Author: Debra Brett

CKc Awards the Grayson Jack Clinical Research Grant During Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Grant Will Allow Testing of a New Oral Drug Used to Treat Pediatric Brain Tumors with Dire Outcomes

Dr. Cassie Kline-Nunnally, the first-ever recipient of a Cannonball Kids’ cancer (CKc) Young Investigator grant, is receiving a new $100,000 grant from CKc to begin a clinical trial which measures the efficacy of a new oral drug on brain tumors including diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), MYC-driven medulloblastoma, and high-grade glioma (HGG). The outcome for these specific pediatric brain cancers are very poor. This new study, developed and led by Dr. Kline-Nunnally at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, creates options for up to 30 children and will be accessible at 18 children’s hospitals across the United States, Washington D.C. and Canada. The grant, awarded during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, is named for Grayson Jack, a two-year-old boy from Winter Garden, FL, who was diagnosed with an Astrocytoma Grade 4 brain tumor after he turned two. Grayson is currently undergoing treatment at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando, FL.

“It is truly a great privilege to award Dr. Kline-Nunnally this grant and continue to support her impactful research as she creates a growing footprint in the world of pediatric cancer,” said Melissa Wiggins, CKc Executive Director. “As our first Young Investigator grant recipient in 2017, Dr. Kline-Nunnally has proven the benefit of helping to jumpstart a career which helps keep an immensely talented investigator engaged in a field that is notoriously financially difficult to enter and remain in when just starting out.”

Dr. Kline-Nunally expressed her appreciation for CKc’s support at each step of her early career. “Cannonball Kids’ cancer has been critical to my research and clinical progress – offering me the opportunity to pursue my research, continue to effectively care for children with life-threatening brain tumors, and augment my skills and focus within clinical research in pediatric neuro-oncology,” stated Dr. Kline-Nunally. “With CKc’s support, I have been able to successfully continue my clinical and early phase developmental therapeutic research as a first-year faculty and I am now the Principal Investigator on two clinical trials and the co-Principal Investigator on one – all of which are investigating therapies for patients with no standard of care and, in most cases, no known cure,” Dr. Kline-Nunally continued.

Including this research grant, CKc has funded a total of 12 research grants, since inception, for basic research studies and clinical trials. The grants, totaling almost $900,000, will provide up to 90 children with access to “bench-to-bedside” treatments that could help give the chance to live to children who have previously been told there was nothing more to be done to save them.

Local Trial Uses Zika To Destroy Cancer Cells


On the heels of the recent news out of Nemours Children’s Health System that the Zika virus is showing promising potential to target and destroy deadly neuroblastoma cancer cells in children, Cannonball Kids’ cancer (CKc) is awarding “Nolan’s Grant” to Nemours to expand that research to other forms of childhood cancer that do not even have clinical trials to-date.

CKc, a non-profit dedicated to funding innovative pediatric cancer research, announced today the award of the $25,000 “seed” grant will enable a basic research study focused specifically on the virus’ impact on hepatoblastoma, the most common cancerous liver tumor in early childhood. The grant is given in honor of Nolan King, of Maitland, Fla., who died on April 1, 2017, at age three, from complications of the toxic treatments currently used to fight hepatoblastoma.

“When my son Cannon was in treatment, I wanted so badly to fund a research project locally” said CKc executive director Melissa Wiggins. “And, to date, nothing had synced with our mission. Today, that changed.” Wiggins continued, “After a year in development, I get to announce CKc has begun a commitment to a project with Nemours that could be a game-changer in solid tumor cancers found in children, including neuroblastoma and hepatoblastoma.” Melissa emphasized the organization’s mission, “At CKc, we believe innovative research is the key, we don’t believe in thinking inside-the-box, and that is where the missions of Nemours and CKc synced. Today is a good day for the pediatric cancer world.”

This innovative basic research study developed from a collaboration between Dr. Tamarah Westmoreland, a pediatric general and thoracic surgeon at Nemours Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Surgery for University of Central Florida Medical School, Dr. Kenneth Alexander, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Nemours Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Central Florida, and Dr. Griffith Parks, Professor of Medicine and Interim Associate Dean for Research at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. As a cancer surgeon, Dr. Westmoreland was quick to recognize that Zika viruses might not only be useful for the treatment of children with neuroblastoma, but also useful for treatment of children with other cancers.

