Fourteen-year-old Owen Barrett has been fighting leukemia for the past eight years, which has meant periods of remission, followed by rounds of chemotherapy.
The longest period of remission, says Owen, lasted two years. Otherwise, it’s been a cycle of hospital visits and treatments that have required him to be home-schooled five of the last eight years. He recently underwent a bone marrow transplant that involved a month-long stay in a hospital isolation room. Friends could visit on a limited basis, and he had his laptop computer, but most of his days in isolation were interminably boring, says the refreshingly frank Owen. That’s why he didn’t hesitate to donate to the BioBank.
“Basically the reason I took part in the BioBank is so that nobody else has to sit through isolation anymore,” he explains. “Because when you are bored out of your mind and tossed into a room with no people and a nurse running in and out and a machine beeping beside you constantly, you kind of lose what little sanity you have left.”
BC Children’s Hospital’s new Childhood Cancer and Blood Research (CCBR) BioBank, a part of the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program (MCCCRP) is a super freezer inside the hospital that stores the biospecimens, such as blood and bone marrow samples that provide cancer cells to investigators. The samples can ultimately provide the data for breakthrough treatments and medications.
Dr. Kirk Schultz, director of the MCCCRP and the CCBR program who is also Owen’s clinician, will be one of the researchers to benefit from the samples; however the strict confidentiality rules mean he will never know which sample belongs to Owen, or any other child.
“Some parents said, ‘We can’t give money, but at least we can give this to help research,’” says Dr. Vercauteren, a hematopathologist at BC Children’s and chair of the CCBR BioBank. “So far, about 95 per cent of patients have said, ‘Yes, we want to do this.’ Parents and patients are very motivated.”
Owens’s dad, Don, is proud of his son’s courage and generosity. “I think [the BioBank] is a good thing to have, just because it advances the research,” says Don. “When you consider the amount of time we’ve spent in here [at the hospital] and the advances we’ve seen in that time, it just proves what it’s all about and what it’s needed for. He was on experimental chemo this time, and now they’ve got him into remission. He wasn’t responding to anything else.”
To learn more about the BioBank, visit www.cfri.ca/biobank.