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Crosby’s Fund Continues to Leave Its Footprint

Strong Kids Newsletter

CrosbyCrosby Wilmot was just 13 months old when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nervous system. He fought a spirited battle against the disease for 11 months and passed away in August 2011, just one month shy of his second birthday. Crosby’s legacy continues to live on, however, in the research being done in his name and the various community events that make the former possible.

Thanks to the determination of Crosby’s parents Zoe and Kevin Wilmot and an outpouring of support from the community, Crosby’s Fund has made remarkable progress in neuroblastoma research and continues to pave the way for a better future for pediatric cancer patients, offering a better overall understanding of treatments and hope for a cure. The local charity was established in 2011 in conjunction with UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital and James P. Wilmot Cancer Institute. Since then, family, friends and the Rochester community have helped raise more than $1,130,000 for pediatric cancer research. To date, 100 percent of all funds raised have gone to help kids with cancer. With the University’s help and the community’s support, the Fund continues to thrive.

Innovative Neuroblastoma Research

Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Pediatrician-in-Chief and the William H. Eilinger Chair of Pediatrics Nina F. Schor, M.D., Ph.D., is nationally known for her research in neuroblastoma. Schor leads the Laboratory for Pre-clinical Neuropharmacology, a lab funded by the William H. Eilinger Endowment and Crosby’s Fund. Determined to make the largest impact with funds raised, Zoe and Kevin Wilmot were excited to find Schor, someone who was as eager about neuroblastoma research as they were.

Crosby's FundIn 2012, Crosby’s Fund made a generous commitment, matched by the Department of Pediatrics, to recruit Xingguo Li, M.D., a full-time research assistant professor and molecular biologist, to study neuroblastoma in Schor’s laboratory. In just over two years, Li’s work has garnered exciting results. The Schor lab has been focusing on the Sine Oculis Homeobox (SIX) family of proteins, which has led to a deeper understanding of how neuroblastoma resists chemotherapy and has revealed unique links among mutations that are found in some families of neuroblastoma, proteins responsible for regulating tumor growth, and enzymes that allow a cancer cell to repair the damage caused by chemotherapy. The SIX proteins have been implicated in other cancers, but have never before been studied in neuroblastoma. Research like this could lead to multiple opportunities for further study.

In the short-term, this project will help to better understand how these tumor growth proteins may be linked to genetic mutations and may play a role in chemotherapy resistance. In the long-term, this science may help to pave the way for the identification of a new group of “drugable” targets for therapy or to better tailor treatments.

In recent months, Li and Schor have been collaborating with Dirk Bohmann, Ph.D., at the University of Rochester and Haitao Li, M.D., at Tsinghua University in China, taking a deeper look at a specific protein and how it interacts with the SIX proteins, particularly in the development of fruit flies. A fruit fly model gives the researchers an inexpensive and fast way to show how different drugs might change the function of these proteins that are thought to play a role in the development of neuroblastoma.

Recently, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry has provided matching funds that allow postdoctoral research fellow Jeanne Hansen, Ph.D., to work with Schor and Li in hopes of speeding up the process of turning an idea into an actual treatment strategy. The preliminary data they present at national meetings and in scientific papers will be critical for obtaining the kind of national funding necessary to bring this all to fruition. This progression to the national arena is only possible because of Crosby’s Fund.

“We believe we are on one path that will unlock some of the mysteries of this disease, and with further support, we can use that information to effect a cure and maybe even preventive measures for neuroblastoma,” said Schor.   

In addition to providing funding for research in Schor’s lab, Crosby’s Fund has also provided backing for grants. In 2013, the organization funded $50,000 for a seed grant for a neuroblastoma research project in the University of Rochester Medical Center, of which Mark Noble, M.D., professor of Neurology, Genetics, Neurobiology, and Anatomy and director of the University of Rochester Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Institute, was the recipient. Noble and his colleagues have been working on new treatment approaches using already approved drugs, which may shorten the time between discovery and possible use in patients.

Community Support

Several fundraising events have contributed a great deal to the research progress being made in neuroblastoma at the University of Rochester. From a yoga event, to a wine tasting, to a 5K and much more, the Rochester community – and beyond – has rallied behind Crosby’s Fund.

In September 2013, a charity dinner was held at REDD, a restaurant owned and operated by Rochester native Richard Reddington in California’s Napa Valley that raised $150,000 for pediatric cancer research, half of which went to Crosby’s Fund. A wine tasting event on the roof of Rochester’s Strathallan Hotel with Dave Christa of Christa Construction and American professional golfer Cristie Kerr brought in $5,000 for Crosby’s Fund in August. Guests sampled some of Kerr’s own Curvature wine and enjoyed heavy hor’dourves. Two events in September 2014, including “Yoga for a Cause” and the George Eastman House Photo Finish 5K – held just 10 days apart with 100 attendees each – raised more than $88,500. The Fund also received an anonymous $250,000 donation over the summer which put Crosby’s Fund over the $1 million mark for total funds raised!

The future continues to look bright for fundraising. Crosby’s Fund has been chosen to be one of the beneficiaries to share proceeds from the 2015 Rochester Business Classic golf tournament.  If all goes well, this will be a six year relationship that could raise over $100,000 in total. 

“More doors keep opening for us,” Zoe said. “When I’m not sure what we’re going to do next, something pops up. It’s an honor that so many people are committed to carrying on Crosby’s legacy and making a difference for pediatric cancer research. Whatever we can do to help Crosby leave his footprint on this world is always appreciated.”      

To find out how you can support Crosby’s Fund, please visit www.crosbysfund.org or contact Stephanie Sheets, assistant director of community affairs at URMC Advancement, at (585) 275-2268.