Kelly King, mother of Nolan King, for whom the grant is named, remained close to the process of finding this hopeful, local hepatoblastoma-specific research project. “When cancer remained in Nolan’s body after three major surgeries and 12 cycles of chemotherapy intended for adults, we knew a more innovative treatment approach was needed,” said King. “Yet, there were no clinical trials for relapsed hepatoblastoma, and our family was left with no options to save our precious boy’s life.” King praised CKc for its commitment to research saying, “I’m so appreciative that we have a local foundation like CKc who is committed to changing this reality by focusing solely on research. Basic science is a crucial step toward getting new or novel therapies into children; and, Nolan’s dad Tony and I are thrilled to see this study coming to fruition. We may not have been able to save Nolan, but we believe that because of collaborative, out-of-the-box projects like this one, other families won’t have to suffer the same fate in the future,” added King.


In a meeting with Drs. Westmoreland and Alexander, Melissa Wiggins asked if Zika virus-based therapy might be effective for hepatoblastoma. Hepatoblastoma is a malignant liver tumor that usually occurs in children younger than three years of age. Hepatoblastomas are rare and difficult to treat. Currently, surgery to remove the tumor is the most effective treatment when the tumor is contained in the liver, however in cases where the tumor has spread or relapsed, there is no cure.

In response to Ms. Wiggins’ suggestion, the lab team tested hepatoblastoma cells to determine if they were susceptible to killing by Zika virus. The hepatoblastoma cells were very sensitive and were killed very quickly. Dr. Westmoreland shared these exciting results with CKc. “Zika viruses may be an effective tool to fight many childhood cancers,” stated Dr Westmoreland. “If, as our data suggest, CD24 is indeed a major determinant of what cancers would be killed by Zika viruses, then we have reasons to be very optimistic, because many pediatric cancers (and, indeed, many adult cancers) express CD24.”


With the support of CKc, the Nemours research team will confirm the role of CD24 in Zika virus-mediated killing of hepatoblastoma cells.

Then, to assess Zika viruses as a treatment for hepatoblastoma, the team will create hepatoblastoma tumors in the lab. The tumors will then be treated with different doses of Zika virus to determine if the hepatoblastoma tumors shrink (and hopefully disappear entirely) with Zika virus treatment. Such basic research studies of tumors are an essential first step toward a clinical trial in humans, as they provide information both about safety and treatment effectiveness.

All the experiments will be performed in the biosafety vivarium at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine in Lake Nona.

Dr. Parks explained, “This is an exciting partnership that brings together strengths of the Medical City research community. Collaborations across disciplines and between institutions advance science and patient care in interesting and exciting ways. We are all optimistic that Zika viruses can be developed into tools that help children (and adults) with cancer.”


Including this seed grant, CKc has funded a total of 13 research grants, since inception, for basic research studies and clinical trials totaling over $800,000. The grants are providing up to 60 children with access to “bench-to-bedside” treatments that could help give the chance to live to children who have previously been told there was nothing more to be done to save them.

“Our mission is to fund innovative and accessible research for children to provide better treatments and quality of life,” said Michael Wiggins, CKc co-founder and chairman of the board. “The ability for non-profits to focus on solutions and advocacy rather than turning profits has created opportunities for researchers to find funding for novel ideas that could be catalysts to finding cures.”

Dick Vitale Hosts CKc Founders at Annual Gala for Pediatric Cancer Research

“Dickie V”, the well-known college basketball broadcaster on ESPN, recently hosted Michael and Melissa Wiggins and their son, Cannon, for the second time at his annual gala to raise money for pediatric cancer research. The 13th annual event was attended by approximately 1,000 guests and raised a record $3.7 million. Since inception, the Dick Vitale Gala has raised close to $25 million for pediatric cancer research.

Cannon Wiggins had the honor of being one of 12 kids selected for Vitale’s All-Courageous Team, honoring children who are fighting cancer or who are cancer survivors. At six years old, Cannon is the youngest member of the team. Cannon became a cancer “survivor” in April, after beating neuroblastoma and continuing to show “no evidence of disease” (NED) for five years since diagnosis.

