Smashing Walnuts founder w/ daughter

Smashing Walnuts co-founder Ellyn Miller, left, with her late daughter Gabriella.

The Loudoun County-based Smashing Walnuts Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to raise awareness of pediatric cancer and fund brain cancer research, has announced the Smashing Walnuts Foundation Scholarship to support a PhD student researching brain cancer at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

This year's one-year fellowship has been awarded to Sulgi Lee, a fourth-year PhD candidate in biomedical sciences at George Washington University. Lee will use the funds to continue his research of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma — or DIPG — a type of brain cancer.

DIPG claimed the life of Gabriella Miller, the 10-year-old daughter to Mark and Ellyn Miller of Leesburg, in October 2013.

Gabriella’s tumor was the size of a walnut, so her parents would literally smash walnuts with their daughter to help her visualize destroying her tumor. The Millers formed Smashing Walnuts prior to Gabriella’s passing the goal of “cracking the cure” to childhood brain cancers.

After Gabriella’s death, the Millers donated her tumor to Dr. Javad Nazarian — Lee’s mentor — and his team to help them further their research.

Smashing Walnuts officials say the scholarship will enable Lee to pursue his long-term goal of developing targeted immunotherapy treatment for difficult-to-treat central nervous system tumors.

“Smashing Walnuts has funded research for the past six years, but this is the first time we have funded a specific researcher,” Ellyn Miller, the founder and president of Smashing Walnuts, said in a prepared statement. “We feel honored to be able to give this fellowship grant to Mr. Lee because he plans to dedicate his life’s work to finding better treatments and, eventually, cures for childhood brain cancer.”

According to the Smashing Walnuts, 4,400 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with brain cancer every year, and 20 percent of those children will die within five years.

More information on Smashing Walnuts and pediatric brain cancer can be found at SmashingWalnuts.org.

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