Family recognized for innovative approach to childhood cancer research

    TORONTO, Nov. 13 /CNW/ - The impact of a family's efforts to cure a
deadly childhood cancer is being recognized today with the naming of a cancer
research lab in their son's honour. The James Birrell Laboratories at SickKids
Research Institute recognizes the impact of eight-year-old James Birrell to
the world of neuroblastoma research.
    In an effort to beat the clock and find an effective treatment and cure
for James, Syd and Pam Birrell started The James Fund for Neuroblastoma
Research at SickKids. They have rallied the community and families from around
the world, raising $2 million in six years and translating donor dollars into
high impact research. To date, there are 10 research projects underway, five
full-time research salaries funded and 17 peer reviewed articles published.
    James lost his fight with cancer in December 2001 but the family
continues to push for a cure for neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system
that accounts for nearly 10 per cent of all childhood cancers and is the most
common tumour in babies under one year of age.
    "James has effectively left his tiny footprint in the vast world of
research in this country, and that is an immensely powerful legacy to leave,"
said Dr. David Kaplan, Senior Scientist, The Hospital for Sick Children, and
one of the James Birrell funded professors whose cancer research lab will be
receiving the new name. Others include Drs. Sylvain Baruchel, Paul Thorner,
Maria Zielenska, Herman Yeger, and Meredith Irwin.
    "It's about making a difference," said Syd Birrell, father of James and
founder of The James Fund. "The research is making the difference. Now there's
a place with James' name on it where research will be at the forefront."
    The Birrells, recognizing that research works best when groups from
around the world communicate, interact and work together, are funding
neuroblastoma research projects between SickKids and the National Institutes
of Health in the US, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and Chiba
University in Japan. Because of The James Fund, a neuroblastoma workshop was
organized in Boston to facilitate collaborations between the Toronto and
Harvard neuroblastoma research groups.
    The James Fund also funds a Canadian scientist to work in New York City
on a joint project between SickKids and Cornell University Medical College
labs, the first example of a joint scientist working between the US and Canada
in the children's cancer field.
    The James Fund recently committed to raising an additional $10 million
over 10 years to ensure the longevity of The James Birrell Laboratories as a
global leader in neuroblastoma research.
    "I cannot think of a more effective agency, foundation, or charity than
The James Fund in the children's cancer field, world-wide," added Dr. Kaplan.
"The Birrells, a family from Peterborough, Ontario, have single-handedly
catalyzed neuroblastoma research in Canada and allowed us to take risks with
our research that otherwise wouldn't be funded."
    Because of funding from The James Fund, SickKids researchers have been
able to leverage small amounts of valuable donor dollars to create large
research projects. Scientific theories and out-of-the-box thinking not funded
by traditional agencies have been tested and tested quickly.
    James Fund scientists have made some significant inroads including the
discovery of the rare cell in neuroblastoma that may be responsible for why
this tumour keeps reoccurring after chemotherapy, one of the reasons why
neuroblastoma cells metastasize to other organs, a way in which neuroblastoma
becomes resistant to chemotherapy and the new drug treatments for patients.
Without The James Fund these discoveries would not have occurred.
    James Fund scientists have used the initial findings from seed grants
from donors to obtain a further $2.6 million in funding from federal and
international grant funding agencies and the Canadian Cancer Society.
    Because of the tireless effort of the Birrells to find a cure for
neuroblastoma, their son James will live on through medical research through
The James Birrell Laboratories.

    About SickKids Foundation
    SickKids Foundation was established in 1972 and is celebrating its 
35-year anniversary. Its mission is to inspire its communities to invest in
health and scientific advances to improve the lives of children and their
families in Canada and around the world. Its vision is "Healthier children. A
better world."
    In addition to its support of The Hospital for Sick Children, the
Foundation has a mandate to support children's health on a national basis.
Through its National Grants Program, SickKids Foundation invests $4 million
annually across Canada in paediatric research, focusing on issues important to
children's health which have not been addressed elsewhere.

For further information:

For further information: Lori Abbott, SickKids Foundation, w: (416)
813-8292, c: (647) 241-6525, Email:

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