August 6, 2013 | by Nicole White
“Better health for all that come through our doors.” “Get well soon, y’all, there is hope!” “We will soon find a cure.”
These are among the well-wishes recently added to the wish trees in City of Hope’s Graff Plaza. They joined wishes contributed throughout the past year by staff, patients and loved ones whose sentiments similarly included “I hope my dad’s new cells like him” and “I wish there was no cancer.”
City of Hope recently marked the one-year anniversary of the trees, adapted from Japanese tradition. At the ceremony, visitors were encouraged to share their own wishes and read others' wishes as well because each time the hopes are reread, they're rewished.
Here, however, the heartfelt words are not just wishes. They’re also reminders of the work that happens daily at City of Hope, with physicians and scientists determined to make these wishes a reality. Already City of Hope has a century-old tradition of turning wishes into meaningful and effective treatments – from being among the pioneers in bone marrow transplantation, to creating synthetic insulin still used by millions of diabetes patients to unveiling a new generation of “smart” cancer drugs.
One of the most common wishes on the trees is to end cancer for good.
Researchers are working on it. Some are exploring new avenues of treating pediatric neuroblastomas, devastating tumors that affect about 600 children in the United States each year. Recent research suggests that a specific peptide could be useful in fighting these brain tumors, and have been effective in laboratory models, especially with more severe tumors.
Others are trying to improve treatments for prostate cancer, the most common type of cancer with more than 238,000 new cases expected in the U.S. this year, according to the National Cancer Institute. And already, City of Hope scientists have found a drug that their research indicates is capable of inhibiting aggressive forms of prostate cancer that are resistant to standard drug treatments.Such work holds special promise because at City of Hope, breakthroughs occur with impressive frequency.
Researchers recently received a $1 million W. M. Keck Foundation grant to study a “lock and key” interaction that has the potential to fight not just cancer but other diseases as well. This interaction, named a meditope, lies in the middle of monoclonal antibodies. A peptide can attach to the site, acting as a hitch that will allow drugs to be connected to the antibodies.
This promising discovery could be the key to effectively harnessing the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Researchers have their own wishes too. Gerald Wuenschell, Ph.D., manager of City of Hope’s biomarker identification core laboratory, composed a poem to hang on a wish tree. He tied it this to one of the lower branches, on a tag emblazoned with the institution's 100 anniversary celebration logo.
“Imagine, we will soon fulfill A future we can touch and see When moved by patients’ strength of will Through healers’ art and scientists’ skill Of illness grim we will be free And this fair City need no longer be …”
At least not for cancer. In 1913, when tuberculosis ravaged the nation, City of Hope began as 10 acres and a pair of clapboard cottages to provide free care to the sick. In the 1940s, when antibiotics turned the tide against the disease, City of Hope evolved into a full medical, research and education center. That plan too started with a wish, championed by executive director Samuel H. Golter: “There is no profit in curing the body if, in the process, we destroy the soul.”
Our wish for the tree is that medical breakthroughs turn the tide on cancer, so that City of Hope may focus on the next frontier.