When Dr. Abdel Ragab started CURE Childhood Cancer in Atlanta 41 years ago, his mission was two-fold. He wanted to raise money for pediatric cancer research, and he wanted cancer patients and their families to have a support group. Today, with CURE funding millions of dollars in research and helping thousands of families throughout Georgia, Dr. Ragab says he is “stunned” at CURE’s growth and success.
“It’s like you put a seed in the ground and it’s now a huge tree,” said Dr. Ragab. “I think that shows the dedication of all the people who work there.”
Dr. Ragab retired from pediatric oncology in 1993. We talked with him recently about CURE, its humble beginnings and the advances in children’s cancer treatments today.
You say when you came to Atlanta and Emory back in 1975, there was a major need for an organization like CURE Childhood Cancer.
“It was critical that we started CURE, because universities are always lacking in funds. Emory at that time was not what you see today. We needed a new microscope to differentiate different types of leukemia, and they didn’t have the funds.”
“CURE started in 1975, and by 1976 we had $6,000. That’s how we bought the microscope. My office was at Grady Hospital at the time and of course it was difficult to go from one office to the next (at Emory). So, the CURE group came up with funds to have a trailer put in at Emory. In that trailer we had a research lab and we had our offices.”
Who were the people who helped raise money for CURE in those early days?
“I would recruit them from our patients’ families. I felt a little bad about that because they were going through a rough time with their kids, and they had to juggle their jobs as well. The Atlanta Alumnae Chapter of the Tri Delta Sorority was also very instrumental in collecting funds. They all did an excellent job.”
What are your thoughts on treatments for pediatric cancer today and the future of treatment?
“My belief is that all childhood cancers are of genetic origin…not to say they are inherited from the parents, although that is always a possibility. But that it has to do with genes and oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Destroying these oncogenes is the key. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation got us this far, but at great cost to the patient. The future lies in manipulating the genetic code, which is proceeding, but very slowly. One day we will look at the present treatment and say ‘How barbaric…’ I hope.”
What’s your reaction to CURE’s growth since you started it in 1975?
“Kristin Connor (CURE’s Executive Director) called and told me that CURE had collected over five million dollars this (fiscal) year. CURE has done a fantastic job and I think there should be a great celebration for that. I think more money should be spent locally, but you never know where the next breakthrough will come from.”