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Pedal the Cause Announces Research Funding Recipients

Anne Bassett

Pedal the CauseMarch 12, 2013 - Research on breast cancer and melanoma is among the first round of projects funded by the 2012 Pedal the Cause event.

All proceeds from the annual bike challenge are used for cancer research at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, and St. Louis Children's Hospital.

In 2012, Pedal the Cause raised $2.057 million, all of which was donated to the Cancer Frontier Fund (CFF). The CFF was established through The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital to accelerate the pace of innovation incancer research, diagnosis and treatment.

"Funding from Pedal the Cause has been crucial to our mission to build a nationally renowned pancreas cancer research program at Siteman," says David Linehan, MD, chief of hepatobiliary-pancreatic and gastrointestinal surgery at Washington University. "The team we assembled has been successful in competing for several highly competitive major research grants from the National Cancer Institute, and it is preliminary studies funded by Pedal the Cause that made this success possible.

"As federal research dollars become harder and harder to obtain, we are delighted that Pedal the Cause was there when we needed the help," Linehan adds. "The funds entrusted to us made a big difference."

    The first round of funded cancer research includes these projects:

  • Defining molecular targets on micrometastatic disease in breast cancer

    Principal investigators: Rebecca Aft, MD, PhD;and Mark Watson, MD, PhD

    Description: Metastasis is the most significant contributor to mortality in breast cancer patients. Data suggestsonly a small subset of cells within the primary tumor possess metastatic potential. Aft hopes to develop a molecular "signature" for this subset of cells that will reveal their presence, gauge their metastatic potential and provide guidance on therapy. Her findings may lead to the development of a standardized test to guide targeted therapy directed against micrometastatic disease.The successful completion of this study would significantly alter the therapeutic management of breast cancer patients based on the presence, classification and variations in metastasizing tumor cells.

  • Epigenetic modulation of graft-versus-host disease and graft-versus-leukemia

    Principal investigator: John DiPersio, MD,PhD

    Description: In an attempt to ward off relapse of certain diseases, such as leukemia, some patients receive a bone marrow transplant. While this approach can be curative, 50 percent of all bone marrow transplant patients eventually develop graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), a life threatening complication. In GvHD, the donor T-cells attack not only the patient's cancer cells but other healthy cells as well. Although stem cell transplantation represents the best and most effective approach to cure patients with leukemia, preleukemia, lymphoma and other conditions adversely affecting bone marrow function, it is also the most risky. The "holy grail" for stem cell transplantation researchers is to eliminate GvHD while maintaining a potent graft-versus-cancer effect. Building on previous findings, DiPersio will conduct a clinical trial to determine if azacitidine administered shortly after transplant can suppress or eliminate GvHD without impairing the curative potential of the transplanted T-cells. This study may offer opportunities to reduce life-threatening toxicities of stem-cell transplantation and permituse of mismatched donors, thus opening up this potentially curative treatment to all patients.

  • Patient-specific, mutation-directed immunotherapy for melanoma

    Principal investigator: Gerry Linette, MD,PhD

    Description: Despite recent treatment advances,metastatic melanoma remains an incurable malignancy with anexpected survival of 12 to 14 months. Investigational cancer vaccines as well as adoptive T-cell therapies are now beginning to show success in early phase clinical trials. However, a critical barrier facing investigators developing these cellular therapies is the limited number of validated melanoma tumor antigens that can be used to activate a patient's T-cell immune system. By coupling gene sequencing with laboratory testing, Linette and collaborators at Washington University's Genome Institute plan to develop genomics-guided tumor antigen identification for incorporation in vaccines that are unique to each patient's tumor. This study may create a road map for the development of personalized cellular therapies for the treatment of advanced melanoma.

  • Exploring mechanisms to treatment resistance to improve outcomes in pancreatic cancer

    Principal investigators: David Linehan, MD; David Denardo, PhD; Andrea Wang-Gillam, MD, PhD; Jason Weber, PhD; William Hawkins, MD; and Dirk Spitzer, PhD

    Description: Pancreatic cancer is highly resistant to chemotherapy. As a result, patient survival rates are extremely low, less than 3 percent. With support from the Cancer Frontier Fund in 2011, team members worked to determine why pancreatic cancer is so resistant to chemotherapy. The initial investigations yielded significant findings, which led to a clinical trial and a second year of funding from the Cancer Frontier Fund to continue this promising line of research. Researchers identified new therapeutic targets and disease biomarkers linked to patient survival as well as treatment resistance. By understanding how cancer cells evade chemotherapy, researchers can develop more effective strategies to overcome this resistance and improve patient outcomes.

"Our community of cancer-fighting cyclists has come together to support groundbreaking research at our world-class beneficiaries, the Siteman Cancer Center and St. Louis Children's Hospital," says Jay Indovino, executive director of Pedal the Cause. "Pedal the Cause donations are supporting innovative research specifically focusing on breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma and pancreatic cancer. We are looking forward to announcing additional projects this year, including research focused on pediatric cancers at St. Louis Children's Hospital."

Click here to learn about past projects funded through Pedal theCause.

Registration is now open for this year's Pedal the Cause event, set for Oct. 5 and 6. Those who register before July 1 will receive 50 percent off their minimum fundraising requirement. Visit stlouis.pedalthecause.orgfor more information.