The day after the gala, Vitale hosted a private BBQ at his home for approximately 200 people, including top donors, celebrities and the families of the All-Courageous team. Melissa had the honor of being one of two guests selected to address the attendees. During her speech, she highlighted growing concerns for survivorship and issues associated with current treatments, so advancements can be made that lead to better, less-toxic options for children that don’t result in life-long side effects and illness. Melissa also shared that understanding the issue of survivorship will help change the status quo of future generations of survivors.

Cannonball Kids’ cancer thanks Dick Vitale for his dedication and passion for funding pediatric cancer research.

An Update from Research Road – Nova Southeastern University

One of the key pillars of our mission statement at CKc is to “educate for change,” and it’s truly a phrase repeated daily in our office. At the beginning of May, CKc executive director Melissa Wiggins and CKc education director Kelly King traveled to South Florida to further our mission at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Ft. Lauderdale. NSU is the largest private university in Florida with an enrollment of 25,000 students, of which sixty-five percent are pursuing an education in healthcare professions. For the first time this year, NSU is introducing an M.D. course for 50 students to provide a specialized track. Melissa and Kelly presented to many researchers and the Interim Chancellor of the Health Professions Division, Dr. Irv Rosenbaum, about the need for further research focusing on survivorship and the life-long side effects and illnesses associated with current treatments for fighting pediatric cancer. NSU doesn’t currently conduct pediatric research, however, CKc sought out this opportunity to educate with the aim of inspiring NSU to consider new and innovative research possibilities for pediatric oncology. Melissa highlighted how this research can positively impact generations of survivors to come. The trip was a success and we look forward to partnering with NSU for future education and research opportunities.

A Win For The Kids: The Childhood Cancer STAR Act is Approved by Congress

History was made last week as Congress passed the Childhood Cancer Survivorship, Treatment, Access, and Research Act of 2017, or the Childhood Cancer STAR Act. The bill will now move on to be signed into law and efforts will begin to ensure it is properly funded. The STAR Act is designed to maximize discovery, and accelerate development and availability of promising childhood cancer treatments and has been a focus of CKc’s and other pediatric cancer foundations’ lobbying efforts for years. This bill amends the Public Health Service Act to authorize the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide support to collect the medical specimens and information of children, adolescents, and young adults with selected cancers that have the least effective treatments in order to achieve a better understanding of these cancers and the effects of treatment. The STAR Act is the most comprehensive childhood cancer bill ever voted on by Congress and had wide bi-partisan support. We’d like to thank representatives Michael McCaul, G. K. Butterfield, Jackie Speier, and Mike Kelly for leading the efforts to get it passed and to all pediatric cancer advocates who lobbied hard for this bill! A major win for the kids!

Research on the Road Update

Last week, Michael Wiggins, co-founder of CKc and Chairman of the Board, met with one of our funded researchers, Dr. Mario Otto, at the University of Wisconsin. Michael toured their Children’s Hospital and Medical Sciences facility and met with Dr. Otto to discuss the progress of CKc’s clinical trial grant, awarded in honor of Trevor Scheerer in 2016, involving novel immunotherapy stem cell transplant therapy for rhabdomyosarcoma. They also discussed future research opportunities, funding Young Investigators, and the collaboration and sharing of data among pediatric cancer researchers. CKc is pursuing novel, alternative approaches to treat childhood cancer. Funding innovative research is our mission!

CKc Represented at ANR2018

On May 9 and 10, CKc’s Education Director Kelly King traveled to San Francisco to attend ANR2018 – a biennial conference hosted by the Advances in Neuroblastoma Research Association. CKc was an exhibitor at the event, allowing us to connect with decision makers who are shaping the future of neuroblastoma research and treatment. It was an honor and a “coming of age” moment for CKc, as our logo was displayed amongst the ranks of foundations we have long-respected and admired, like Alex’s Lemonade Stand and St. Baldrick’s. During the ANR Conference, Kelly also was introduced to the freshest researchers and projects in the field by attending scientific presentations and a Young Investigator reception. She noted that survivorship was a common topic of the conference as the field is facing this issue in a prominent way and investigating methods to decrease toxicity levels of treatments to improve quality of life for survivors.

