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Fighting pediatric cancer

Today we welcome guest blogger Phil Renna, Director of Operations for CSHL Public Affairs. Phil is also the Director of the Christina Renna Foundation, dedicated to raising awareness and finding a cure for pediatric cancers. This weekend CRF hosted its annual Angel’s Wish gala to support their ongoing efforts.

I’ve worked at Cold Spring Harbor Lab for 33 years – never as a scientist, but over the years I’ve learned the value of basic research. I’ve seen researchers make Nobel Prize-winning discoveries and develop new drugs for devastating diseases. But I never could have imagined that the research done here would become so personally important to me.

Eight years ago, I lost my daughter Christina at the age of 16 to a very rare cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. Christina understood the challenges that she faced and fought with a courage that was truly amazing, but she longed for the normality of life that she lost during her treatment.

So along with members of my family, we started The Christina Renna Foundation (CRF). “A Prayer, A Wish and a Dream of a cancer free world” has been our mission ever since we lost Christina. Our foundation is dedicated to bringing pediatric cancer into the public eye, helping children and families through their difficult times, and finding cures for these terrible diseases.

How do we do this? To start, we donated $20,000 to MSKCC to start a pilot iPad program in the pediatric cancer area. Few people appreciate how isolating cancer is. These iPads will allow children to connect with their families and friends. But MSKCC has gone beyond just that and is using this technology to show children what its like to be in an MRI, to show them what procedure they will experience, and why it’s needed. The iPads are a connection to the outside world, a distraction, and an educational tool.

But we don’t just want to make cancer better for these kids – we want to cure it. Rare diseases fail to attract the research dollars of big pharmaceutical companies: the fact is that there is no real money to be made on developing a drug to help so few. So CRF has teamed up with the Michelle Paternoster Memorial Foundation, The Friends of TJ Foundation, and The Clark Gillies Foundation to fund basic research into rhabdomyosarcoma here at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as part of the Sarcoma Research Project. CSHL Assistant Professor Chris Vakoc is spearheading the efforts in collaboration with Oregon Health & Science University Professor Charles Keller, a renowned specialist in rhabdomyosarcoma research. This project is a directed effort to understand how sarcomas arise and to identify new therapeutic strategies.

I’ve seen the power of basic research firsthand here at the Lab, so I am eager to see where this work goes. I know that, for rare diseases like rhabdomyosarcoma, private philanthropy is needed to do what others can’t. So I am honored to be able to provide support through CRF. With the help of all those around us, I look forward to one day finding our dream of a cancer-free world.

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