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David Alvey – Guest Contributor
Apr 19 @ 11:36
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TeamConnor and Kevin’s Ewing Sarcoma Fund give $50,000 to UT Southwestern for childhood cancer research

Childhood cancer is a formidable foe. But it may have underestimated its opponent in 18-year-old Plano East High School senior Kevin Weir.

When Kevin was five years old he was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

“Kevin’s doctors told us that without surgery he had less than a 20% chance of survival,” explains Kevin’s mother, Jennifer Weir.  A massive tumor had blown a hole through his pelvic bone. “With surgery, it was about 40%. At that time, the only surgical option was believed to be the removal of Kevin’s entire right pelvic bone and right leg.”

Fortunately, the tumor responded to chemotherapy and shrunk enough to perform a less radical, but still quite complex, surgery. The surgical recovery was long and arduous. Kevin had to be non-weight bearing for six months while still undergoing chemotherapy; however, he recovered and was able to walk again. Unfortunately, as often happens to childhood cancer patients, the side effects from the treatments caused other serious health problems.

“Kevin’s oncologist told us heart damage stemming from chemotherapy was permanent, progressive and incurable,” continued Jennifer.  “When Kevin was seven years old, his cardiologist told us that the medication Kevin was taking merely delays heart failure, but does not cure it.”

But Kevin didn’t let cancer steal his dreams.

“During his freshman year in high school, Kevin sent us a text stating, “I MADE IT,” meaning that he had secured a spot on the Plano East Junior Varsity soccer team,” said Jennifer.  “You cannot imagine the impact those three small words had.  My son, who was never supposed to walk again, became a goalkeeper for a successful team in one of the largest high schools in Texas.  I was at work when I received that text.  I had to pull away from my desk and wipe the tears from my eyes.”

Kevin went on to play four years of JV and varsity soccer at Plano East. After high school graduation, Kevin will attend Austin College with plans to become a medical oncologist so he can help other childhood cancer patients.  For the past couple of years, Kevin has worked with Dr. James Amatruda, MD, PhD at UT Southwestern Medical Center in the search for a cure to Ewing’s sarcoma.  

Ewing’s sarcoma is a cancer of bone and soft tissues that primarily affects adolescents and young adults. Most Ewing’s sarcomas are caused by the presence of an abnormal fusion gene known as “EWS-FLI1” in the cancer cells. Currently no treatments that specifically target EWS-FLI1 are available. Recently it was discovered that some tumors previously thought to be Ewing’s Sarcoma are really caused by other fusion genes. Even less is known about these so-called “Ewing-like” sarcomas, and the prognosis for patients with Ewing-like sarcomas remains poor.

Dallas-based TeamConnor Childhood Cancer Foundation recently awarded more than $272,000 to six hospitals across the country to support cutting-edge research for childhood cancers. In conjunction with Kevin’s Ewing Sarcoma Fund, TeamConnor awarded a $50,000 grant to Dr. Amatruda at UT Southwestern Medical Centerto develop targeted treatments for Ewing and Ewing-like sarcoma.

“We are excited to keep pushing forward, said Dr. Amatruda. “With help from the generous support of the Kevin’s Ewing Sarcoma Fund, we will be working to further test the best combination of therapies to fight the growth of Ewing sarcoma tumors. We will also intensively study the biology of Ewing-like sarcomas caused by the CIC-DUX4 gene, to understand the unique features of these tumors as a first step to developing better therapies. We are grateful to TeamConnor and to all the generous supporters of Kevin’s Fund for being our partners in this important effort.”

In the Amatruda lab, UT Southwestern is working on new treatments for Ewing and Ewing-like sarcomas that specifically target the cancer cells while leaving normal cells unaffected. For the past several years, Dr. Amatruda has used the zebrafish to study how sarcomas arise. Recently Dr. Amatruda used the zebrafish model to identify a new class of drugs that appear to inhibit the function of EWS-FLI1. He also created the first animal models that recapitulate the Ewing-like sarcomas that are caused by CIC-DUX4.

“We are committed to funding research for childhood cancers at some of the best research hospitals in the country,” said Joy Cruse, TeamConnor’s founder. “Kevin’s family has donated more than $115,000 to help fund Dr. Amatruda’s research through various fundraising events. His research could lead to new childhood cancer treatments that are more effective in attacking the cancer cells without harming healthy cells.”

Every year, more than 12,500 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer in the United States. Childhood cancer is the number one disease killer of children, yet the budget of the National Cancer Institute allocates less than four percent of its funds to pediatric cancer research. TeamConnor is dedicated to raising awareness and funding research and treatment programs to find cures for all childhood cancers.   

TeamConnor hosts events throughout the year to raise funds for childhood cancer research, including the III Forks Golf Classic and Auction Dinner, April 30 – May 1, 2017; Splash Out Childhood Cancer at Hawaiian Falls, July 10; National Childhood Cancer Awareness Concert, September 16; Color Me Green 5K/10K, October 7; and the Northwestern Mutual Clay Shoot, November 2.  In addition, TeamConnor’s Coins for Kids with Cancer program raises funds in schools, churches, offices and organizations across the country to help fund childhood cancer research.

For more information on how to impact the lives of those affected by childhood cancer, please visit teamconnor.org or Facebook.com/TeamConnor.