September 08, 2009

Building on a foundation of progress

The fact that members of The Rory David Deutsch Foundation’s Board of Directors found inspiration and motivation in their visit to the research laboratories of Children’s Memorial Hospital makes Stewart Goldman, MD, more than proud. It makes him excited. “Our team is motivated in the same way by their visit,” he says. “It’s their interest and passion in this mission that helps us carry on. Just as importantly, visits like that prompt us to take time to reflect on our program and the depth of our progress. It’s really essential that we step back and examine where we have been and where we are going.”

Dr. Goldman is a man whose life’s work revolves around exploring new, more effective ways of treating children with brain stem gliomas. He is always reflecting on the journey which involves acknowledging the frustration that accompanies every step forward. “For twenty-some years I’ve had some of the same conversations with families like Rory’s about what we could do for their child,” Dr. Goldman says. “The frustration of not being able to do more for them is also what compels us to continue with work that I hope and believe will lead to significant advances in treatment and a significant increase in the percentage of children who overcome this disease.”

With that aim, the many pediatric cancer research initiatives being conducted by Dr. Goldman’s team includes their collaboration with a California-based biotechnology company in the testing of an agent that could be instrumental in developing a better delivery system of chemotherapy. This pursuit coincides with The Foundation’s continued support of the team’s interstitial chemotherapy studies. Interstitial chemotherapy involves delivering a very small amount of chemotherapy directly into the tumor and circumventing the blood brain barrier—resulting in less overall exposure of the potentially damaging drug. Having developed a new animal model of brain stem glioma, the team at Children’s is able to assess in real time the tumor’s response to interstitially administered therapies. The team is also examining other agents in various combinations in this delivery method with the hope of discovering a treatment that halts tumor growth.

The fact that patients respond differently to certain treatments makes this and other research projects all the more complex. “Sharing our information with researchers at other high quality health care organizations is not only vital to making progress in this area, it is our moral responsibility,” says Dr. Goldman. “Especially because there are not enough people focusing on brain stem gliomas, we have to work together.” Going beyond its standing as one of the eight pediatric neuro-oncology centers in the United States that make up the clinical cooperative group known as the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium, Children’s has continued to form alliances with other organizations and institutions. “New tools and technology acquired through the gifts of The Rory David Deutsch Foundation to our program help us communicate with other laboratories around the world,” he says. “Sharing knowledge has given us answers to questions we hadn’t even thought to ask.”

Dr. Goldman and many other dedicated physicians are doing all they can for their patients. He says their role also includes being honest with families about the importance of quality over quantity. “As investigators, we have to know when it is best not do something. I say it is the difference between doing something for a child and doing something to a child. If it comes to that point, you shouldn’t do it. You have to consider the quality of life.”

While striking that balance, Dr. Goldman remains motivated, optimistic, and excited about the opportunities to build on a foundation of progress. “For us, the courage of Rory and his family is symbolic of the children and families that are battling this disease right now,” says Dr. Goldman. “We have a responsibility, as a health care organization and as a community, to keep reaching toward the day when we can change the conversation about brain stem gliomas, when the care we are able to provide them dramatically reduces the impact of this disease on their lives.”

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