A group of students from Beach Grove Elementary got the chance to see the fruits of their fundraising efforts.
The Grade 6 students recently visited the Child and Family Research Institute (CFRI) at B.C. Children's Hospital where they had the opportunity to see where the money they have helped raise over the last five years is being used in the fight against pediatric brain cancer.
Each year, the youngsters draw Christmas pictures that are turned into cards and sold to raise money for the Hannah's Heroes Foundation.
It's become a Christmas tradition in the community and an annual fundraiser for the foundation. Over the years, the Christmas card sale has raised more than $18,000 for the foundation and every penny has been donated to the CFRI.
The Hannah's Heroes Foundation was established in September 2007 in memory of Hannah Hatlen. The little girl from Tsawwassen was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at four years old. She died at year later.
The Christmas card tradition actually started in 2006 when Hannah was in kindergarten at Beach Grove. One student saw she was sick and decided something needed to be done to help.
Ben Lock, who is now 10 and in Grade 6, said when he saw Hannah was ill he wanted to find a way to help her. He said he went home and talked to his mom about it and they came up with the idea to make and sell Christmas cards to raise money to help the family.
"Now, it's making a difference," he said after touring the labs at the hospital.
Foundation president Cheryl Hamilton, Hannah's aunt, said the group, which is run entirely by volunteers, is celebrating its fifth year and wanted to do something to thank its supporters so it organized the lab tour for the kids.
The annual Christmas card campaign is one of the foundation's most successful fundraising and awareness activities.
Hamilton said that in the five years since Hannah's Heroes inception, the foundation has raised about $200,000 through its various campaigns and another $100,000 in matched funds and grants.
The research into pedi-atric brain cancer being carried out by Dr. Sandra Dunn and her team at the CFRI is almost entirely funded by Hannah's Heroes. Funds raised by the foundation have helped purchase lab equipment. As well, the foundation has established several fellowships to support graduate students working on the project.
The overall goal of the team's research is to identify safer, more effective treatments for pediatric brain tumours. The work being done will also trickle down to aid in other cancer research.
"We really start with children and work up to adults," Dunn said.
Dunn and the lab work closely with Hannah's Heroes, sharing information and discoveries, and letting the foundation know what is needed.
"I love the communication I have with the foundation because it keeps it real," Dunn said. "They keep us grounded."
Dunn and her research team recently announced an exciting discovery. The scientists discovered that brain tumour cells are "addicted" to a particular protein, Polo-like kinase-1 (PLK-1), and need it to survive. To complicate things, Dunn said, there is a small population of brain tumour initiating cells (BTICs) that can form tumours and cause drug resistance and cancer relapse. These cells are difficult to completely eradicate and resistant to many of the drugs used to treat cancer patients.
The research team has discovered that using a drug to inhibit the PLK-1 protein can significantly suppress the growth of brain tumours and BTCIs. As well, the research shows when PLK1 is blocked only the cancer cells died while normal cells remain unharmed, making it an attractive option for treating pediatric brain cancers.
The team is working towards moving the PLK-1 study into clinical trials.
Hamilton said the foundation is grateful for the community's support.
The Hannah's Heroes Christmas cards are now on sale. Cards cost $12 for 12 and can be purchased at the Tsawwassen Scotiabank and Albany Books. Cards will be on sale at the Tsawwassen Safeway on Sunday. The cards can also be purchased at a few locations on Granville Island.
For more information, or larger orders, email info@ hannahsheroes.com or visit www.hannahsheroes.com.