Finding a Cure for Childhood Leukemia
Sidney Farber (1903-1973) and the Jimmy Fund

In the mid-1940s the prognosis for leukemia was the same as it had been when the disease was first identified in 1845. Death, often painful, usually came within weeks of diagnosis.

In the June 1948 New England Journal of Medicine, a young pathologist published the results of a new drug tested on 16 children suffering from leukemia. Ten of the 16 had achieved remission from the disease with chemotherapy. Sidney Farber knew that folic acid stimulates the growth of bone marrow. He thought that if a drug could block folic acid, the production of the abnormal marrow of leukemia could also be stopped.

Dr. Farber's findings were met with skepticism by the medical research community. The current thinking was that kids with cancer were going to die and should be made as comfortable as possible.

After all, how could a young pathologist, an outsider in the medical research community, with little funds, staff, or scientific equipment, discover such a new treatment? But questions and interest poured in from practicing pediatricians.

Again, the exact moment in history plays a role. The war had ended; the movie industry was prospering. When the leaders of a charitable organization formed by the entertainment community, Variety Club of New England, were looking for a local scientist to support, Farber's name came up.

The club established the Children's Cancer Research Foundation to fund the small outpatient clinic Farber had opened at Children's Hospital. On May 22, 1948, a national radio show introduced a young cancer patient named "Jimmy" to the audience. From this broadcast, enough funds came in to start construction of the Jimmy Fund Building, which later became the home of the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute.

For the rest of his life, Sidney Farber led the fight to find a cure for cancer for children and adults.

Dr. Farber's research laid the foundation for dramatic improvements in cure rates for childhood leukemia. Five-year cure rates for childhood leukemia were about 50% in 1970 and are more than 80% today. In 1983 the Cancer Institute was renamed the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in recognition of Dr. Sidney Farber and philanthropist Charles A. Dana. Today, Dana-Farber, in the Longwood Medical Area, is renowned for using basic and clinical research to improve the treatment of adults and children with cancer.

 The Jimmy Fund of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute by Saul Wisnia, 2002