Travel consideration provided by St. Jude so that I could tour their facility.
June 7th marked National Cancer Survivors Day, a celebration of life and hope for those that have fought cancer. This had me reflecting on last year’s visit to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and all they have done for childhood cancer treatments and the subsequent survival rates. Their pioneering approach to researching and treating childhood cancer helped improve survival rates from 20% to 80%, and their mission is to continue this research until they can reach 100%. One of the most profound moments for me during my visit was getting the chance to visit one of their on-site research labs in Memphis and see this work in action.
The lab that I visited was working on retinoblastoma, a retinal cancer. The aim of the study was to find better therapies to treat this cancer while preserving vision; this cancer can easily spread to the brain, so the affected eye must often be removed. When this occurs at St. Jude, the removed tumors are preserved with the consent of the family, and used by the research lab so that they may study the tissue samples in their research. The lab then cultures the tumor cells in order to test new drugs. We saw slides of these tumors during our tour of the lab, and it was very powerful for me, because it represents the hope and promise of this amazing research.
According to the doctor I spoke with in the research lab, large pharmaceutical companies don’t work on drug research for retinoblastoma because it is not profitable; and if there is a drug that is promising that no one else will fund, St. Jude frequently makes it happen in house, funding the research in their own lab. St. Jude is committed to working on diseases that no one else is tackling, and they freely share their research data with the global scientific community. Studying specific cancers such as retinoblastoma and their treatments leads to better understanding of cancer as a whole; I can’t over-emphasize how important this kind of work is, and how far-reaching the impact is. For example, 775 St. Jude research results were shared in peer-reviewed journals in 2012; in that same year, St. Jude shared the largest-ever release of comprehensive human cancer genome data. This is why they have the saying that “One child saved at St. Jude means thousands more saved worldwide”.
And sometimes, those who receive treatment at St. Jude go on to do research of their own: Pictured above is Maggie, who was admitted as a patient on the very same day that she was scheduled to begin her college internship as a researcher at St. Jude.
Everything that St. Jude does – from treating its patients to conducting this groundbreaking research – is funded by donations. It is truly an incredible place; my visit was an experience that I won’t ever forget.