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Brain tumor group for children honors Winship executive director

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Dr. Walter J. Curran, Jr., executive director of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Walter J. Curran, Jr., MD, executive director of Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, will receive the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children’s "Visionary Award" for 2012. Curran is receiving the award based on his work at Winship on brain tumor research and for his role in helping to bring a proton beam therapy treatment center to Atlanta, scheduled to open in 2015.

The group will present the honor to Curran April 28 at a special event at the home of nationally-syndicated consumer expert Clark Howard, who is hosting a fundraiser for the brain tumor group.

Curran, a radiation oncologist, has spent years studying how to best identify better treatment options for brain tumor patients and how to reduce the side-effects of radiation so critically needed for treatment. Proton beam radiation therapy is the most precise radiation therapy available and is likely to minimize damage to nearby, non-cancerous tissue. This is especially important when treating children. Because their bodies are still growing, their organs are more vulnerable to lasting damage from radiation than those of adults.

Currently, the closest proton beam therapy treatment center is in Jacksonville; only 11 are in operation in the United States. Having a facility in Atlanta will minimize the stress and costs to Atlanta families whose children suffer from brain tumors, said Mary Moore, executive director of the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children (BTFC).

"As a leader in Georgia’s crusade to provide the most effective technology possible for all cancer patients, as well as hope through critical research, Dr. Curran is the perfect choice to receive our 2012 Visionary Award," said Moore.

Curran, who is the only radiation oncologist in the country to lead a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, said he is particularly honored that the award comes from the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children.

"Being diagnosed with a brain tumor is very challenging under any circumstance, but it is particularly difficult for children," said Curran, who also is chair of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group, an international group which conducts cancer clinical trials for patients with malignancies including brain tumors. "As a parent and a radiation oncologist, I am gratified that I have been able to have some positive effect on what children and their parents go through when children are treated for brain tumors. I am humbled by this honor."

Curran was instrumental in an agreement entered into last spring between Emory Healthcare and Advanced Particle Therapy LLC to bring a proton beam treatment facility to Atlanta. The Georgia Department of Community Health issued a certificate of need in January. The center will provide state-of-the-art radiation therapy not only for children served by the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children, but also for many Georgians and others in the Southeast requiring this treatment.

Proceeds from the event at Clark Howard’s Buckhead home will support the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children’s Butterfly Fund, which provides emergency financial assistance for families whose children are on treatment for this life-threatening disease. BTFC provides $350,000 per year for families in Georgia and the Southeast for necessities of life that they cannot afford when a parent is forced to give up a job in order to accompany their child through the grueling treatment process.   "BTFC has been a ‘port in the storm’ for our family during this journey," said Cathy Velo, mother of 13-year-old brain tumor survivor Tony.  Adds Tony: "They have been like family my whole life."

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