Arkansas Children’s Research Institute received a $500,000 gift from the Ryan Gibson Foundation on Friday (April 14) to further cancer research within the precision medicine program.
ACRI needed about $1.7 million to fund this research and the gift from Ryan Gibson Foundation almost finishes out the campaign. A previous pledge of $1 million was made by Arkansas Children’s Hospital board member Haskell Dickinson and the Trinity Foundation. Other gifts are pending.
“Precision medicine uses testing and research data to design a medical plan for an individual based on his or her environment, lifestyle and genetic makeup,” said Dr. Greg Kearns, chief research officer for Arkansas Children’s and president of the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute. “The goal of precision cancer medicine is to customize treatments by tailoring them to the genetic characteristics of a patient’s cancer. Therefore, children receive individualized treatments rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.”
The presentation from the Ryan Gibson Foundation took place at the Springdale construction site of Arkansas Children’s Hospital Northwest Friday morning – fitting given that Gibson was a native a Springdale and the son of Legacy National Bank President Don Gibson.
“We’re so excited about this gift, about precision medicine and about Arkansas Children’s Northwest in Springdale,” said Don Gibson. “The Arkansas Children’s Research Institute is on the leading edge of looking at children as individuals and developing appropriate treatments based on each child’s needs. It is an honor to be a part of this program and the new children’s hospital in Springdale.”
The Gibson family was emotional with the presentation of this gift in honor of Ryan. Don Gibson told Talk Business & Politics he was too emotional to speak at the podium but the love and support from the community with respect to this gift has been amazing. Derek Gibson, brother to Ryan, spoke on behalf of the family saying they have carried Ryan’s pain with them over the years and this gift is about furthering his goal to stop leukemia in children.
Ryan Gibson was diagnosed with leukemia in 1995 at the age of 19. He underwent a successful bone marrow transplant to treat leukemia and graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas in 2000. In January 2001, while Gibson was waiting to get into medical school he became ill with pneumonia. Because of his compromised immune system he was unable to fight off the illness and died Jan. 30, 2001. He was 25 years old.
Gibson’s family and friends established Ryan’s foundation with a goal of finding a cure for Leukemia. Foundation President Scott “Hook” Harmeling said because of his struggle, it was Ryan Gibson’s purpose in life to end the disease that affects a new person every three minutes in the U.S. Last year 171,550 people were diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma. While medical science has increased life expectancy, 160 people die each day from leukemia and related blood cancers. Between 2006 and 2011 the five-year survival rate was 62%. much better than the 34% between 1975 and 1977 and just 14% in the early 1960s, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
“Those of us who loved Ryan work together to carry on Ryan’s dream. Through grants and contributions supporting research and treatments for leukemia, we feel we can accomplish what Ryan set out to do, which was to save lives,” Harmeling said.
Fred Scarborough, chief development officer of Arkansas Children’s, said the gifts from Gibson’s Foundation and Trinity Foundation will impact the lives of countless children over the region.
“It’s an excellent example of the great work that can be accomplished when champions for children work together,” Scarborough added. “Ryan’s legacy will live on in the smiles of children who will be cancer free thanks to the groundbreaking research funded by this gift.”
Kearns said the funding of nearly $2 million is a great start to launch research. He said studying the genome is key in precision medicine.
“In 2017 we have the human genome and for the first time we have the ability in the context of clinical care to not only know about a child’s disease and understand children are different, but we can look into the genome and find things that may predict what certain drugs might work and which ones might cause side-effects and so there is not nearly as much trial error today. Precision medicine is about getting it right the first time and every time,” Kearns said. “We believe at Arkansas Children’s that every child deserves that no matter what their zip code is. With more than 220,000 kids living in the region compared to 740,000 in the whole state, we hope to have all the kids in the state wrapped up into one network up here and Arkansas Children’s Northwest can help us do that. It will be the conduit to make miracles happen. This hospital brings care closer to home, but I say we also want to bring discovery close to care.”
While there are no formal plans for a research center at the Springdale campus, Kearns said it would make sense in many ways given there are different populations in Northwest Arkansas than other areas of the state. He said the Marshallese community in Springdale is one demographic that has not been studied. He said this group experiences much higher rates of diabetes, even in teens. In the future he hopes to one day have some of the ACRI staff based in Springdale.
Kearns said research can now take DNA from the tumor and the child and grow that tumor in the laboratory while exposing it to different drug treatments and measuring the responses before those drugs are ever given to the child. To make that happen it requires sick children and the goal is to get that learning from the bench to the bedside much quicker. He said while the most common form of leukemia is now about 90% curable in children, another form known as acute myelogenous leukemia is not as curable. It occurs less frequently and so not as much research has directed at AML.
“We have a young cancer specialist doing research in this area and he gets our full support because we think he’s going to find something here,” Kearns said.
Kearns said he’s impressed with the number of biomedical startups in the region and having access to Arkansas Children’s and its research arm will perhaps enable some of the companies to grow.
“The University of Arkansas Health Science in Fayetteville also helps build a foundation for research growth in the region,” Kearns added.