Annual Newsletter

March 2022

 

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 over $5 million and spent almost $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 ($82K annually) remains clown care at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. After a tumultuous eighteen months due to the pandemic, we are pleased to report that our clowns are back on a regular schedule at Yale, bringing smiles to young patients, their families and staff three days each week.  Dr. Chester Drawers (Leo Desilets), a GBSF clown since inception in 1997, supervises Dr. Quackenbush, Dr. Ya Don’t Say, Dr. Bafu, and Dr. Lily Pad on their visits to all pediatric units of the hospital, including surgery, hematology-oncology, emergency, intensive care, neurology, short stay, and psychiatry. Our clowns operate under the management umbrella of Healthy Humor, a nonprofit which replaced the financially distressed Big Apple Circus in 2017 and now delivers “clowning” to 15 hospitals nationwide.

 

Our two 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 have provided a summary of their work here and have attached their detailed reports for your review. 

   

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 is expanding her research into gastroesophageal cancers utilizing biopsy tissue from patients to generate mini-organoids in the lab. Incorporating 3D nanotechnology unique to Columbia, Dr. Ryeom is able to model blood vessel and tumor growth as she tests different combinations of therapies. She hopes that this approach will speed the introduction of cancer-fighting drugs into the clinical trials process.  In addition, her team cultivates lung organoids to screen for drugs to block SARS-CoV-2 infections, a disastrous side effect of COVID-19.

 

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.  In 2021, Dr. Roberts collaborated with researchers at Dana Farber and the Broad Institute to sketch a pediatric cancer dependency map identifying vulnerabilities in aggressive childhood cancers.  This map has enabled Dr. Roberts’ team to submit two manuscripts for publication with a third in the works.  Last year, we highlighted FDA approval of Epizyme’s Tazverik for treatment of both rhabdoid tumors as well as adult lymphomas. It is still too early for the publication of data on the efficacy of the drug but preliminary indications appear to have a positive bent. This year, Dr. Roberts utilized CRISPR technology to spotlight genes that could cause resistance to Tazverik in an effort to develop an effective “cocktail” of treatments. 

 

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 plan to extend our fellowship again in 2022 but would welcome outside support to renew in 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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