Friday, September 10, 2010

Stand Up to Cancer

I am going to remain in my comfort zone for my very first New Voices blog post. I figure my background in cancer research qualifies me to discuss the topic of…cancer research. In honor of Stand Up to Cancer Day, I will highlight some of the important work being done by a group searching for a cure to cancer. Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) is a charitable organization dedicated to accelerating groundbreaking cancer research.

At 8pm this evening, SU2C will host a live broadcast to raise awareness and money for cancer research. I know that sounds about as fun as hearing your uncle’s “why did the chicken cross the road?” joke for the 13th time--especially on a Friday night. But, it promises to be entertaining and informative (if only school could combine the two!). Many actors, comedians, and musicians will take the stage as well as scientists and advocates.

One featured group, 46 Mommas, is an amazing group of 46 women who represent the 46 children who are diagnosed with cancer every day. They are hoping to raise $1 million for childhood cancer research, and they even shaved their heads to raise awareness for the cause!

In 2008, SU2C hosted a hugely successful live broadcast that was aired across the country, featuring celebrities who believe in the cause. It raised much-needed awareness and brought in over $100 million for cancer research, which I find pretty exciting (the rest of you can enjoy watching these ladies stand up).

With this money, SU2C is trying to change the way research is done. They are promoting cutting-edge research done by young scientists that might not be funded by other means, which is a huge deal for these young scientists! SU2C has funded thirteen “Innovative Research Grants”. These projects are risky--they may not work. But if they do work, they promise to be a breakthrough in cancer therapy.

One project looks at the role a particular protein, BCL6, plays in leukemia development, particularly in leukemia stem cells. The stem cells initiate the cancer, but are particularly difficult to kill using chemotherapy. Even worse, they can cause the disease to come back once the drugs are stopped. This is why many researchers are studying how to kill the leukemia stem cells.

In addition to innovation, SU2C is encouraging more cooperation among scientists. They funded five “Dream Team Grants”, where each project is tackled in labs across the country.

One such grant involves researchers from New York to Texas who are trying to identify targeted therapies for women with cancer. A targeted therapy is one that is directed to cells with a particular marker or mutation. You may have heard of a common targeted therapy called Gleevec, which kills cells with the BCR-Abl mutation in chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Well, the Dream Team scientists have found that mutations in a gene called PI3K are found in breast and ovarian cancer. They are trying to use drugs that specifically block PI3K to kill the cancer cells. Targeted therapies like these will mean doctors can give each patient the best drug based on the markers in their particular cancer with less side effects than standard chemotherapy.

There is so much great work being accomplished in areas at the forefront of cancer research because of SU2C. I can’t do all of these brilliant researchers justice. You can read more on the SU2C website or tune in to the show to hear from the scientists themselves.

There is still much knowledge to be gained and many brilliant researchers looking for a cure. Funding will give them, and us, a chance.

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