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McKenna Claire Foundation Lends a Hand to DIPG Efforts

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Dr. Mark Souweidane meets with David Wetzel of the McKenna Claire Foundation
Dr. Mark Souweidane meets with David Wetzel of the McKenna Claire Foundation.

Dr. Mark Souweidane has received a $50,000 donation from the McKenna Claire Foundation in support of his DIPG research. The gift was made in memory of McKenna Claire Wetzel, a California girl who was diagnosed with DIPG in 2011 at age 7. Since McKenna’s passing, her parents have been tireless advocates for pediatric brain tumor awareness and research. Their gift to the Children’s Brain Tumor Project will help fund Dr. Souweidane’s research into the tumor that claimed their child’s life.

Dr. Souweidane, vice chair of the Neurosurgery Department and director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, has spent much of his career researching pediatric brain tumors, particularly diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG. This brain stem glioma is universally fatal, with survival times measured only in months from diagnosis. After more than a decade of bench research, in 2012 Dr. Souweidane began a clinical trial testing the safety of interstitial infusion, also called convection-enhanced delivery (CED) for DIPG. In the trial, cancer-fighting drugs are delivered by cannula directly to the site of the tumor, bypassing the blood-brain barrier. Nearly two years into the clinical trial, Dr. Souweidane reports not a single adverse effect of the procedure.  (More about the clinical trial.)

The Children’s Brain Tumor Project combines Dr. Souweidane’s research with the research of Dr. Jeffrey Greenfield, whose efforts focus on genomic sequencing to identify a tumor’s DNA fingerprint and who has also just begun a clinical trial testing intra-arterial delivery of chemotherapy in pediatric brain tumors. Together, Dr. Souweidane and Dr. Greenfield hope to identify the best drugs to use against an individual tumor, then use novel delivery methods to get that drug to the tumor site. (More about Dr. Greenfield’s research.)

McKenna’s parents, Dave and Kristine Wetzel, founded the McKenna Claire Foundation with a mission of supporting the fight against pediatric cancer. The Wetzels donated their daughter’s brain tumor tissue to researchers at Stanford University  to advance the science of pediatric brain cancer research and have made donations not only to the Children’s Brain Tumor Project and Stanford but also to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation for childhood cancers. (More about the McKenna Claire Foundation.)