Justin’s Legacy Shines On Through Research

Justin's Smile

From going to the Little League World Series to heading to soccer practice, Justin Cowen had an insatiable love of sports. You’d often find him smiling brightly and wearing jerseys from his favorite teams including the New York Mets, the Everton FC and the Anaheim Ducks. He dreamt of being a sports reporter, covering everything from soccer to ice hockey.

But just before Justin’s twelfth birthday, doctors found osteosarcoma in his neck, and after enduring intense treatments including several surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation for 15 months, he passed away just as he was starting middle school.

He fought the bone cancer and its devastating effects with incredible grace and courage, and through it all, he was especially concerned with how the cancer would affect his parents, Tom and Ronee, as well as his older brother, Brandon.

After Justin passed away, his family founded Justin's Smile Osteosarcoma Fund, created to find better treatments to prevent and cure this deadly disease. His fund raised more than $29,000 for CCRF’s Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund, helping fuel comparative oncology, translational research between species (dog, mice and human tumors) at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center.

Osteosarcoma survival has hardly improved in the past three decades, and researchers agree that they need better models for studying the disease.

CCRF supported a new study, recently published in Cancer Research, that indicates newly discovered genetic markers in osteosarcoma tumors could lead to more targeted treatments, possibly requiring less chemotherapy and radiation for some patients.

Researchers gathered enough data from dog, mice and human tumors to suggest that immune cells play an important role in determining who survives osteosarcoma. Scientists hope to use this information to devise strategies for recruiting immune cells to tumors that don’t have a sufficient amount, creating more precise treatments that are unique to a patient’s specific disease.

We’re grateful for families and donors like the Cowens who move research forward, bringing us closer to better therapies and treatments for kids.   

Learn more about Justin's Smile Osteosarcoma Fund and the new study on osteosarcoma at the Masonic Cancer Center website.