While in town, Kelly made a visit to Benioff Children’s Hospital at UCSF to tour the facilities and catch up with two of our funded researchers: Pediatric Neuro-oncologists Dr. Cassie Kline-Nunnally and Dr. Sabine Mueller. Dr. Kline-Nunnally is the first recipient of a CKc Young Investigator grant and serves on our Scientific Advisory Board. Dr. Mueller is the lead investigator on a first-of-its-kind immunotherapy clinical trial for brain tumors which receives funding from CKc. Kelly also met with two sarcoma investigators to discuss their latest projects and the potential for CKc funding.

The theme of this year’s ANR conference was “building bridges” and we certainly feel like new bridges were built for CKc during this trip to the Golden Gate city!

CKc Places First in the 2018 Victory Cup Initiative in Orlando

Hi CKc Community,

We have exciting news to share! This morning, Cannonball Kids’ cancer had an amazing opportunity to compete in the Victory Cup Initiative in Orlando. Think of it like the “Shark Tank” for non-profits! We were blessed to named as the winner and the recipient of a $20,000 reward! Twenty thousand dollars which will go directly into funding innovative, accessible research for children fighting cancer!

CKc was selected as a Top 10 Finalist out of more than 100 applicants for this prestigious competition. I had the honor of representing CKc and delivering the required 2 minute, 30 second mission-based pitch in front of a sold out audience of more than 500 philanthropists.

I am beyond thrilled! Last year, we weren’t even able to apply, so to be selected as a finalist in our first year and then chosen as the winner, it is a really big deal for us. But, what I am even more proud of is what we have accomplished TOGETHER! Even if you weren’t in the audience, a piece of you was there in spirit today because we wouldn’t even be at this level without your support, your donations, your volunteer hours and your encouragement! I was able to share an incredible message that we are now impacting the lives of 60 children and creating options where there were none! Today’s competition was another big step forward in educating for change and gaining support that will enable us to truly change the status quo of pediatric cancer treatments FOREVER!!

We wanted you, our donors, supporters and biggest fans to hear this fantastic news right away! Without you, none of this would be possible.

Thank you for your belief in us and for allowing us to do what we do best – fund innovative, accessible research and provide options for children fighting cancer.

With much gratitude,

Melissa Wiggins
Founder | Executive Director
Cannonball Kids’ cancer

About The Victory Cup Initiative:

The event is a platform where companies come together for philanthropic investing with a twist. This unique event is designed to provide a high-profile opportunity for charitable organizations to tell their stories, build their strategies and partner with business and community leaders to make a difference in Central Florida.

During this breakfast event, 10 of Central Florida’s top nonprofits present a 2 minute, 30-second pitch on who they are, how they are changing lives and how they are serving the community to a room of philanthropists who will vote to determine the winner of the $20,000 grand prize. Organizations will also compete for second ($15,000) and third place ($10,000) financial awards. All remaining organizations will be awarded a $1,000 participation grant.


#NoMoreOptions. No more hope. No more treatments. No more time.

No parent or family member wants to hear those three words. No More Options. No child deserves to die. No child deserves to be given up on because there is nothing more that can be done to save their life.

However, the reality of childhood cancer tells us otherwise. At least 250 children around the world die from cancer every day. These 250 families know the devastating reality of hearing #NoMoreOptions.

We believe that together we can change this reality. Funding pediatric cancer research isn’t just a nice thing to do… it is critically necessary to save the lives of children who need us to fight for them. We can’t fund research without your support. Research Is The Key.

The pain, the guilt, the suffering, the sadness that infiltrates the lives of the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, grandparents and all of those who have loved a child who has died from cancer is real and crippling. A few courageous families have allowed us to take a personal look into their pain. A pain experienced exponentially by those who were touched by one of the 90,000 children lost to cancer each year worldwide.

This September, we hope you take a few minutes to watch these videos and educate yourself and others about the critical need for funding pediatric cancer research. We can make a difference. Please join us in putting an end to #NoMoreOptions.

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