30 January, 2013
When Ren Pedersen lost his nine-year-old daughter, Amy, to an incurable and inoperable brain tumour in 2009, he dedicated his life to turning the zero percent cure rate of this devastating cancer around.
Ren founded the Australian branch of the international charity, the Cure Starts Now, and began community fundraising efforts to help fund an Australian-first research project at Children's Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA). Ren donated his first $100,000 to help seed-fund the project in 2011 and he is now handing over an additional $100,000 to ensure the promising research continues in 2013.
“The money raised by the Cure Starts Now has been acquired with virtually no corporate support and primarily from regional areas - we've cooked thousands of sausages to help fund this initiative!” says Ren. “Being the only research of its kind in the country, there is no question in my mind that it will make a difference.”
CCIA scientist and paediatric oncologist at Sydney Children's Hospital Randwick, Dr David Ziegler, began to research the cancer, called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), to provide families with hope. Now with the first drug screen underway using the robotic technology of the ACRF Drug Discovery Centre, his aim is to drive the research forward as quickly as possible.
“We are starting with drugs that we already know a lot about. If we do find something there, it may be a relatively fast process translating it into a clinical treatment, because we already know all about the drug - we know how to administer it to kids, so we can go and use it to treat children straight away,” says Dr Ziegler.
“If it is a molecule that no one has ever investigated before, we don't know what its side-effects are. We also don't know how little bodies will handle the drug, so there is obviously a much longer and more involved testing process. We need to first understand the drug completely before we put it into children's bodies,” he says.
With the research already showing great promise, Ren has no plans to slow down. “We lost our precious girl, Amy, to this insidious disease,” says Ren. “Since establishing the Cure Starts Now, I've come across too many families who, like us, fight to keep their children alive for an extra week, or month, and that's just not good enough.
“The reality is these kids have no hope. This research is a glimmer on the horizon, it's the hope that never existed before,” says Ren.
Dr Ziegler says the support from the Cure Starts Now is invaluable: “We're really building momentum with our research and have some promising leads. The Cure Starts Now is playing a major role in ensuring that this momentum continues into 2013 and is, ultimately, converted into results.”
As a treating oncologist, a big focus for Dr Ziegler is to make sure he can translate his discoveries into the clinics as soon as possible.
“From day one, we essentially have to tell parents that we don't have any treatment that holds any hope for a cure for their child and that most kids will die from their disease within 12 months,” says Dr David Ziegler. “I want to get to stage where I never have to have that conversation with a family again.”