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Committed to a Positive and Lasting Impact: The Engelstad Foundation

Read Time: 3 minutes

Samuel Cheshier, MD, PhD working in a lab

Samuel Cheshier, MD, PhD, and the Neurologic Cancers Center team at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) are working to find better treatments for brain cancer, particularly pediatric brain cancer. Many primary brain tumors are incurable from the start, and currently, none are curable once they recur. The need for novel, effective therapies is critical.

As a pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Cheshier witnesses firsthand the devastation that malignant brain tumors cause both patients and their families. The desire to help them motivates his basic science research, with the goal of translating experiments into therapies. 

Kris Engelstad McGarry and the Engelstad Foundation trustees are big believers in living investments. Founded in 2002, their mission is to help organizations and individuals take their efforts and impact to the next level. Kris and their board are driven to support those organizations and watch them flourish.

In 2020, the Engelstad Foundation funded a $100,000 grant at HCI to study a potential immunotherapy treatment for pediatric brain tumors.

“We’ve seen how Huntsman Cancer Institute has positively transformed lives in Utah and well beyond,” Kris says. “HCI’s work in the pediatric space is both admirable and necessary to ultimately beat cancer—particularly in our youngest population. We need to support the best and brightest minds out there in their research endeavors. This gift is our way of showing that support.”

Samuel Cheshier, MD, PhD using microscope

Pediatric brain tumors not only have poor outcomes, but the patient’s quality of life is also limited due to treatment side effects and other conditions, like hydrocephalus, which occur during treatment. Leveraging the knowledge gained from this immunotherapy phase I trial will also potentially help reduce the effects of hydrocephalus and other issues that impact patient quality of life.

“Funding for pediatric brain tumors is limited, in spite of the fact that they are the number one cause of cancer death in children. We are so grateful for this generous gift from the Englestad Foundation, which allows us to study a tumor that is quite deadly,” says Dr. Cheshier. “This phase I clinical trial will help us improve the quality of life for our patients and find new ways to combat pediatric brain tumors.”

The Engelstad Foundation gift supports a clinical trial that will be the first in the world to apply a new immunotherapy to children. This clinical trial tests a therapy called anti-CD47, which targets a protein found on cancer cells called CD47. Anti-CD47 is a potent cancer treatment and has improved outcomes in more than three dozen different human cancers. This trial will determine anti-CD47 toxicity in children and adults with recurrent/untreatable primary brain tumors through a rarely used clinical trial design that offers anti-CD47 to children sooner rather than later. This allows adults and children to be trialed at the same time. The anti-CD47 trial for pediatric brain tumor patients exemplifies HCI’s commitment to children with cancer.

Kris, a cancer survivor, has personally experienced the impact of cancer on individuals and families. Kris and her family foundation are inspired to reduce the chance that other families ever have to endure a cancer diagnosis.

“Cancer research and treatment has evolved tremendously in my lifetime,” says Kris, “with the innovation, ingenuity, and technology we have today. There is more hope now than ever before. In giving to various organizations, we’ve been able to see firsthand the selfless dedication that our doctors, researchers, and medical professionals put into their work each day. Having been inspired by them, we are hopeful and happy to help where we can.”

The Engelstad Foundation name predominantly pops up in Nevada and North Dakota, but their efforts are not restricted to a location or a cause. They are committed to go wherever they can help make a positive and lasting impact.

“Research is strengthening. The collective passion is there and now is the time,” Kris says. “We know more about cancer than at any other point in our history and together we can keep this momentum going. These are certainly interesting times we are living in, but we cannot waver or let up in the fight against cancer.”

Cancer touches all of us.