Gift from Nishant Cancer Foundation fuels research for rare pediatric cancer

Nishant Venishetty

By Sharon Reynolds

As a young boy, Nishant Venishetty dreamed of becoming a cardiologist so that he could cure his grandfather’s heart condition. Nishant was a confident and motivated learner, and his passion to study medicine continued even after his own diagnosis of advanced-stage Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, at age 15.

“Nishant was a very giving person and wanted to do so much for others,” said his younger brother, Nikit. “Throughout his cancer journey, he never gave up. He would fight through the pain of chemotherapy, radiation, and physical therapy. He’d sometimes console my mom and dad. I was only 13 years old when he was diagnosed, but he still played video games with me, and he still joked with me. I don’t think cancer changed him; it just brought out his strengths and showed what kind of person he was.”

After a one-year cancer battle, Nishant died Oct. 29, 2012, at the age of 16. Days later, Nikit and his parents, Sheila and Ravi Venishetty, started the Nishant Cancer Foundation to help eradicate Ewing sarcoma and spread awareness about the disease. The family raises money from donations from friends as well as annual walk-a-thons and basketball tournaments to fund promising research they hope will one day advance how Ewing sarcoma is treated.

With this in mind, the Nishant Cancer Foundation recently made a gift of $60,000 to support the research of Dr. James Amatruda, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, and Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Amatruda’s research uses zebrafish models and human genomic approaches to study the genetic causes of childhood cancers. He has brought together leading Ewing sarcoma researchers at UT Southwestern to develop a multifocal effort to research the disease and translate scientific findings into new clinical trials.

“As a parent, it’s very hard to watch your child go through cancer,” said Mrs. Venishetty. “Nishant fought bravely, and we established the Nishant Cancer Foundation in his honor. This gift will not help our family, but we pray that someday others won’t have to feel the pain of losing a child to this disease.”

According to the American Cancer Society, about 225 children and teens are diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma annually in North America. It is the second most common pediatric bone cancer, with no screening test to detect it. For 1 in 4 children with the disease, cancer will have already metastasized to other parts of the body by the time it is discovered. This often makes the disease more difficult to treat and results in significantly lower survival rates.

“I am deeply grateful to the Venishetty family for shining a light on Ewing sarcoma and supporting my lab’s research,” said Dr. Amatruda. “They are extraordinary people who are passionate about changing outcomes for children with this disease. I’ve spoken about Ewing sarcoma at many of their Foundation-sponsored events, and Nikit, who is studying pre-medicine, has worked in my laboratory during summer breaks. They are turning their pain into hope for others through their selfless work.”

“At UT Southwestern, we are committed to those suffering from cancer in all of its devastating forms,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “Generous funding from the Nishant Cancer Foundation enables the potential for scientific discovery that will serve as the foundation for improved treatment and eventually cure and prevention.”

Dr. Amatruda holds the Nearburg Family Professorship in Pediatric Oncology Research and is a Horchow Family Scholar in Pediatrics.

Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.