Student organization advocates for more pediatric cancer research funding
By Brad Morse
Student groups form for multiple reasons, ranging from general interests to philanthropy. One student organization has made it its mission to increase the amount of funding that goes to pediatric cancer research.
Founded in 2015, With Purpose hosts fundraising and awareness events throughout the year pushing for a larger portion of the federal cancer budget to be dedicated to pediatric cancer research. Currently the organization is working to increase student support for the “RACE for Children” act, a bill introduced to the United States Senate that would change how cancer drugs are tested for children.
“RACE for Children Act allows the FDA to require different studies and researchers to test developing cancer drugs in childhood cancers,” said allied health sophomore Dylana Nguyen. “It is an updated version of the PREA, Pediatric Research Equity Act, in which companies developing drugs for adults with cancers are required to look at molecular targets and test them in matching or similar molecular targets that are found in childhood cancers. This will open doors for childhood cancer treatments as children will be treated based on their molecular targets and not their specific cancers.”
Were the RACE Act to be passed, the immediate effect would go beyond medical research, said Courtney McIlvoy, management senior and co-founder of With Purpose.
“The impact of the RACE For Children Act, if passed, would be felt immediately by pharmaceutical companies, which would then be required to begin testing their treatments for children,” McIlvoy said. “The executive directors of both With Purpose and Kids V. Cancer lost their sons at early ages and are now doing anything they can for kids who are fighting pediatric cancer and still have a chance at a full life. So, if the RACE Act were to be passed, it would not only give hope to kids and families who are currently dealing with childhood cancer, but would also give solace to families who are in mourning.”
McIlvoy said the group is raising awareness by not only talking to students, but establishing themselves within the local community.
“One of our primary strategies to raise awareness is obviously by speaking to students and faculty within the Texas A&M community,” McIlvoy said. “We have a Campus Advertising team that lets students know about our events and explains what we are all about. Additionally, our Community Outreach team works to create and maintain partnerships with entities such as MD Anderson, the Ronald McDonald House Charities and local schools to increase exposure of our cause and organization. It’s an evolving process; we are constantly pursuing feedback in order to generate a bigger impact and more awareness of the issue.”
Communication junior and co-founder Cole Stenholm said the organization’s biggest method of raising awareness is through fundraising.
“In general, we raise awareness for childhood cancer research through our fundraising events throughout the semester,” Stenholm said. “We are all looking forward to our third annual Run With Purpose 5K on April 23 and highly encourage anyone interested in supporting this cause to sign up.”
McIlvoy said at the time she joined With Purpose her freshman year, the nonprofit was still new and operated out of Minnesota. She and a team of 10 students in a public speaking class were asked to host a public campaign for With Purpose in the Bryan-College Station area.
“With little instruction, we decided to host the first Run With Purpose 5K and partnered with Jamba Juice to do so,” McIlvoy said. “After our project was over, I approached the other students in my group and asked if they wanted to create an official Texas A&M student organization and continue our work. Most of them agreed and we are now completing our fifth semester in existence with four of the original co-founders still active members of the leadership team.”
Biomedical sciences senior Megan Nicholson said one of the ways students can show support for the group is to attend the 5K and contact their government representatives.
“All runners will receive a goodie bag that includes information about RACE and a link to a form letter that is automatically sent to representatives and senators,” Nicholson said. “We also are sharing this link on our social media accounts to encourage friends, family and fellow students to contact their representatives.”
Additional information about With Purpose, including the sign up for the 5K, how to join and more details on RACE for Children, can be found on their website: withpurposecs.org