Diana Birrell – The James Fund

The Diamond Sponsor of a world-class symposium on Neuroblastoma, The James Fund’s Executive Director Diana Birrell continues to bring hope to families battling this deadly disease

DIana Birrell photo by Carol Lawless
DIana Birrell photo by Carol Lawless

Since 2001 The James Fund has been raising money and awareness in the fight against Neuroblastoma. Can you tell me how much money you’ve raised and how many projects you’ve helped to fund?

“We’ve funded 18 projects including 18 one-year fellowship salaries of young researchers, who otherwise had no funding. We also funded research that resulted in 23 peer-reviewed papers published in top international medical journals. To date, we’ve raised closed to five $5 million.”

The James Fund is the diamond sponsor for the ANR – Advances in Neuroblastoma Research Conference – being held June 19. What is the purpose of this symposium? Why do you think The James Fund was chosen?

“ANR is the international “think tank” for neuroblastoma researchers globally, held every two years in a different major city around the world. It is where James Fund researcher, Dr. David Kaplan, took the top award at ANR2008 for his discovery of the neuroblastoma stem cell. ANR will bring about 600 of the brightest neuroblastoma scientists in the world together to share their latest findings about the disease. This year’s conference will be the first ANR to include sessions for neuroblastoma families themselves. The James Fund will host a Family Symposium with roundtables led by industry experts, and a reception. These sessions demonstrate our commitment to including, supporting, and empowering neuroblastoma families through their journey. Because we are a family who has “walked the walk”, we take a wholistic approach to fundraising which I believe is very important in humanitarian terms. As a fundraiser, I am humbled by our supporters and accomplishments.

Did you ever dream James’ spirit and courage would give hope to so many people?

“I knew James’ story did not die on December 18, 2001. And I knew that very day that our family had given birth to an initiative which has developed a life force of its own. We are surrounded by some of the best researchers in the world, who are working with doctors at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, at the core of one of the world’s greatest hubs of cancer research. And we live in one of the most giving communities in Canada. We have enormous potential to do incredible work, and that’s what we have done.” I don’t think this type of success could have been borne in many other small communities than Peterborough. James Fund researchers say they have never seen anything like it.”

What do you say to the long-time supporters of The James Fund events, including the up-coming Anden Golf Classic?

Your unwavering support has helped to build something incredible which is truly changing the world. We have mobilized and empowered a group of broken families across the country to join hands to save our kids.

What is your greatest hope for the children and families suffering from Neuroblastoma?

I hope to see all of this research restore our kids to full health. I want to give other families the happy ending we didn’t have.