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CLEVELANDH Ohio - Right now, doctors here in Cleveland are inching closer to finding a permanent cure for childhood cancer.
They are looking at ways to use a patient's own immune system to fight the disease. As it turns out, a bunch of bald heads are helping to fund the potentially life-saving research.
"You have strep throat in your pocket, but you don't have childhood cancer," said Corinne Willets.
Willets' daughter, Cordelia, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at just eight weeks old.
"At that point it's just survival," said Willets.
After the heartbreaking diagnosis the family looked for ways to cope.
"We didn't know how bad it was going to get, because it got really, really bad," said Willets.
Willets and her husband, Jeremy, got involved with St. Baldrick's, a non-profit organization that aims to raise funds to help find cures for children with cancer, including organizing head shaving events.
"It took the whole community to really help her survive," said Willets.
That community is now helping to fund research a new way to treat children like Cordelia.
"I personally have shaved my head for nine years now to raise money," said Dr. Alex Huang.
Huang just received a $150,000 award from the St. Baldrick's Foundation to continue his effort to find a cure for childhood cancer.
"It's nice to know the money raised comes directly back to Northeast Ohio to sustain the research," said Huang.
Huang and his team at Case Western Reserve University Medical School believe a child's body alone can fight cancer.
"We've now been able to actually manipulate the immune system and really figure out how cancer cells hijack the immune system," said Huang.
Huang says when properly activated, the immune system can be very effective in fighting tumor cells.
"There's been a lot of excitement about where we are right now, and we want to bring that to Northeast Ohio," said Huang.
The treatment, called Immunotherapy, does not have the long-term side effects typically seen with radiation and chemotherapy.
“We worry all the time about what could happen next, or what could be the long term side effects from chemo," said Willets.
Cordelia, who is celebrating her fifth birthday next week, is officially a cancer survivor.
Her mom is hopeful this research will lead to a permanent cure for childhood cancer.
"And the fact that it is happening in Cleveland, it's just so exciting," said Willets.
Part of the $150,000 from the St. Baldrick's Foundation will give Huang and his colleagues the chance to investigate ideas that are still in the infancy stages.
Huang says the foundation is now the largest funding agency for childhood cancer outside of The National Cancer Institute.