Unconditional Love: The Morgan Adams Foundation Drives Creativity and Exploration in Pediatric Cancer Research

Morgan Adams was a typical 5-year-old girl. She loved the color pink, fairies, chocolate cake and dressing up in princess clothes. She loved pasta, her little brother and hiccups. But most of all she simply loved, unconditionally.

In December 1997, Morgan’s life changed forever. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive malignant brain tumor rarely seen in children. She needed emergency surgery. After a successful surgery at Children’s Hospital Colorado, Morgan endured 11 months of additional treatments, celebrating many “wins” along the way. Yet the tumor relapsed. With no treatment options left, Morgan passed away in November 1998, four months after her sixth birthday.

Two years later Morgan’s parents Joan Slaughter and Steven Adams wanted to give back. They decided to join the Oncology Advisory Board at Children’s Hospital Colorado, the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s pediatric patient care partner.

“Through our conversations with many of Morgan’s oncologists, we kept hearing over and over again that pediatric cancer research was seriously underfunded,” Joan says. “When we started to learn more about this need, we wanted to find a way to help.”

Morgan Adams

Morgan Adams, age 6, at the start of first grade.

Driven by Morgan’s unconditional love, in February 2001 Joan, Steven, and a handful of close family and friends hosted a small local art auction called ARTMA, or “Art for Morgan Adams.” Out of ARTMA’s success came the creation of a second event, the Morgan Adams Concours d’Elegance, a rare automobile and aircraft show. For the first few years, Joan and Steven ran the two events through the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation.

In 2003, Joan and Steven were asked to fund a pediatric glioblastoma multiforme study that had shown promise in adults. However, the principal investigator was in New York, not at Children’s. Because the research data was to be shared with Children’s, Joan and Steven decided to fund it.

“This started our interest in collaborative research studies and multi-site studies,” Joan says. “But in order to fund those we needed to be independent of Children’s.”

That year, Joan and Steven founded The Morgan Adams Foundation, which is dedicated to funding laboratory and clinical research in the area of pediatric cancer, specifically cancers of the brain and spine.

“Our interest is in increasing survival rates and reducing the devastating side effects of treatments,” Joan says. “In order to do that, we need to invest in drug development and innovative approaches to treating pediatric patients.”

Since 2003, The Morgan Adams Foundation has given more than $1.75 million in seed and bridge grants for viable investigations not yet ripe enough for funding by large organizations. CU Cancer Center investigators Nicholas Foreman, MD; Lia Gore, MD; Arthur Liu, MD, PhD; Sarah Rush, MD; and Rajeev Vibhakar, MD, PhD, have received awards over the years.

This year, the foundation awarded two grants to Liu and Foreman. Liu was awarded $20,000 to research structural and genetic predicators of neurocognitive deficits in children with brain tumors. Foreman was awarded $30,000 to study the genetic abnormality known as a BRAF mutation, in atypical teratod rhabdoid tumors, a rare pediatric brain tumor.

Prior to funding from The Morgan Adams Foundation, the pediatric neuro-oncology research program at Children’s only comprised Foreman and one other researcher. Today, the team comprises 14 people dedicated to researching pediatric brain tumors.

“The pediatric neuro-oncology research program is one of the strongest in the country and would have literally not existed without the funding from The Morgan Adams Foundation,” Foreman says.

The majority of The Morgan Adams Foundation funding stays with researchers in Colorado. If there are out-of-state studies or clinical trials that can directly benefit patients in Colorado, the foundation will consider funding if they collaborate with Colorado researchers.

“Colorado is very lucky to have the brain trust that we do,” Joan says. “We’ve been amazed by how dedicated all the researchers and clinicians with whom we work are—and how incredibly well they all work together.”

Foreman says, “There are literally children alive now, survivors from brain tumors, who would have died without the research funded by The Morgan Adams Foundation.”

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The Morgan Adams Foundation hosts four annual or biannual fundraising events: ARTMA, The Morgan Adams Concours d’Elegance, the Race Against Kids Cancer and Friday Night Fights. This year the foundation will host its tenth Concours d’Elegance on August 25 at Centennial Airport. Learn more at www.morganadamsfoundation.org.
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About the author: Kim Chriscaden

Kim Chriscaden is the former communications manager for the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

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