Bioengineer's Son Battles Same Cancer He Has Researched for Years

The doctor was researching the most effective treatment methods for brain cancer when his 3-month-old son was diagnosed with a form of the disease

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A cancer diagnosis hit close to home for a Dallas-based bioengineer and his cancer research.

Dr. Shashank Sirsi, assistant professor of bioengineering at The University of Texas at Dallas, had just become a new father when his son, who was 3-months-old at the time, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of brain cancer.

Effectively treating neuroblastoma is the area of research Sirsi has spent 10 years investigating.

Neuroblastoma affects 700 to 800 children each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

"Over the 10 years, we've been trying to develop more effective therapies for these different types of cancer, I had never met a child that had neuroblastoma," said Sirsi.

His wife, Dr. Priya Joshi, first discovered a lump around the abdomen of their son J.D.

"We had to schedule an ultrasound appointment then he had an ultrasound where they really clearly identified that he had masses on his liver and a primary mass on the adrenal gland," said Sirsi.

"He had some urine catecholamine test done. That was the kind of the defining test that came back and said this is neuroblastoma. Our initial reaction was shock."

Cancer in J.D.'s brain had already spread to his liver.

He started chemotherapy and experienced typical side-effects like loss of hair, and nausea, all difficult moments for any parent to watch, however, the prognosis was good.

While rare, J.D.'s form of cancer has higher cure rates than other forms.

"Sometimes, I'm just incredulous that we really kept our spirits high. We still found times to laugh through all of the tears," said Joshi.

"His prognosis is 95% of entry for survival after five years. That sounds great as a scientist. As a parent, you're always thinking about what is that other 5%?" said Sirsi.

That's the mindset he now enters when he's back at the lab, now that J.D. is in partial remission.

"Here are children that are not so lucky. There are more high-risk forms of the disease that are very deadly and what we are working on right now, the question is how do we treat these high-risk patients much better?"

"Would I give this [treatment] to my son? That is really the question that kind of governs our, research moving forward," Sirsi said.

J.D.'s tumors are expected to go away on their own, which is characteristic of the type of neuroblastoma he developed.

Doctors will monitor the tumors regularly going forward.

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