New Research Aims to Impact Pediatric Brain Cancer

BOSTON -- Through donations and fundraisers, Nebraskans have helped the Team Jack Foundation commit more than $1 million for pediatric brain cancer research.

One project the Team Jack Foundation is especially excited about is a research prototype they hope will be a game changer for kids who are battling pediatric brain cancer.

Dr. Liliana Goumnerova's goal as a neurosurgeon and the director of pediatric neurosurgical oncology, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, is to get all or as much of a brain tumor out of a child as possible.

"Often times those tumors can be indistinguishable from the surrounding brain tissue, there it makes it very difficult for us to know, should we continue and remove those areas or not."

That differentiation is why the Team Jack Foundation hopes a prototype she and other researchers are working on, will become the future of brain tumor surgery.

The prototype works like this, two black boxes send light and then measure how much light is being absorbed by different body tissues.

That data is then sent to a computer, which through a series of computations, compiles it into graphs. From those graphs, the goal is it would give doctors vital information about what tissue still needs to be removed from the brain.

Dr. Goumnerova said, "The surgeon can hold it on the surface of the brain. You can actually detect where the tissue is abnormal vs the side that's normal."

The Team Jack Foundation made a pledge of $500,000 over the next five years, to invest in the next phase of the research project. It will allow Dr. Goumnerova and her colleagues to take the research to the next step by testing the prototype on mice.

She added,"[We're] really excited because we now have funding and we're actually in the process of hiring post docs and start doing the experiments."

Experiments which could have far reaching effects, not only for kids, but adults with brain tumors and cancer as well.

Team Jack Foundation Board Member Andy Hoffman said, "This is a piece of technology that could really shift the outlook for a lot of kids down the road, it's a process, this could be 5 years, 10 years before this device is in an operating room in Omaha or Lincoln, but that's our goal."

Board Member Dr. Keri Galyen added, "The reality of the situation is there's potential, real potential for this to be a game changer, not only for pediatric brain cancer, but for all brain cancers, adults alike."

Aside from investing in research at the Boston Children's Hospital, the Team Jack Foundation also pledged $300,000 for a pediatric brain cancer clinical trial that will take place at 15 sites across the country.

Hoffman said, "That's a treatment that's hopefully going to be at children's hospitals throughout the United States, very soon, in the next 2-3 months, and that's going to affect thousands of children and we're excited those kids are going to have an opportunity to be treated by a new drug."

Dr. Mark Kieran, who's the director of the Brain Tumor Center, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center is one of the people working on the research for the clinical trial.

The clinical trial is a $1.5 million dollar total project, and Hoffman said they're excited because while their $300,000 may seem like a small piece of the pie, that clinical trial may not have happened without the foundation's pledge.

While that's not a project Dr. Goumnerova is involved in, she said clinical trials are the last step in years of research and the financial backing from foundations like Team Jack is critical.

She said, "Without this kind of support a lot of the innovative things are not going to be developed there just isn't the funding from the big national organizations and the grassroots foundations is really where you need to start because the personal involvement from people is what really drives all of this."

The hope with this brain tissue prototype is it will reduce brain deficits in children--meaning kids wouldn't have long term or permanent side effects after surgery and chemo, like strokes, paralysis or psychological deficits.