Meet the doctors behind the fight against childhood cancer

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Dr. Lia Gore‘s dream of becoming a pediatric oncologist began when she was just 12 years old. That year, her friend and gymnastics teammate was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at the same time Dr. Gore learned her own mother battled with breast cancer before she was born, a disease she survived for 59 years. These early introductions to the personal impact of cancer influenced Dr. Gore’s philosophy of never settling for a dire prognosis without asking what more could be done.

Dr. Gore received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., where she also completed her internship in pediatrics at Children’s National Medical Center. She completed a residency in pediatrics, a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology, and a post-doctoral fellowship in leukemia biology at the University of Colorado Program and Children’s Hospital Colorado.

An image of Dr. Gore, a chidhood cancer researcher and physician, wearing a face mask and face shield in her scrubs.

Childhood cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic. Dr. Gore sports a face mask and shield while working through the COVID-19 crisis.

In what she calls her years of “naive optimism,” Dr. Gore found herself asking the tough questions: “Why couldn’t children have access to new drugs sooner? Why is restricting access to many new trials for children with brain tumors and leukemias the status quo? Why is the status quo ok?” By asking these questions, Dr. Gore found herself learning from “giants” who were willing to help her try to find the answers to these bold, and often unanswered, questions.

Today, Dr. Lia Gore serves as the section head of pediatric hematology/oncology/bone marrow transplants and director of the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital Colorado. She is also the vice chair of the Children’s Oncology Group. While Dr. Gore holds a number of distinguished titles, she reminds us this work is never done alone. In fact, this collaborative perspective has led Dr. Gore’s team to receive approvals for four new cancer drugs to treat five different cancers—an accomplishment many do not hold. She believes in the power of collaboration and works alongside other leading oncologists around the world with a common goal to eradicate or reduce the impact cancer has on children.

Currently, Dr. Gore and her team are working to answer another tough question: How can we link underserved leukemia patients with cutting-edge treatments?

A key component in treating newly diagnosed leukemia is genetic and molecular testing, which informs physicians which treatment options are best suited for the patient. While these tests are critical for all patients, they are not always easily accessible, especially for patients who are uninsured or underinsured. Because of this, not all patients have access to the cutting-edge treatments available for their disease. A new multi-organization, multi-investigator effort, led by Dr. Gore, focuses on narrowing that gap by creating a mechanism that makes available molecular testing in underrepresented patients.

With the support of the CU Cancer Center, uninsured or underinsured patients will have access to highly sophisticated molecular testing developed at Children’s Colorado that they otherwise would not. With the increased biologic understanding of leukemia, cancer care teams can determine which treatment options are best for the patient or if they should modify the current treatment plan to increase the chance of better outcomes. Although Dr. Gore’s team in the Denver Metro area is currently piloting the effort, it has potential for expansion. They hope to create an approach that others can readily export to farther outlying sites in the state and across the region with minimal modification.

Dr. Gore won’t stop until she has once again, broken down barriers and explored the unanswered questions through her efforts to bridge the gap in access to much needed treatment.

Image of the Amazon Goes Gold logo, a campaign to support awareness and research around childhood cancer.

Amazon Goes Gold is an annual initiative to support the fight against childhood cancer.

This year alone, more than 300,000 children globally will be diagnosed with pediatric cancer. Amazon has the opportunity to make a difference for the thousands of children and families impacted by cancer by raising greater awareness and supporting the important work of cancer researchers and front-line care professionals. This is why for the fourth consecutive year, Amazon will “go gold” in September for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month to help raise awareness around pediatric cancer and groundbreaking research in the field.

Since 2017, customers have received their orders in gold boxes to help drive awareness throughout September—and this year, we’re shipping out another 20 million gold boxes to garner even greater support. Additionally to date, Amazon has donated over $6 million to childhood cancer programs across the country and around the world. This September, we’re doubling down on our focus toward innovative research by donating $4 million to eight leading cancer research institutions across the U.S.

Childhood cancer doesn’t stop for a pandemic, and neither does our support.

At Amazon, we believe in Thinking Big and Diving Deep in order to drive our customer experience forward—and this is exactly what pediatric oncologists, like Dr. Lia Gore and many others, are doing to develop best-in-class treatment. There’s still a lot more work to be done, and doctors and researchers around the world are working together to, someday, find a cure.

Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD
Chairman of the Department of Global Pediatric Medicine at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital

A photo of Dr. Galindo, childhood cancer researcher and physician, wearing a surgical mask and smiling in front of a desk at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, chairman of the Department of Global Pediatric Medicine at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

In another time, Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo and his colleagues might have attracted the world’s attention to the audacious goal they outlined recently: Preventing the deaths of more than 6 million kids from cancer. Rodriguez-Galindo, chairman of the Department of Global Pediatric Medicine at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, co-chaired a commission that concluded without investments in healthcare systems, 11 million kids will die of cancer by 2050. Most of the deaths were predicted for low- and middle-income countries, where access to care is limited and childhood cancer routinely goes undiagnosed. The Lancet Oncology Commission also found that increasing healthcare spending by $20 billion a year could save 6.2 million children. Every dollar spent would bring a threefold economic return. “That was work we were hoping would call the attention of governments, call the attention of the major decision-makers,” Rodriguez-Galindo said. Unfortunate timing deprived the report of such attention.

Published in March, the report came out just as COVID-19 began dominating news cycles. The experience hasn’t deterred Rodriguez-Galindo from his quest to prevent global pediatric cancer deaths. As director of St. Jude Global, he works with doctors and institutions in about 60 countries to improve care. The Lancet Oncology report prescribes six steps to tackle inequalities between rich and poor countries. The measures include covering childhood cancer as part of universal healthcare plans, ending out-of-pocket charges for treating cancer-stricken kids, and building national and regional networks to improve access to care. Profile written by Thomas Charlier.

Dr. Michael Jensen, MD
Chief therapeutics officer at Seattle Children’s Hospital

An image of Dr. Jensen, a childhood cancer researcher and physicians from Seattle Children's Hospital. He is wearing his white coat and smiling for a head shot photo.

Dr. Michael Jensen, MD, chief therapeutics officer at Seattle Children’s Hospital

Dr. Michael Jensen‘s career in immunotherapy–using the body’s own defenses to kill diseases–is rooted in his DNA: Jensen’s grandfather helped develop a diphtheria vaccine and later directed a global vaccination program. Jensen’s own journey began at 16 when he bicycled to the house of a neighbor, Seattle immunotherapist Phil Greenberg, and asked for a summer lab job. Greenberg said no, Jensen showed up for work anyway. “I spent the summer cleaning mouse cages,” he laughs, “but the next summer I was promoted to the tissue lab.” Gradually, the two became close colleagues. Jensen developed his own spin on immunotherapy, which he brought to Seattle Children’s in 2010.
By modifying disease-fighting T cells with “chimeric antigen receptors,” or CARs–which recognize and lock onto a particular structure on leukemia cells–Jensen turns T cells into guided missiles that attack cancer. The results of early clinical trials at Seattle Children’s are promising: 93 percent of kids with relapsed leukemia–kids too sick for conventional treatment–achieved complete remission three months after receiving CAR T cells. Jensen’s work isn’t finished. In half those patients, the disease recurred within a year. Now he and his team are investigating the sneaky return, and developing ways to block it. He’s also engineering CAR T cells to attack brain tumors and other forms of cancer. Philanthropy is crucial to leveraging his breakthroughs. “To cure more kids, we need funding to expand research and clinical trials. With another $20 million, we could go from eight trials to more–lots more–against more types of cancer. It would be immediately catalytic.” Profile written by Lisa Brihagen.

The Children’s Oncology Group (COG) is the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to childhood and adolescent cancer research. The COG unites nearly 10,000 experts in childhood cancer at more than 220 leading children’s hospitals, universities, and cancer centers across North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe in the fight against childhood cancer.

The COG has nearly 100 active clinical trials open at any given time; these trials include front-line treatment for many types of childhood cancers, studies aimed at determining the underlying biology of these diseases, and trials involving new and emerging treatments, supportive care, and survivorship. Today, more than 90 percent of the 14,000 children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States are cared for at COG member institutions. The COG’s research has turned childhood cancer from a virtually incurable disease 50 years ago to one with a combined five-year survival rate of 80 percent today. The group’s goal is to cure all children and adolescents with cancer, reduce the short and long-term complications of cancer treatments, and determine the causes to find ways to prevent childhood cancer.

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Coalition Against Childhood Cancer (CAC2) is a collaborative network of nonprofits, corporations, and individuals from across the country and around the world, supporting and serving the childhood cancer community. CAC2 members effectively advance a variety of childhood cancer causes by unifying their efforts. The coalition organizes its work around the interests that its members share: advocacy and awareness, research and treatment, and family support and survivorship. CAC2 promotes coordinated action and broad-based collaboration among its members and provides them with a variety of ways to learn from experts and from each other within each pillar.

CAC2 members drive progress for all aspects of childhood cancer. These members include individuals, advocates, parents and survivors, healthcare professionals, students and academics, nonprofits that fund research and serve families, and corporations that support the community. Through CAC2, members share best practices, collaborate, and take action in ways each could not on their own. What unites them is the belief that the increased impact created and amplified by collaboration will drive progress for childhood and adolescent cancer patients. Together, they work with a burning passion and unrelenting energy to improve their lives and the lives of their families.

