T he PANDA story begins in the 1980’s in Tucson, AZ. Louise Thomas, a neighbor and friend of PANDA Co-founder Robyn DeBell was a young mother with a 5 year old son Michael. Michael was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away –  despite state of the art medical treatments.

From her grief, Louise vowed to start a facility that would help find the cause and cure for terrible childhood diseases, including the cancer that took her young son. The Steele Center was built, and it recruited renowned physicians and staff from around the world. Because the Steele Center was unknown outside of Tucson, its reach was limited and its funding stretched.

In 1989, Robyn’s family moved to Phoenix and shortly after moving Robyn met PANDA Co-founder and community leader, Penny Gunning. For the next two years Penny and Robyn talked at great lengths about how to bring the Steele Children’s Research Center to Phoenix. “We needed a project that would involve several generations – grandparents, young daughters and women our age”, said Robyn. Then one day Penny said “I’ve got a terrific idea for a fundraiser that I’ve always wanted to try – a children’s fashion show.”

The first board was formed by calling on 35 women who were successful in their community, accomplished, confident, and able to chair an event without a notebook to guide them. Our mission and commitment remain the same today. To date, our children’s fashion show and other activities have contributed over $9 million to the Steele Center. We take great pride in knowing these funds have made possible lifesaving outcomes for Arizona children and their families, some our own.

If Michael Thomas was diagnosed with leukemia today, the Steele Children’s Research Center could treat his disease, and quite possibly he would be alive and still with us today. This passion and determination is what drives our purpose and the PANDA story forward every day.

PANDA’s Mission

PANDA’s mission is two-fold: to raise awareness and private funding for the Steele Children’s Research Center at the University of Arizona and to teach medical students, pediatric residents and fellows; discover cures for children’s diseases through research; and heal very sick children.

The Phoenix Women’s Board works to support discovery processes that lead to improved treatments and cures for devastating childhood diseases. The board believes that discovering answers to these childhood diseases comes from taking action, leading them to adopt the name PANDA – People Acting Now Discover Answers.

History of PANDA Accomplishments

2017

PANDA Children’s Autoimmunity and Allergies Project supports researchers as they seek to unravel the mystery of common autoimmune issues among children.

2016

PANDA Personalized Pediatric Medicine Project supports pilot studies and establishes an integrated system for personalized medical approaches to treat children suffering from complex diseases, including cancer.

2015

PANDA Children’s Anti-Tumor Immunity Program supports research to identify a new generation of anti-cancer drugs with the ability to contain the cancer, develop natural immunity to the cells, and reduce the emergence of tumor cell clones. and reduce the emergence of tumor cell clones.

2014

PANDA Children’s Autoimmune Disorders Project helps researchers find answers that are desperately needed for families facing the challenges of autoimmune diseases. In 2014, the White Coat fund is also supported.

2013

PANDA Children’s Autoimmune Disorders Project helps researchers find answers that are desperately needed for families facing the challenges of autoimmune diseases. 

2012

Phoenix Translational Research Center conducts clinical translational research in the areas of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and type 1 diabetes.

2011

PANDA Healthy Babies Project battles necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) preterm infants with highest-level clinical services and cutting edge basic science research. 

2010

PANDA Children’s Cancer Immunology Program fund research for the new option of treatment of immunotherapy which re-programs a child’s own disease-fighting cells to recognize his or her own individual cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.

2009

PANDA Children’s Neurological Center improves the lives of thousands of families in Arizona whose children suffer from neurological disorders -encompassing traumatic brain injury, stroke, autism, near-drowning, meningitis, brain tumors, cerebral palsy and other causes.  

2008

Women in Science Project supports promising female physician-scientists as they build their clinical and research careers. White Coat fund is also supported.

2007

The PANDA Children’s Aerodigestive Disorders Center is funded as the first place in the western U.S. where children can receive dedicated care for painful aerodigestive disorders. White Coat fund is also supported.

2006

PANDA supports a research program at Steele Children’s Research Center for pediatric immunology and cardio-thoracic surgery.

2005

PANDA funds pediatric cancer research and also established a White Coat Fund to recruit promising young research scholars.

2004

PANDA supports the IBD collaboration with TGen, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and the Steele Children’s Research Center.

2003

PANDA supports a research lab to explore the lung development of premature babies.

2002

The first PANDA Scholar is recruited to study pediatric heart development to eventually determine at what point the heart begins to develop abnormally.

2001

PANDA purchases a Virtek Chip Writer – the microarray technology speeds the search for genes responsible for specific diseases.

2000

PANDA purchases an AutoGen Robot for researchers to prepare and purify DNA to define genetic origins of devastating childhood diseases.