btcccr – four years later

When the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research (BTCCCR) opened in July of 2011 it was virtually empty. The lab benches were bare. The staff was minimal. Within these walls we could only imagine the possibility.

lab20153Empty lab space
(and Ryan when kids were allowed in the lab!)

Fast forward four years, the opening of three clinical trials, the arrival of Dr. Crane and Dr. Kean, along with their research teams – plus fellows, interns, staff and more (over 80 people!) and the BTCCCR looks and feels much different.

lab2015

This month the BTCCCR will welcome it’s newest scientific additions – Drs. Kalia and Sarkar, Professors of Immunology from Penn State University. With their arrival we celebrate another milestone: the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research lab space is now officially FULL! All 25,000 square feet that was dedicated four years ago to pediatric cancer research is being fully used to push these novel therapies forward. #amazing

lab20154

Drs. Kalia and Sarkar’s lab boxes upon arrival to the BTCCCR
(photo taken by Dr. Jensen himself )

On Tuesday afternoon while I was at the Center I had the chance to take it all in and ask Dr. Jensen a little more about Drs. Kalia and Sarkar’s work. Here is what he said:

“Drs. Kalia and Sarkar come to the BTCCCR from one of the best immunotherapy labs in the country. They specialize in looking at how do healthy and successful T cells establish themselves in the body as protective. They bring a deep foundation as to how the immune system works – therefore we will be able to design our therapies with more knowledge. We will begin evolving their work into our tumor models with the goal to take on the harder types of childhood cancers (i.e. brain tumors, sarcomas and neuroblastoma) with more depth and understanding to our approach.”

You can read more about their important research in this great article published last month. But here is my favorite quote from the piece:

“We hope that this research will help immunotherapies not only secure the present, but also ensure the cancer is gone forever, or at least if not gone, your body will already have soldiers stationed to take care of the cancer for the rest of your life.”
– Dr. Sarkar

Translation for the rest of us: they are going to help the T cells remember the cancer it killed. That way if it ever comes back in the future kids won’t need a new infusion of reprogrammed T cells – they will remember.

I will remember as well – what it felt like to walk those empty halls. And now four years later the Center is full. As is my heart.