University of Chicago Researcher Gets Surprise from Former Cancer Patient
Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation presents $50,000 gift
Together with the father of 26-year-old Anna O’Connor, the Children's Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation (CNCF) has presented a $50,000 check to Dr. Sam Volchenboum, a pediatric oncologist who treated O’Connor’s neuroblastoma at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago.
Before her death in February, O’Connor stipulated she wanted funds she had raised to go to Dr. Volchenboum’s research. CNCF is a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness and money for neuroblastoma research and education. O’Connor’s father and CNCF President Pat Tallungan surprised Volchenboum with the news.
“It’s pretty wonderful,” Dr. Volchenboum said. “I did not know Anna had plans like this. I took care of Anna and I knew she was raising funds, but we never talked about funding for my own work. So I was really touched that she would think about it.”
Neuroblastoma is a solid tumor cancer with a higher incidence rate in infants than leukemia; survival rates are about 40 percent for patients with aggressive, high-risk disease.
Gifts like Anna’s have become crucial, said Dr. Susan L. Cohn, a professor of pediatrics and director of clinical sciences at the University of Chicago.
“A $50,000 check makes a huge difference particularly when the National Institutes of Health budget has been slashed,” said Dr. Cohn, who collaborates on patient care and research with Dr. Volchenboum. “Especially for investigators starting out, funds like this are critical. Getting grants requires results, but you need seed money to hire scientists and buy supplies. That’s why these $50,000 gifts are so important -- you can pay a technician for a year and generate data for papers and grants. It can make the difference between a project getting off the ground or never getting funded.”
Dr. Volchenboum made sure that when new therapies emerged, O’Connor had access to them, Tallungan said.
"He took wonderful care of her, advocated for her every step of her fight while also conducting his own research that will help future patients,” said Tallungan, who co-founded CNCF in 2000 after her 10-year-old son, Nick, succumbed to the disease.
Dr. Volchenboum is currently studying which proteins are expressed in aggressive versus non-aggressive forms of neuroblastoma. He said O’Connor’s gift
will advance that project.
“Much of the excitement in the last 10 years has been around work done in genomics. Instead, we are studying the proteins in neuroblastoma cells, a field known as proteomics. By teaming up with researchers who are doing this on a larger scale for adult cancers such as prostate, colon and ovarian cancer, I’m hoping we can apply what we learn to pediatric tumors, so that we can find new ways to treat them.”