Bella Bowman Foundation Teams Up with LSU on Pediatric Cancer Research
On New Year’s Day 2011, seven-year-old Bella Bowman, from Baton Rouge, was diagnosed with an ependymoma brain tumor, which resulted from a rare side effect from proton radiation treatment she received.
Bella passed away on December 23, 2011 from the brain stem necrosis. This prompted Bella's parents, Trey and Kim Bowman, to establish the Bella Bowman Foundation to support other families dealing with the struggles of having a child diagnosed with brain cancer.
One of the foundation’s pillars of philanthropy is to further pediatric cancer research, so the Bella Bowman Foundation eventually teamed up with researchers at Louisiana State University to improve outcomes for children with cancer.
Today, on Bella’s birthday, the Bella Bowman Foundation presents a, $75,000 pledge to the LSU-Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Dr. Charles M. Smith Medical and Health Physics Program to support a portion of the next phase of a research study to understand rare but potentially fatal side effects following cancer therapy, including radiation necrosis—the death of healthy tissues. This comes following the recent announcement of a $7.8 million estate gift from the late Dr. Charles M. Smith of Sulphur, La., to advance cancer treatment through a longstanding partnership with LSU and Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center that began in 1980.
“Our continued support towards radiation necrosis research is a passionate topic for the Bella Bowman Foundation,” said Trey Bowman. “Part of our donation will have an impact on LSU student researchers with funding needed to support their research and further their careers and passion to spearhead the fight against pediatric cancer.”
Led by Professor Wayne Newhauser, LSU’s Dr. Charles M. Smith Chair in Medical Physics and director of the LSU-Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Dr. Charles M. Smith Medical and Health Physics Program, the LSU research team seeks to better understand the biophysical processes that can lead to a rare but potentially fatal side effect of radiation therapy.
“Radiation necrosis is a difficult problem to study in patients for many reasons,” said Newhauser. “Suffice it to say, we need better research models so that we can accelerate the pace of key research questions. To that end, the project will focus on computation simulations of radiation injury of the brain, which enable large numbers of experiments to be run quickly, inexpensively, and without any risk of harming any animals or humans.”
For Newhauser, finding methods that limit collateral health damage to patients post-medical treatments has been a driving force in his scientific career.
“We’re always trying to be aggressive in terms of treating the cancer but being conservative and gentle on the patient, so they don’t have a lot of serious consequences from the treatment, said Newhauser. “Everybody loves talking about the war on cancer, but few are keen to talk about the collateral damage from friendly fire, so most of my career has been devoted to trying to reduce the harmful effects in healthy tissues.”
Lydia J. Wilson, 2019 LSU PhD alumna, was a part of Newhauser’s research group and is advancing her career in the Department of Radiation Oncology at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.
“I chose to pursue my PhD at LSU specifically to work with Wayne Newhauser because of our shared drive to improve the lives of children diagnosed with cancer,” said Wilson.” While that goal has been clear to me since high school, meeting the Bowmans and learning about Bella’s story has specifically driven every step I have taken since. Their story provided me with a concrete problem that I, as a physicist, have the tools to solve. Bella drove me to not only pursue a career in research, but postdoctoral training and a permanent position as a faculty member at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I see her in every patient whose treatment I work to improve, and the Bowmans in every parent I pass in the halls.
“Watching the progression of Lydia’s career enlightens me that Bella’s story has had a real impact on these LSU students conducting research,” said Bowman. “We are excited to support fundamental research that could lead to a breakthrough. Research laboratories working on this topic are few and far between, so we are doubly excited that this research is taking place right here in our home community.”
“The longer-term ultimate goal is to provide cancer care specialists with tools to support clinical decision making, a complex task in personalized radiotherapy treatments for children,” said Newhauser. “We are grateful for the vision and support from the Bella Bowman Foundation. Bella’s story is an inspiration for us to work together to solve this rare but serious side effect.”
The partnership between the Bella Bowman Foundation and the LSU Medical Physics program began in 2013 with a seed grant of $22,000, followed by a $75,000 gift in 2014 in support of research to understand the factors that contribute to radiation injuries to the brain from proton radiotherapy and develop diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to reduce the severity of radiation necrosis, and ultimately eliminate occurrences of the rare side effect. Today’s pledge will provide an additional three-year, $75,000 of funding to the LSU-Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Dr. Charles M. Smith Medical and Health Physics Program.
The Bella Bowman Foundation, founded in 2012, aims to create and support research initiatives for pediatric brain cancer, fund educational opportunities and offer non-medical comfort care to children diagnosed with cancer and the families who care for them. The Bella Bowman Foundation has a unique ability to address emerging challenges that a family faces following a child's diagnosis of cancer. Please visit www.bellabowman.org for more information.
LSU-Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Dr. Charles M. Smith Medical and Health Physics Program is a nationally recognized leading program in medical physics education, and the only such program in the state of Louisiana. Mary Bird Perkins is a leading provider of cancer care in southern Louisiana.
LSU Physics & Astronomy