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The American Childhood Cancer Organization

The American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) is America’s oldest and largest grassroots organization dedicated to transforming childhood cancer in the U.S. and around the world. Founded in 1970 by parents of children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer, ACCO is committed to shaping state, federal, and international policy; supporting research; raising awareness; and providing educational resources and programs to children with cancer, survivors, and their families.

ACCO continues its 51-year legacy of leadership in the childhood cancer community, including advocacy efforts through their “What About KIDS?” program. Built upon their successful advocacy initiative in Kentucky, “What About KIDS?” works with legislators to transform policy at the state level to overcome the national disparity between adult and childhood cancer research funding.

In the past year alone, through Amazon’s support of ACCO’s “What About KIDS?” program, ACCO trained advocates and worked with state legislators to appropriate more than $25 million new dollars for childhood cancer research in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Thanks to Amazon’s continued support, ACCO will be expanding that success to eight additional states in the next year.

Childhood cancer remains the number one cause of death by disease in the U.S. and around the world, and since its founding, the American Childhood Cancer Organization is recognized nationally and internationally for making cancer a child health priority.

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As one of the top 10 pediatric hospitals in the country, Children’s Hospital Colorado has defined and delivered pediatric health care excellence for more than a century. The hospital is 100 percent dedicated to caring for children at all ages and stages of growth. In fact, it sees more, treats more, and heals more kids than any other hospital in its region.

The hospital has more than 3,000 pediatric specialists and 5,000+ full-time employees on staff and its unparalleled pediatric expertise leads to health outcomes that are among the best in the country. The experts at Children’s Colorado also work hard to keep kids out of the hospital. Through medical research and advocacy efforts, they are working towards a world where kids are safer, healthier, and can spend less time in the hospital and more time being kids.

As the region’s only nonprofit pediatric healthcare network, Children’s Colorado is fueled by giving. Thanks to generous donors, Children’s Colorado can treat every child who comes through its doors, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Every donation the hospital receives provides innovative, family-centered care to children who need it today, while fueling research breakthroughs that lead to new treatments and cures in the future.

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Since its founding in 1947, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts has been committed to providing adults and children with cancer with the best treatment available today while developing tomorrow’s cures through cutting-edge research. It is ranked in the top five of U.S. News and World Report’s Best Hospitals for both adult and pediatric cancer care. A principal teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber’s mission is to reduce the burden of cancer through scientific inquiry, clinical care, education, community engagement, and advocacy. Dana-Farber is dedicated to a unique and equal balance between cancer research and care, translating the results of discovery into new treatments for patients locally and around the world.

Under the leadership of Scott A. Armstrong, MD, PhD, the Department of Pediatric Oncology conducts laboratory research and clinical trials to improve care for children with cancer with an emphasis on the development of bold, new therapeutic approaches.

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This isn’t about beating the odds. This is about changing them. Seattle Children’s Research Hospital fights relentlessly to make sure there’s no such thing as “out of options” and to make sure kids who “didn’t have a chance” can have the childhoods they deserve. At Seattle Children’s, the team is united by a compelling mission to provide hope, care, and cures to help every child live the healthiest and most fulfilling life possible. The hospital delivers superior patient care, advances new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho—the largest region of any children’s hospital in the country.

Consistently named among the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s is the top-ranked pediatric facility in the Northwest and Seattle Children’s Cancer Center is one of the top-ranked programs of its kind in the United States, which means your child will be cared for by the very best. With more than 100 open clinical trials for pediatric cancer and five-year survival rates consistently above average, Seattle Children’s is improving cancer treatment for all kid-kind.

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Founded in 1954 in Houston, Texas, Texas Children’s is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to create a healthier future for children and women throughout their global community by leading inpatient care, education, and research. They are proud to be consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top children’s hospitals in the nation.

Today, Texas Children’s is a worldwide organization that provides inpatient acute, emergency, rehabilitative, and subspecialty services as well as outpatient clinical care. Through the hospital, more than 3 million patient encounters are recorded each year, with children coming to them from throughout Texas, the United States, and more than 70 countries across the globe.

At Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, one of the largest pediatric cancer and hematology centers in the country, they provide medical treatment for patients with childhood cancer and blood disorders. The nationally acclaimed children’s clinic, along with the research and drug development programs, is considered by U.S. News & World Report to be among the best children’s hospitals for cancer. Their world-renowned staff of nearly 200 faculty and over 1,000 employees have pioneered many of the now standard protocols for treating and curing pediatric cancer and blood disorders. Founded in 1954 in Houston, Texas, Texas Children’s is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to create a healthier future for children and women throughout their global community by leading inpatient care, education, and research. They are proud to be consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top children’s hospitals in the nation.

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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats, and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. As the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children, treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. And they won’t stop until no child dies from cancer.

By freely sharing discoveries, every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food–because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

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