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Annual Newsletter



February 2023


Dear Friends,


We greatly appreciate your support of the Garrett B. Smith Foundation (GBSF) and want to provide you with a brief update.  Heidi and I established the foundation in memory of our four-year-old son who passed away on January 30, 1995 after a brief struggle with cancer.  Over the years, the foundation has raised $5 million and spent $4 million on original programs to help seriously ill children. We plan to rely on our endowment to fund these programs going forward. 


GBSF’s single largest expenditure (now $92K annually) remains clown care at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. Dr. Chester Drawers (Leo Desilets), a GBSF clown since the inception of our program in 1997, supervises 9 professionals - “Doctors” Quackenbush, Ya Don’t Say, Bafu, Lily Pad, Sprocket, Valenkina, Kapluff, Rocket and Fil-E-Buster – more than double our staff a year ago.  The crew visits all pediatric units of the hospital, including surgery, hematology-oncology, emergency, intensive care, neurology, short stay, and psychiatry. In late 2022, we extended our contract with Healthy Humor, a nonprofit which manages clown care units at 15 hospitals nationwide, for two more years.


Our GBSF research fellows, Dr. Sandra Ryeom and Dr. Charles Roberts, continue to pioneer new cancer treatments.  We started funding these doctors when they were young investigators.  Both now run significant laboratories and have achieved international recognition. We’ve summarized their 2022 accomplishments here.  Additional details are available upon request. 


Thanks to a most generous lead gift by Peter Wright through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, our fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. Sandra Ryeom is now endowed in perpetuity.  In 2021, Dr. Ryeom moved her team from the University of Pennsylvania to the Irving Medical Center at Columbia University, and our fellowship moved with her. At Columbia, she utilizes biopsy tissue from patients to generate mini-organoids rife with gastric and esophageal cancers. Her lab then tests existing drugs, and combinations of drugs, against these mini-organoids to determine the key genomic tumor drivers, as well as the toxicity of the treatments.  In 2022, Dr. Ryeom expanded the scope of her research to include T-cell immunotherapies currently on the leading edge of the battle with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.  She is collaborating with other labs that generate these cells, known as chimeric antigen receptors (CAR-T), to test if they can recognize and kill solid, gastric tumors.  If these studies prove successful in the mini-organoids in her lab, they may pave the way towards a clinical trial.


Dr. Charles Roberts at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis has continued his ground-breaking research on deadly pediatric rhabdoid tumors and their underlying SWI/SNF gene complex, present in 25% of all cancers.  Last year, we highlighted FDA approval of Epizyme’s Tazverik for treatment of both rhabdoid tumors as well as adult lymphomas.  This year, we are pleased to report that four clinicians in the US and Japan have published papers highlighting signs that the drug may lead to improved outcomes for patients.  Of course, we are still early in the trial process, the disease may evolve to resist treatment, and other drugs will likely need to be combined with Tazverik to deliver a long-term benefit.  To this end, Dr. Roberts’ lab has now uncovered two genes that might cause resistance to Tazverik and detailed a possible alternative treatment in a paper published in the July 2022 issue of the Molecular Cell journal.  Dr. Roberts has three additional papers submitted for publication this year.  Finally, Dr. Roberts’ collaboration with researchers at Dana Farber and the Broad Institute in Cambridge to sketch a pediatric cancer dependency map has been expanded to a multitude of aggressive childhood cancers. 


Dr. Roberts’ success clearly merits permanent funding.  GBSF’s contribution ($50K annually) represents roughly 10% of Dr. Roberts’ total budget; the remainder is largely supplied by NIH grants.  We renewed our fellowship in 2022 but would welcome outside support to extend it beyond 2024.  Please let us know if you have an interest. 


Heidi and I are extremely proud of the accomplishments of the Garrett B. Smith Foundation.  Our efforts remain a labor of love for our son and his memory.  Although Garrett’s been gone for more than 25 years, his words still brighten our every day: “Sun’s up - time to play!”


Thank you,


Scott and Heidi Smith

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