Supported Research Programs
Funds Raised by the PTATC Benefit
Kris Ann Schultz, MD
Medical Research Representative
Laura Gilchrist, PhD
Medical Research Representative
Lynn Tanner, MPT
Gretchen Williams, BS
Senior Research Coordinator
Yoav Messinger, MD
Funds raised by the Pine Tree Apple Tennis Classic (PTATC) are used primarily to support research areas where there is little or no national attention and can be broken out into three main categories: DICER1 Rare Tumor Research, Preventing Cancer Treatment Side Effects and Promoting Quality of Life.
DICER1 Rare Tumor Research
While advancements are being made for the most common childhood cancers, the same is not true for rare tumors. Pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB) is a rare but aggressive lung tumor that occurs in very young children, usually children under age 7. In 1987, PTATC began supporting the International PPB Registry. In 2011, PTATC funding helped launch the opening of the International Ovarian and Testicular Stromal Tumor (OTST) Registry to study additional rare childhood tumors. Under the leadership of Dr. Kris Ann Schultz, the Registries seek to define optimal care for children with these rare diseases and develop more effective and less toxic therapies for children and adults throughout the world.
Combined, the Registries have enrolled more than 600 individuals from more than 40 countries and are now considered the model for other rare tumor registries.
DICER1: The needle in the haystack. In 2009, work conducted by the PPB Registry led to the discovery of the first known relationship between human cancer and DICER1, a critical gene in cellular processes. With a nearly infinite number of possible gene sequences in the human body, the ability to isolate this mutation is groundbreaking. The DICER1 findings have implications throughout all cancer research.
In May 2016, over 60 attendees gathered at the Minneapolis campus of Children’s Minnesota to discuss the biological, clinical and translational aspects of tumors related to DICER1. Medical professionals representing rare tumor groups from around the US, France, Canada, Germany, England and Russia discussed possible new and better treatment options for those diagnosed with the worst types of PPB. This work has the potential to impact many, many people – even those without PPB or ovarian tumors – and may help oncologists around the world understand how to treat a wide variety of other tumors. During this Symposium, new guidelines for the testing and surveillance of individuals with DICER1 were developed and refined. Using these guidelines, DICER1 tumors are now being found in their earliest and most curable form.
Preventing Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Going through cancer treatment is difficult at any age. But because kids’ bodies are rapidly growing and developing while they undergo treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, they are more susceptible to long-term side effects that can hinder physical, cognitive and emotional development. These impairments begin early in treatment and can cause physical limitations into adulthood.
Many children with the most common childhood cancers are surviving their diseases. In 1960, only 10% of children survived acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood cancer. Today, over 90% of children diagnosed with ALL are cured. With survival rates rising, emphasis in pediatric oncology research is being placed not only on the cure but also on improving the long-term function of pediatric cancer survivors.
Dr. Laura Gilchrist has held a PTATC-endowed research position focused on this cause since it was established in 2007. Dr. Gilchrist and her team at Children’s Minnesota collaborate with staff at other hospitals to do research designed to improve physical functional outcomes. They investigate issues that may arise due to treatment—such as muscle weakness, balance impairment, ankle contractures and neuropathy — a weakness, numbness and/or pain in hands and feet caused by nerve damage, estimated to occur in 80 percent to 90 percent of pediatric patients with cancer.
One focus is determining which changes persist long-term and which are preventable. Many families accepted such deficits as “normal” during cancer treatment. However, Dr. Gilchrist and her team have uncovered a number of interventions, including embedding physical therapy activity into patients’ treatment plans, to bring fun, engaging activities that help patients lead an active lifestyle with their peers. This unique physical therapy program begun at Children’s Minnesota and has now been implemented at many children’s hospitals around the world.
Promoting Quality of Life
Childhood development is a dynamic process. If cancer and subsequent treatments occur during a critical point of development, the average development process may be interrupted. Many children with cancer are at risk for poor health-related quality of life and chronic health conditions. To address these issues and provide kids with the best opportunity to thrive during and after cancer treatment, care teams shared new research and approaches aimed at promoting resilience in childhood cancer patients and reducing illness and the stress of cancer and its treatment.
Dr. Alicia Kunin-Batson seeks to improve pediatric cancer survivors’ quality of life during and after treatment, relieving families of their perception on the fear of what their child could or should do during cancer treatment, which may limit movement and exercise. Published research has shown adolescent survivors who reported being more active had significantly higher quality of life scores, and exercise not only to be safe and feasible during pediatric cancer treatment but that it can improve physical functioning and various aspects of quality of life.