When 4-year-old Berkley Damhof’s neuroblastoma stopped responding to chemotherapy, her parents, Duane and Kandace Damhof, started searching for other options.
That’s how they discovered MIBG therapy (metaiodobenzylguanidine) at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital—an innovative, investigational treatment that delivers targeted radiation to cancerous cells with limited side effects. Masonic Children’s Hospital is the only facility in Minnesota to offer it; the nearest location also providing MIBG is currently in Madison, Wis.
Pediatric Hematologist/Oncologist Emily Greengard, MD, oversees and administers MIBG therapy to patients at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Greengard’s research focuses on developing new treatments for pediatric cancer. Within the arena of childhood cancers, she has specific interest in neuroblastoma and sarcomas.
“The drug is delivered through an IV, over one to two hours,” Greengard said. “Because the process uses radioactive iodine, extra precautions are taken to keep the patient, caregivers and staff safe from unnecessary exposure during the treatment.”
Most often, MIBG patients will be admitted to the hospital for treatment and stay for several days until most of the radiation has left the body through the patient’s urine.
Berkley and her family recently visited Masonic Children’s Hospital for their second MIBG session. Before the treatment, Berkley’s care team injected her with an intravenous dye that travels to cancerous areas and causes them to “light up” on a full-body scan. This allows Berkley’s doctors to directly target those areas with MIBG.
Prior to Berkley’s first session in June 2015, members of her care team also met with Kandace and Duane to answer questions and walk them through the process. Doctors even gave the family a tour of the special room where Berkley would be staying while the radiation left her body.
“When we got [to the hospital], we knew what to expect, so it wasn’t that big of a surprise,” Kandace said. “Dr. Greengard was really wonderful to work with and very knowledgeable. The nurses and rest of the staff were very helpful with Berkley’s care.”
In the days following the MIBG infusions, the lingering radiation prevented Berkley’s parents and visitors from spending extended periods of time in her room, but the video conferencing features installed in her room allowed them to chat and share moments with Berkley.
After the procedure was done, Berkley experienced some fatigue. But her parents wrote on their Caring Bridge that MIBG was easier on Berkley’s system than the chemotherapy she’s experienced.
“For many patients like Berkley who experience relapsed or refractory neuroblastoma, MIBG can decrease their disease burden and prolong survival,” according to Greengard.
As Kandace noted: In the fight against neuroblastoma, “any little bit helps.”