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As I complete my second year as director and CEO of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, I am pleased to take this opportunity to reflect on our accomplishments – accomplishments that wouldn’t have been possible without your help – and to report to you on the impact of your gifts.
Monumental advances have been made in the treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases since I joined St. Jude 30 years ago. At that time, only half of the children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – the most common form of childhood cancer – were expected to live. Today, we have a 94 percent survival rate for children with ALL, and St. Jude continues to make strides in pushing the survival rate of children with ALL closer to 100 percent.
Your gifts are truly positively affecting outcomes; not only for the children we care for today, but also for the children who will turn to us in the future. As you read this letter, I hope you take as much pride in the accomplishments of last year as I do.
We continue to make significant strides in our mission to advance cures and means of prevention of catastrophic diseases in children. Our new Strategic Plan for St. Jude has established the ambitious goal of pushing the overall survival rate for all childhood cancers from 70 percent today to 90 percent in the next decade. While this goal might sound hard to achieve, we feel that science and technology are poised for major advances in our understanding of what causes cancer and how better to treat it. The hospital’s reason for existing is to ensure that this knowledge goes to work on behalf of children and so that we can sustain the momentum built at St. Jude during the past few decades. In fact, we made significant progress toward our 10 year goal.
One of our publications in the New England Journal of Medicine had additional good news about ALL, reporting that the survival rate could reach more than 95 percent in the near future, thanks in part to the work done at St. Jude. We also announced that our improvements in the treatment of medulloblastoma (brain tumors) have improved survival rates while reducing the amount of radiation and the length of chemotherapy needed for patients with average-risk disease.
In addition to these important highlights, St. Jude continues to make outstanding progress in many other ways to further our mission of advancing cures, and means of prevention, for children with catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Discoveries made here have completely changed how the world treats children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases, and it is my pleasure to provide you with information on a few of the many significant advances that happened in the past year.
Bone Marrow Transplantations
St. Jude researchers modified the life-saving procedure of blood stem cell transplantations so that clinicians can use bone marrow transplants that are only partially matched with the recipient. The process avoids the use of aggressive toxic treatments that too often leave these children weak and vulnerable to infections. This means the transplants will not only be safer, but also available to more children because parents can be used as donors.
Retinoblastoma and Leukemia
We also made exciting discoveries that promise to improve treatment for retinoblastoma (eye cancer) and leukemia.
- The work of one team promises to replace standard chemotherapy and radiation treatments with a locally administered "eye drop" therapy.
- Another team not only discovered why some forms of ALL are aggressive and resistant to the drug imatinib, but also showed in laboratory studies how to overcome this problem.
- A third St. Jude team discovered a potential strategy for making cells with damaged genes die off proactively by producing a key "suicide protein," rather than continue to multiply and cause cancer.
Sickle Cell Disease
Our efforts to reduce the suffering caused by sickle cell anemia bore fruit as well when our clinical researchers showed that babies with this disease can be treated with a patient-friendly oral liquid drug. Starting treatment this early is unprecedented, but promises to dramatically reduce the chance of future organ damage that can occur in children with sickle cell disease.
We also continued our efforts to prevent a bird flu pandemic. We published results of the world’s first large-scale study of bird flu genes, which doubles the amount of information available to researchers on the genes and proteins of these viruses and how they have changed (mutated) through the years. This study included the H5N1 strain and showed that a vaccine developed here a few years ago against one variant of H5N1 might protect humans against future variants and might be appropriate for stockpiling in preparation for a pandemic.
And finally, one of our researchers made the remarkable discovery that defective lymphatic vessels appear to be the cause of a type of adult-onset obesity that is not related to overeating or lack of exercise. This discovery is an example of how some of our basic research on behalf of children leads us down unexpected scientific roads that can have an impact on other disorders in both children and adults.
Construction is going very well on our new treatment and research building, the Chili’s Care Center. The naming of the building was announced in June 2006, when Chili’s restaurant made a major donation to help fund the construction. This donation is helping fund this new, state-of-the-art building that will house:
Groundbreaking for this 300,000-square-foot facility occurred in August 2004, and we are looking forward to its completion in August 2007.
I am delighted to tell you that St. Jude was ranked No. 1 in the "Best Places to Work in Academia 2006," by The Scientist magazine. This recognition signifies our commitment to making St. Jude a place where faculty and staff can do their best work. This will help us continue to recruit the best and brightest to St. Jude, which, along with your faithful support, is key to our continued success. I am also pleased that St. Jude was listed at the top on the basis of the number of citations per paper published, which is a measure of the impact of our work and an indication that our doctors and scientists continue to define the forefront of treatment and research of catastrophic diseases in children.
In spite of all this progress, cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in U.S. children between 1 and 19 years of age, and our mission is to make that no longer the case. With your continued support, we are up to the challenge and optimistic that we will succeed.
William E. Evans
Director and CEO