimental – and the provinces will not pay."
Ideally, provinces would develop guidelines to evaluate coverage for medical expenses associated with out-of-province clinical trials case by case, based on measures such as patient safety, cost and potential benefit, Dr. Eisenstat said.
Helena, the young advocate, said she decided to make access to clinical trials her top priority after teaming up with Ac2orn, a national advocacy group focusing on children, adolescents and young adults with cancer. The organization surveyed researchers and pediatric oncologists across Canada to identify measures that would save the most lives.
"We've got this chasm," said Patrick Sullivan, a Vancouver litigator and chairman of Ac2orn, whose son Finn died at the age of 3 from an aggressive cancer of the skeletal and muscle tissues called rhabdomyosarcoma. Oncologists are making breakthroughs in cancer care using Canadian tax dollars as well as pharmaceutical funding, "and we're not going to be able to get it to our kids [fast enough]."
Health Canada noted in a statement that it has approved more than 100 clinical trials for pediatric cancers over the past five years. The department said it will review the Ac2orn proposal once it is received, "and provide a response within the scope of its mandate." Provincial and territorial governments "are responsible for the management, organization and delivery of health-care services for their residents," the statement added.
Helena has already discussed the need for streamlined access to clinical trials in meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Both applauded her efforts, but made no promises, she said.
Helena went through 841 days of chemotherapy after she was diagnosed at the age of 3 with a blood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia. She went into remission at 8, but has lost at least 10 friends to cancer, she said. "I don't want to lose more."
One of Helena's friends is in remission after receiving an experimental form of immunotherapy called CAR T-cell therapy, which enlists a patient's immune system to attack tumors, she said. Another friend will find out her results from the same therapy next week. "But my friends in other provinces – they wouldn't be able to get certain treatments that could save their lives."
Right now, 25% of children who survive blood and marrow transplants go on to develop chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGvHD), an incurable condition that can cause lifelong pain and disability.
“Blood and marrow transplants can cure cancer and immune disease in patients who have few other treatment options, but they also can cause cGvHD,” says Dr. Kirk Schultz. “We want to preserve the lifesaving power of blood and marrow transplants, while eliminating the risk of serious, life-limiting complications.”
Dr. Schultz is the Director of the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program at BC Children’s Hospital and a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.
In research published in the November issue of Haematologica, Dr. Schultz, Dr. Amina Kariminia and their colleagues at the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program at BC Children’s report that patients who receive transplants containing higher numbers of two types of immune cells are less likely to develop cGvHD.
“This discovery is the culmination of ten years of research involving an international team of collaborators,” says Dr. Schultz, the senior author of study. “In the end, the findings were worth the wait.”
Blood and marrow transplants, in which a patient receives blood stem cells from a healthy donor, are the only effective treatment for some patients with leukemia and other blood cancers and immune diseases.
Dr. Schultz and his team analyzed the immune cells in samples of donor cells destined for transplants in adult cancer patients at 13 centres in Canada, Saudi Arabia, Australia New Zealand and the United States. Researchers then followed the patients who received the transplants for two years and compared the immune profiles of the donors to the health outcomes of the recipients.
“For the first time we found that patients who receive transplants with higher numbers of two very specific types of immune cells are less likely to develop cGvHD,” says Dr. Amina Kariminia, Lab Manager of the Schultz Lab and the first author of the study.
CGvHD occurs when immune cells from the donor attack the recipient’s body, causing a range of serious symptoms including painful rashes, gastrointestinal distress and liver damage. This research focuses on the chronic form of graft-versus-host disease, which develops 100 days or more after a transplant and is less often fatal than the acute form of the disease, but more difficult to prevent.
Researchers found that these helpful cells are types of natural killer cells, immune cells that can play a key role in attacking cancer. This research shows that these cells have two functions in patients who receive blood and marrow transplants for cancer – they both attack and kill cancer cells and regulate the immune system so it doesn’t harm healthy tissue.
With the help of Madeline Lauener, a research summer student and blood cancer survivor, researchers in the Schultz lab found that these helpful immune cells can easily be grown in the lab. Eventually, scientists may be able to take donated blood stem cells, increase the number of immune cells in the lab, and then transplant them back into patients.
