State boosts commitment to pediatric cancer research

Don Coulter, MD

Don Coulter, MD

Nebraska’s commitment to tackling pediatric cancer received a boost this year when lawmakers invested additional funds to help the state’s youngest patients.

With the seventh-highest pediatric cancer rate in the nation, lawmakers also sent a sign of hope that Nebraska one day might drop that unwanted ranking.

In 2014, the Nebraska Legislature approved $1.8 million – a dollar for each of the state’s residents – in one-time funding to bolster pediatric cancer research in the state. A year later, lawmakers put the funding in the state’s budget and designated a portion to hire pediatric brain cancer specialists to study the disease.

Today, the state’s commitment to pediatric cancer research has grown to $4.5 million annually, thanks to lawmakers approving an additional $2.7 million annual investment this past legislative session.

“Nebraska should be incredibly proud of the investment the legislature is making into the health and well-being of our kids,” said Don Coulter, MD, director of the Pediatric Cancer Research Group and professor of pediatrics at UNMC. “The work being done by the state, grassroots organizations and the university provides hope for the families of Nebraska. These funds allow for innovation that would not otherwise happen.”

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, agreed, saying: “We are incredibly grateful for this public-private partnership, and we salute the Nebraska Legislature and the philanthropic groups that are working to improve all aspects of pediatric cancer research and care across the state. We’re also proud of the collaborative work being done at UNMC and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center to change pediatric cancer outcomes for Nebraska families.”

The state’s high pediatric cancer rate makes the disease more common in Nebraska than anywhere in the United States outside of the Northeast, Dr. Coulter said.

Still, he remains optimistic for the future. Already, he said, the state’s investments have helped the Child Health Research Institute, a collaboration between UNMC and Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, grow its cancer research team from three investigators to 70, fund pilot studies that have led to larger National Institutes of Health grants and conduct both survivorship research and extensive research into water quality as it relates to pediatric cancer rates across Nebraska.

The new funding, Dr. Coulter said, will further advance CHRI’s work and be used to recruit top researchers, continue epidemiology and prevention studies, provide innovative treatments and more clinical studies and develop resources to advance cutting-edge research.

Funding the work has been a team effort, Dr. Coulter said, acknowledging such grassroots organizations as Nebraska-based Team Jack, which raises money and awareness for childhood brain cancer and pledged early on to match funds designated by the Nebraska Legislature for a pediatric brain tumor program.

Dr. Coulter noted the early work of State Sen. Danielle Conrad and recent work by the American Childhood Cancer Organization and State Sen. Tony Vargas as being instrumental in helping to secure this latest funding increase. He also gives credit to Nebraska families, including Mitch and Karri Ahlschwede, who spearheaded a 2013 letter-writing campaign asking lawmakers to put state funds into a pediatric cancer initiative. The Ahlschwedes’ daughter, Leyna, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at 18 months.

For Dr. Coulter, the end game is improving access to health care for rural Nebraska families and reducing the incidence of pediatric cancer across the state. “Leading this effort – and improving the lives of Nebraska families – is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career,” he said.


  1. John S Davis says:

    Congratulations Don, well done.

  2. Nagendra K Chaturvedi says:

    Congratulations to our Team!

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