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Misty Jenkins teams up with Zoe’s Fight Foundation

Penny Stanley was at an Australian Brain Cancer Mission event five years ago when she first heard about the research Associate Professor Misty Jenkins was undertaking at WEHI. At the time, Penny’s beloved daughter Zoe had been diagnosed with terminal glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

Penny still remembers being in disbelief at the time of Zoe’s diagnosis.

“I was shocked to learn that funding for research into brain cancer was almost non-existent, and that treatment and survival rates for brain cancer hadn’t improved for the past 20 or 30 years,” she says.

“It left me feeling like I needed to do my part and help raise awareness about paediatric brain cancer, so we can help put an end to this insidious disease.”

Zoe was an incredibly happy little girl who, despite fighting courageously for nine months, lost her battle against GBM just before Christmas in 2017.

Zoe’s Fight Foundation honours the promise Penny and her family made to continue to fight in her memory to help others facing the same battle Zoe so bravely fought.

A young child running along a beach
Above: Zoe was creative, brave and obsessed with everything unicorns, butterflies and rainbows.

This year, the Foundation has established the Zoe Stanley Research Program and Scholarship under the leadership of Associate Professor Jenkins in WEHI’s Immunology Division.

“Misty’s passion about paediatric brain cancer was inspiring and led our Foundation to help support brain cancer research at WEHI,” explains Penny.

The Jenkins Laboratory aims to make significant advances in brain cancer treatments through breakthroughs in the field of cancer immunotherapy.

“Brain cancer has very high mortality rates, has had no new therapies in decades, and quickly becomes resistant to the treatments that are available.”
– Associate Professor Misty Jenkins

“It’s exactly the type of disease that could potentially benefit from immunotherapy.”

The aim of the Zoe Stanley Research Program is to seek better treatment outcomes and improve prognosis by developing new immunotherapy approaches for children with GBM. A key focus is developing a treatment that harnesses the child’s own immune cells to recognise and then kill brain cancer cells.

So far, the Jenkins Laboratory has developed genetically engineered immune cells – called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells – able to kill glioma cells in adult laboratory models.

“This was a quiet Eureka moment because this successful outcome is yet to be replicated in enough test models,” says Associate Professor Jenkins. “Important refinements are required to the CAR T-cells and we still need to test whether this potential therapy is effective, causing the brain tumour to shrink without damaging healthy cells.”

Each year, Zoe’s Fight holds a range of fundraising activities including “Go Grey in May” for Brain Cancer Awareness Month.

“We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our big-hearted community of supporters, and we’re so grateful we can continue to honour Zoe’s legacy this way, by raising funds and awareness about funding research,” says Penny.

“We simply could not do it without our amazing family and friends, and the businesses who support our little foundation.”

You can find out more and purchase merchandise to help raise awareness via www.zoesfight.com.au or on Instagram @zoesfight.

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