Groundbreaking Procedure Saves Children’s Sight
|Dr. David Abramson, chief of the ophthalmic oncology service at Sloan-Kettering.|
Until 2005, children who were not diagnosed early with retinoblastoma, a rare cancerous eye tumor, lost their eyes to save their lives.
Retinoblastoma is an “orphan disease,” one that affects only a small number of people, and therefore has not been “adopted” by the pharmaceutical industry because investment in developing treatments would never pay off. “These diseases also don’t get much federal funding,” says Len McNally, program director for health and people with special needs. “The Trust finds places where our money will make the most difference, so when a targeted treatment that saves the eye was developed, The Trust invested in a program to train pediatric ophthalmologists around the world to use it—and our investment has paid off again and again.”
Over the past seven years, The Trust has given Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center $600,000 to train doctors and other health professionals to treat retinoblastoma using intra-arterial chemotherapy. The authority on this treatment is Dr. David Abramson, chief of the ophthalmic oncology service at Sloan-Kettering. “The Trust has been with us from the very beginning of our efforts to transform the treatment of retinoblastoma,” says Abramson. “Early on, it recognized that to accomplish something new it would be prudent to invest in people and systems, not just projects.”
|The famous Broadway actor David Warfield left his estate to The Trust in 1951. Blind when he died, he asked us to help others with vision impairments. Today the fund supports services for the visually impaired such as computer and mobility training, health and social services, and employment assistance.|
Since 2006, Abramson and his team have performed the eye-saving procedure almost 500 times and taught pediatric intra-arterial chemotherapy to doctors in 27 countries.“Not only has no child in our care died from retinoblastoma, but [this treatment] has completely replaced the use of systemic chemotherapy and its many side effects for these children . . . We are saving 90% of the eyes we used to remove as recently as 6 years ago.”In 2010, The Trust awarded a two-year grant to Sloan-Kettering to start an ophthalmic oncology fellowship in retinoblastoma. His is one of the country’s first fellowships in the field.
The Trust combined income from the David Warfield Fund for visual disabilities, the Orland S. and Frances S. Greene Fund for people with cancer, and the Simon Finck Fund for the blind and those with cancer to make the grants. Abramson says: “Parents and children worldwide—most of whom cannot speak English and have never heard of The Trust—can enjoy a full life with vision because of the vision of The New York Community Trust.”
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