Impact of Giving

These are the stories of the individuals and foundations who help advance Chicago medicine and science through their vision and philanthropy.

Samuel Volchenboum, MD, PhD

Donor Stories

Children’s Research Foundation Supports Pediatrics, Saves Lives

Since 1970, the Children’s Research Foundation has given more than $763,000 to pediatric research at the University of Chicago Medical Center. The non-profit, volunteer-driven foundation made up of 15 members, awards grants annually to investigators who present proposals that exemplify the organization’s mission.

Behind the walls of a bustling research laboratory at the University of Chicago, Samuel Volchenboum, MD, PhD, is cultivating new ways of understanding how neuroblastoma tumor cells grow, metastasize, and evade treatment. Neuroblastoma, the most common form of childhood cancer, currently has no known cause. “Despite all that we do know about this tumor, many children with neuroblastoma die from their disease,” Volchenboum says.

To combat the disheartening prognosis that patients with neuroblastoma and other pediatric diseases receive, a group formed more than 50 years ago to support the research efforts of young investigators like Volchenboum.

That group, the Children’s Research Foundation (CRF), has given more than $763,000 to pediatric research at the University of Chicago Medical Center since 1970. Grantees are able to purchase laboratory equipment, medicines, and other materials that aid them in their research.

“Securing funding for basic research has become increasingly difficult over the past 10 years,” Volchenboum says. “Without CRF’s gift, it would have been very difficult for me to launch a research career.”

Saving lives by giving
At the helm of CRF is President Maryann Keifer, who says every bit of the group’s effort is worthwhile, particularly if it leads to saving a child’s life. “It’s so much more lucrative for these doctors to go into private practice, but if we can get them really interested in research then so many more children will reap the benefits,” says Keifer.

A member of CRF for almost 30 years, Keifer is thankful that she never experienced the loss of a child through illness, but has grieved with fellow members whose paths were not as fortunate. Some members have lost children to cancer while others are still caring for their ailing loved ones.

Each spring, the group hosts a silent auction, which is one part of a larger fundraising initiative, along with their holiday mailing appeal in the fall. The rest of the money they raise comes from private donations, memorials, and honorariums. “We don’t give up,” Keifer says with a smile. “It’s easy to give money, but sometimes you need to be the one who goes out and helps raise it.”

The group’s oldest member, and some might say the spunkiest, is Geraldine Alvarez, PhB, ’34, who’s been a member since 1957. Alvarez, 96, who previously was responsible for the group’s annual newsletter, focuses on assisting with fundraising events. “She has been instrumental in picking up new and grateful donors,” Keifer says of Alvarez. “She is just a marvel.”

Small in numbers, large in impact
Although small in numbers, the impact of CRF is huge, says Jeremy Marks, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and the group’s scientific advisor. “These people are tremendous. They don’t have a large phone bank of people calling to raise money. These are ordinary people who use their evenings and weekends to raise money themselves.”

As scientific advisor, Marks runs a competition for investigators, allowing them to submit their research proposals and then determining which ones will be submitted to the CRF for approval. He receives between 8 and 12 proposals a year. “The value of these funds is just incalculable to these junior investigators,” he says. “It enables them to contribute to the research effort that their mentors are supervising.”

A CRF grantee himself, Marks says the money he received was instrumental in allowing him to set up his lab and to successfully compete for National Institutes of Health funding while he studied the mechanisms of brain injury in children. “It’s been tremendously rewarding on a personal level,” he says of his role. “When we deal with funding agencies, they’re faceless for the most part because they’re large and institutional. But with the CRF, I get to interact with wonderfully warm and dedicated people who just want to make things better for kids.”

For Volchenboum, a two-time grant recipient, the data that he is generating right now through research is both exciting and promising. “I’m hopeful that because of this opportunity, children once diagnosed with neuroblastoma will be able to grow and become adults who have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.”

For more information on the Children’s Research Foundation, contact Karen Pekow at kpekow@mcdmail.uchicago.edu.

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