“In blood and marrow transplants for cancer patients, we need to strike a fine balance,” says Dr. Kariminia. “We need the immune cells from the donor to recognize and kill cancer cells, but not attack healthy tissue in the donor. The cells we found in this study may help us achieve this balance, so bone and marrow transplants can continue to cure cancer, without causing disease.”
This research could also help children who receive blood and marrow transplants for inherited immune conditions.
“In cancer patients, cGvHD can have some beneficial effects because the immune response also kills cancer cells,” says Dr. Schultz. “In children with inherited conditions, cGvHD is even more devastating because it has no therapeutic advantage.”
Dr. Schultz and his colleagues hope their work is an important step towards reducing the heavy toll cGvHD takes on children and families.
“These children have gone through long and difficult treatments and survived cancer, only to develop another life-altering illness,” says Dr. Schultz. “We want to prevent cGvHD, so more of our patients can recover completely and get back to being kids.”
This research was supported by the Michael Cuccione Foundation and the United States National Cancer Institute.
Kariminia A, Ivison S, Ng B, Rozmus J, Sung S, Varshney A, Aljurf M, Lachance S, Walker I, Toze C, Lipton J, Lee SJ, Szer J, Doocey R, Lewis I, Smith C, Chaudhri N, Levings MK, Broady R, Devins G, Szwajcer D, Foley R, Mostafavi S, Pavletic S, Wall DA, Couban S, Panzarella T, Schultz KR. CD56bright NK regulatory cells in filgrastim primed donor blood or marrow products regulate chronic GvHD: CBMTG randomized 0601 study results. Haematologica. 2017 Sep 21. pii: haematol.2017.170928. doi: 10.3324/haematol.2017.170928. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 28935847.
The Province today announced $2 million to the Michael Cuccione Foundation to support new advances in research at Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research program at BC Children's Hospital.
“The work of the foundation is tireless, and we’re right behind them providing funding and support to ensure a better approach to childhood cancers,” said Linda Reimer, MLA for Port Moody-Coquitlam on behalf of Health Minister Terry Lake. “My hope is that with today’s funding, we start seeing great breakthroughs with CAR-T cell therapy and even more improvements in child health.”
This funding adds to the $100,000 announced in December 2016 and $2 million provided by the Province to the Michael Cuccione Foundation in 2012. The foundation will use the funds to expand access for B.C. children with leukemia to clinical trials for the specialized cancer treatment CAR-T cell therapy. CAR-T is an innovative approach that uses a patient’s own immune cells to combat their cancer, and has resulted in a dramatic and positive response in killing certain types of cancer cells. This research will be conducted by the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research program at BC Children's Hospital.
The research program focuses on continuing clinical trials and childhood-cancer research activities, including better understanding childhood cancers and seeking new therapies with lower side-effects for young patients.
“Although researchers have made tremendous advances in the treatment of childhood cancer over the past 20 years, it still is the leading cause of death in disease of children. For that reason we must continue to do all we can to support childhood-cancer research. The Michael Cuccione Foundation is forever grateful for the support from the Government of British Columbia and for the recognition that children battling cancer need our help,” said Gloria Cuccione, Michael's mother and foundation executive director.
Founded in 1997, the Michael Cuccione Foundation raises funds for childhood-cancer research. The foundation also offers emotional support to cancer patients and their families, and conducts motivational speaking engagements throughout Canada and around the world. The foundation was established by Michael Cuccione who was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of nine. A singer, songwriter, dancer, actor and motivational speaker, Michael used his own experiences with cancer to challenge and inspire others to make a difference. Michael overcame cancer, but died in 2001 at age 16 from respiratory failure related to his cancer treatments.
Approximately 10,000 children are living with cancer in Canada today, and more than 140 children under the age of 17 in British Columbia are diagnosed every year. Fortunately, children with cancer have a better chance of living a longer life than ever before, and there has been a steady decline in the mortality rate for childhood cancer over the last 20 years.
Advances in technology lead to much more personalized and effective health care.
Source: Government of British Columbia