Funding Pediatric Cancer Research to Help Kids in Nebraska

OMAHA, Neb.-- Doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center say Nebraska ranks in the top ten in the US for kids diagnosed with pediatric cancer.

Which is why there could be a big push from pediatric cancer families in the state to do more research and bring clinical trials to Nebraska.

Five-year-old Drake Hegy loves dinosaurs and colors a picture during one of chemo treatments at Children's Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.

His mom Amanda Hegy said, "We're fortunate we live 30 minutes from a hospital, we can get here, and get home in the same day and have all the comforts of home."

Drake has a rare form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and didn't qualify for a clinical trial to fight the cancer. But the 5-year-old did benefit from previous clinical trials.

Hegy said, "Based on some of the clinical trials that were done in the past, we were able to forgo radiation treatment, based on benefits that were negative side effects from the radiation."

Doctors at UNMC said clinical trials are crucial to fighting pediatric cancer because, childhood cancers represent just two percent of all cancers.

Dr. Don Coulter an Associate Prof. Pediatrics Hematology/Oncology at UNMC said, "It doesn't receive the funding or the attention of some of the adult cancers sheerly because there are not as many children who have it. So clinical trials are the one way we're going to be able to invest in our future and see the best results for our therapies."

Dr. Ken Cowan is the Director, Fred & Pamela Buffet Cancer Center, He added, "The only way to develop new effective therapies is to first do it in a context of a clinical trial, test a new treatment compared to the standard treatment today."

Dr. Cowan said on average a clinical trial will take 10 years and a billion dollars to go from research to a drug that can be used by patients.

The clinical trials and research go hand in hand. When the Nebraska Legislature committed $1.8 million to pediatric cancer research in the spring of 2014, the money will be used at the Fred and Pamela Buffet Cancer Center. Once it's complete part of the building will be dedicated to pediatric cancer research.

Dr. Cowan said, "What drives new therapies is research, so if you have more research focusing on pediatric cancer, more clinical opportunities will be developed here."

Dr. Cowan said the Buffet Cancer Center already does research, but as construction progresses on the Fred & Pamela Buffet Cancer Center, it will take UNMC to another level of comprehensive cancer care.

Dr. Coulter added pediatric cancer is more aggressive than adult cancers and current adult treatments given to children can be toxic, which is why specific research is needed for kids.

"[There's this] Unknown about why pediatric cancer develops, are there pediatric cancers that we know exactly where they come from? Yes. But for the vast majority of our diseases, we don't completely understand exactly how a cancer cell becomes a cancer cell."

Drake's mom Amanda knows just how important research is, the five-year-old has a great prognosis thanks to work done 10 to 20 years ago.

Hegy said, "Leukemia has been a very successful cancer, as far as their cure and prognosis, so knowing that every child will have that potential success, is very inspiring."

Dr. Cowan and Dr. Coulter said part of the $1.8 million will be used to bring new researchers and scientists to Nebraska over the next two years, so they're here and ready when the new building opens.

Dr. Cowan added paying a scientist and the people who work in a research laboratory accounts for a 80 to 85% of research costs.