New Professorship to Advance Brain Cancer Research
Described by his parents, Dennis and Debi Eskie, as an adventurous, bright and consciously aware kid with a good heart, Dustin Eskie liked to look at things a little differently.
“When he was in 4th grade, a teacher was working with him on a math problem. Dustin asked her if they could look at the problem in a different way, setting aside the typical math conventions,” Debi said. “That was how he approached life.”
At 20 years old, Dustin was diagnosed with stage IV glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer, and it is one of the most complex and aggressive cancers. Glioblastoma tumors are particularly hard to treat because they aren’t limited to a defined mass. Treatments such as chemotherapy may shrink the tumor, but there is no cure. Dustin died nine months after his diagnosis, on August 25, 2013. Devastated, his parents knew more research on the disease was necessary.
“After Dustin’s experience and seeing the limited treatment options, we just knew we could do better,” Debi said. “It takes research to make a change.”
Dennis and Debi connected with Matt Anthony, whose brother, Chris, died of the same disease in 2003. Since his brother’s passing, Matt has dedicated his life to building awareness of glioblastoma, while raising funds for clinical research and inspiring hope for patients and caregivers facing a glioblastoma diagnosis. What started as Chris’ idea to host a 5K run has since led to the founding of Head for the Cure Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has raised more than $25 million to support glioblastoma clinical research. Head for the Cure has granted nearly $2 million in funds to The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
“The idea was to raise awareness for this little-known and under-researched disease and inspire hope along the way,” Matt said. “You don’t realize how many people are affected by glioblastoma until you have been touched by it.”
After Dustin’s experience and seeing the limited treatment options, we just knew we could do better. It takes research to make a change Debi Eskie
A translational scientist
Together, Dennis, Debi and Matt created the Dustin J. “DJ” Eskie/Head for the Cure Professorship in Neuro-Oncology. Endowed research professorships are an important tool to attract and keep top recruits, and they allow faculty to devote more time to discovery.
The goal is to identify a translational scientist who can bridge the laboratory and the clinic. Basic research discoveries can transform the way we treat cancer, but many never make it to the clinic. This, in part, is due to a gap in funding. Funding a translational scientist ensures more exciting brain cancer breakthroughs are ushered to the clinic. An individual who can work across several institutions, including the cancer center’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) consortium partners Children’s Mercy and Stowers Institute for Medical Research, is also crucial.
“We saw scientists across the world pull together to develop vaccines for COVID-19,” Dennis said. “What if we did that for brain cancer? We need someone who can convene experts across all fields.”
It’s a labor of love, and we have to keep the pedal down. While the progress is incremental, I believe big important things happen through millions of little things, working together. Matt Anthony, founder of Head for the Cure Foundation
Small steps lead to great progress
On average, the survival rate for glioblastoma is 12 to 18 months. Just one in four people with the disease survive more than one year. The survival rate has changed little over the past few decades, but Matt remains hopeful. The low survival rates remind him that there is more to do.
“It’s a labor of love, and we have to keep the pedal down,” Matt said. “While the progress is incremental, I believe big important things happen through millions of little things, working together.”
Twenty years ago, Chris envisioned a 5K run to raise awareness of brain cancer. His idea catalyzed the formation of the Head for the Cure Foundation and the establishment of the professorship. Together, Dennis, Debi and Matt are turning their tragedies into purpose.
“I know Dustin and Chris are sitting up there saying, ‘Go get ‘em,’” Dennis said. “I feel Dustin’s presence every day. He is still with us, just in a different way.”
Please consider donating to The University of Kansas Cancer Center today. To make a gift, contact Krista Allen, KU Endowment, for more information at 913-562-2709 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit kucancercenter.org/give.