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Versiti today announced that it has been awarded a $150,000 grant by Northwestern Mutual, through its Foundation, to launch the Northwestern Mutual Pediatric Leukemia Bank – a collaborative bank between Versiti, Children’s Wisconsin and the Medical College of Wisconsin – which will enable timely access to leukemia samples from pediatric patients at the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus.

The bank, which is expected to become operational in June of 2021, will be utilized by researchers and physicians at Children’s Wisconsin and researchers at Versiti’s Blood Research Institute to develop new treatments for children.

“Leukemia is one of the most common cancer diagnoses in children, though establishing effective treatment protocols remains very challenging,” said Dr. Sid Rao, an associate investigator at Versiti who specializes in stem cell biology and hematopoiesis. “This bank will be an invaluable resource for researchers at the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus to obtain live cells quickly from Children’s Wisconsin patients to conduct experiments to improve the lives of children with leukemia.”

The new bank will uniquely store live, pediatric leukemia samples which are critical to pediatric researchers at Children’s Wisconsin, and will provide a unique opportunity for Medical College of Wisconsin faculty members focused on adult diseases and investigators at Versiti’s Blood Research Institute to expand their research programs into pediatric cancers.

The grant from Northwestern Mutual will cover a significant portion of the estimated cost for the first five years of the bank’s operations.

“We know that research is the engine that drives progress and will create pathways for a cure,” said Eric Christophersen, president, Northwestern Mutual Foundation. “This grant will provide vital resources and make a significant impact on the understanding and treatment of pediatric cancer, changing the lives of patients and families for years to come in the effort to cure childhood cancer.”

Since 2012, Northwestern Mutual’s Childhood Cancer Program has focused on advancing childhood cancer research, providing family and patient support and serving as a resource to families managing the long-term effects of cancer treatment. With the support of Northwestern Mutual employees and financial advisors nationwide, the company has contributed more than $35 million and funded over 455,000 hours of research through the program.

Locating viable pediatric leukemia samples is a challenge to researchers nationwide because of how samples are typically prepared and/or stored. Though large, national leukemia banks exist, samples are typically frozen in a way which prevents the recovery of live cells, precluding their utility in a range of lab assays such as testing small molecules. Additionally, it can take up to a year to obtain samples from such banks, inhibiting timely study and experimentation.