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Childhood cancer grant given in honor of Virginia Beach child

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation announced that its “TEAM ABBY Gives St. Baldrick’s Hero Fund,” created in honor of Abby Furco from Virginia Beach, Va., will support lifesaving childhood cancer research at the University of Pennsylvania.

This year’s “TEAM ABBY Gives St. Baldrick’s Scholar,” Dr. Saba Ghassemi from the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, was awarded $330,000 to support her research focused on enhancing CAR-T cell therapy in acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

Ghassemi’s work will provide insight into the components regulating CAR expression in resting T cells, which has immediate translational relevance for cellular immunotherapies against ALL. She plans to develop new approaches to express CAR genes in quiescent T cells eliminating the current need for prior activation. These approaches will generate T cells with enhanced function in a shorter time period.

Improving the quality of the CAR-T cell product, in an expedited manner, will be of immense benefit to patients as they wait for their treatment.

TEAM ABBY was formed in honor of 12-year-old Abby, a spunky girl who loves the colors green and blue, reading, camping, playing Minecraft and spending time with her sisters and friends. In February 2011, she was diagnosed with Pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia (Pre-B ALL).

After Abby was in remission for 11 months, she relapsed in September 2014, and in January 2015 she received a bone marrow transplant. Now, Abby is back in remission, but is dealing with a common side effect of a bone marrow transplant called “acute graft versus host disease,” when the immune cells in the tissue donor recognize the recipient as foreign.

“We are so thankful for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Dr. Ghassemi and other researchers like her for giving us hope,” said Patty Furco, Abby’s mom. “We hope that one day we will live in a world where childhood cancer is in the past. TEAM ABBY, consisting of family, friends, community members and strangers bound together in support, is honored to be a small part in that quest by raising money that could benefit Abby and others like her.”

Despite all the challenges that Abby and her family have faced over the last few years, Abby has maintained her spunky attitude and has grown a love for cooking. The TEAM ABBY Gives Hero Fund was created to unite all of Abby’s supporters into one incredible effort to honor her and to inspire others to help find cures and better treatments for all kids battling cancer.

Since 2012, the TEAM ABBY Gives Hero Fund has raised more than $170,000 to support the most promising childhood cancer research. St. Baldrick’s Hero Funds are an ongoing way for friends, family members and groups to donate or raise funds to honor a loved one.

To learn more about the program, visit the St. Baldrick’s Hero Fund page.