Prayers From Maria has raised more than $7 million for cancer research

January 25th, 2021

By Linda Gandee

AVON, Ohio -- Twenty-five acres of sunflowers in Avon and eight additional acres in Sandusky are really paying off in research funds for Prayers From Maria.

The Avon-based foundation has now raised more than $7.85 million.

The fields reflect the foundation’s philosophy: Seeds planted by the beautiful lives of children gone too soon will continue to bloom for others.

The funds raised are the “seeds” that have allowed Prayers From Maria (PFM) to provide meaningful grants to organizations delving into the causes of children’s brain tumors.

Grants are multiplying and spreading out to organizations that look at the problem from different perspectives and create research designed to help solve the puzzle of children’s brain cancers -- particularly gliomas, the brain cancer that took the life of PFM founders Ed and Meghan McNamara’s daughter in 2007 when she was only 7 years old.

After their daughter Maria’s death, the couple started PFM.

The organization keeps its staff small but effective, according to Meghan. She noted, “We are proud to say that only 8 percent goes to management and overhead.”

Following are brief descriptions of 10 of the array of organizations, and the focus of their research, funded by grants from PFM:

• $50,000 to DIPG All-In Initiative/National Institute of Health. Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) is a rare tumor of the brainstem. This funding optimizes promising therapeutics prior to hospitalization. The objective is to strengthen the rationale and improve efficiency of early clinical trials while providing a clinical benefit to children with highly aggressive brain tumors by expanding valuable pre-clinical information. “ALL IN” DIPG is a novel public-private partnership initiated by the National Cancer Institute to coordinate DIPG studies and better qualify drug candidates for clinical trials.

• $100,000 to MetroHealth Medical Center, Cleveland. This grant went to funding breakthrough research regarding a family of proteins responsible for driving glioma cell infiltration in the brain. Thanks to PFM seed funding, this study garnered $3.3 million in supplemental funding from the National Cancer Institute and other funders, which led to the discovery of two routes of genetic manipulations that could dramatically diminish brain tumor invasion.

• $200,000 to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This funded the participation of the largest genomic analysis to date of pediatric brain tumors. This study has allowed researchers a new understanding of the nature of these tumors, which led to the development of more innovative models that helped investigators advance to testing new drugs in the laboratory.

• $250,000 Melana Matson Memorial Grant. This funding was awarded to Case Western Reserve University’s Case Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers. This grant supported the study of the use of nanotechnology to deliver more targeted and less toxic chemotherapy to brain tumors. This funding led to a newly designed nanoparticle and a $2.82 million National Institute of Health grant.

• $200,000 Brooks Blackmore Memorial Grant. This funding was given to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute for a national clinical trial to deliver the most promising therapies for patients based on their genomics. This trial’s unique nature allows for new therapies to be incorporated as they are discovered and developed, to help children battle the most aggressive brain tumors.

• $50,000 Josh Metzger Memorial Fox Trot Grant. This grant was given to the Cleveland Clinic to fund epigenetics research (the study of how behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way genes work) and develop new sets of treatments to improve the life expectancy in children with deadly brain tumors. This new research involved the identification of specific inhibitor molecules that would make radiation more effective in fighting brain cancer.

• $250,000 Jax Stone Memorial Grant. This funding went to Washington University to study how sex differences in epigenetics impacts the genesis of pediatric high-grade glioma. Success in this study will lead to the development of sex-specific epigenetic therapies for children with brain tumors to optimize efficacy and minimize long-term consequences.

• $80,000 Kasey Mikes Memorial Grant. The Kasey Mikes grant is the first PFM grant to a young researcher. It is designed to provide desperately needed start-up-funds and to encourage top young talent to commit to a long-term focus on childhood brain cancer research. This grant was awarded to Carl Koschmann at the University of Michigan, who is studying the efficacy of new drugs with precision therapy and using new techniques to monitor the progress.

• $50,000 Kari McCloskey Memorial Grant. These funds were given to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to continue to build on the groundbreaking findings derived from PFM’s last grant to Dana-Farber. With these funds, Dana-Farber will start identifying a series of agents that attack specific aspects of the glioma’s biology by utilizing experimental drugs on the newly discovered targets from the previous trial.

• $500,000 Abby Streszoff Memorial Grant. This funding goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of Cincinnati, bringing together two of the most advanced pediatric neuro-oncology translational and clinical programs in the world. In collaboration with experts from England and Germany, this grant provides funding for a project that uses drugs to inhibit key molecules to reverse the effects of a specific mutation found in 30 percent of glioma tumors. The goal is to translate their findings into treating patients who need these therapies the most and study the prevention of resistance to these treatments.

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