This year, the Love Like Lexi Foundation will support the promising research of Lexi's Primary Oncologist,
Dr. Shahab Asgharzadeh.
Dr. Asgharzadeh is a a physician scientist and the principal investigator of the Asgharzadeh Laboratory at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.
His work is focused on lab and clinical research in immunotherapy, which helps the body's natural immune cells recognize cancer as unauthorized and fight against it. You can read more about his research on CAR T-cells for both neuroblastoma and brain tumors here.
In addition to being a brilliant scientist at the brink of breakthrough research for a cure, Dr. Asgharzadeh has also been a compassionate clinical Oncologist to Lexi and her family throughout her three-year battle. He developed a specialty treatment just for Lexi, which now has the chance to save the lives of future kids in her shoes. Read below for the full story.
Lexi Lee Walker fought a tough battle against neuroblastoma, but her triumph and legacy can be found in a new therapy that has the potential to bring breakthrough and save the lives of future kids in her shoes. However, more research and funding are needed to develop this promising therapy, of which Lexi was the pioneer.
Lexi was diagnosed with stage 4 high risk neuroblastoma at the age of 8 months old. We were relieved when she responded well to the frontline therapy and went into remission at the age of two. One month into remission, we got the devastating news that she relapsed with a new large tumor in her brain. We learned that the survival rate of neuroblastoma relapse in the central nervous system (CNS) is a mere 30%. But we still had hope. Surgery and radiation removed the tumor and she was cancer-free again. She enrolled in a clinical trial that was supposed to be "the most promising" treatment option for neuroblastoma CNS relapse available. Half way through the clinical trial, she relapsed again with several new tumors throughout her brain and spine. We were out of options. Out of hope.
Luckily, Lexi's primary Oncologist, Dr. Shahab Asgharzadeh, was not ready to give up just yet. Dr. Asgharzadeh is primarily a researcher who just happened to be doing one of his attending physician in-patient services the week that Lexi first came to CHLA. He took her onto his limited clinical caseload, and with his expertise in both neuroblastoma and brain tumor research and therapy, she could not have been in better hands. When we were all out of options and any other doctor would have stopped treatment, Dr. Asgharzadeh came up with some "out of the box" ideas to try, while simultaneously prioritizing Lexi's quality of life. Most significantly, he developed and obtained FDA approval for a brand new protocol that involved introducing a combination of antibodies + chemotherapy directly into the brain. A similar combination had proven successful in clearing Lexi's body (outside of the CNS) of neuroblastoma, but Lexi was the first patient to ever receive this combination injected directly into the brain. And guess what: the therapies worked! The tumors were shrinking, pretty significantly! Lexi's ultimate cause of death was unrelated to the current tumors or this new therapy, but rather to late effects of the more toxic treatments that she received earlier in her protocol. More research is needed to ensure that kids are able to get these new and safer treatments at just the right time, right dose, with the right combination, and as part of a proactive protocol instead of a last resort like Lexi.
In Lexi's memory, we would like to raise funds so that Dr. Asgharzadeh's research group can do just that: expand on the research that they started with Lexi by continuing to enhance the efficacy of combining chemo + antibodies to fight tumors in the brain, and also starting a new clinical trial to refine and offer this promising therapy to more kids!
Childhood cancer is devastating. But there is hope. There are ideas. Research is happening. There are brilliant and compassionate minds like Dr. Asgharzadeh. But there is not enough funding to move these ideas and research forward into actionable therapy for kids like Lexi before it's too late. Did you know that only 4% of the billions of dollars the government spends annually on cancer research is directed towards any forms of childhood cancer? Only 4% for kids! Your contributions are critical. Providing funding to help advance this research will be a part of Lexi's legacy. Lexi was brave enough to contribute to this research when she was alive, and we are committed to continuing her contributions through her living memory.