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Curious about where the funds go?

ESR road warrior Dr. Joyce Ohm weighs in.

Your fundraising for Empire State Ride has a significant impact on cancer care and treatment at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Few know that better than four-time ESR road warrior Joyce Ohm, PhD, Interim Chair of Cancer Genetics and Genomics. Not only is Dr. Ohm out on the road every July with Empire State Ride — fighting hills, weather and fatigue as she bikes from Staten Island to Niagara Falls—but she’s also in the lab at Roswell Park, fighting to find cures for all types of cancer. 

 

We sat down with Dr. Ohm to ask a few questions and learn more about the impact of the funds raised through Empire State Ride.

Joyce stands side by side with a fellow road warrior at Wagner College this past July.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Roswell Park.

A: I’m a scientist at Roswell Park, so I’m someone who does research for a living. This is what I do, and it’s what I believe in. It is amazing to see riders put a tremendous amount of trust in us — it really is a special, amazing thing to think about. I cannot imagine what it must be like as an oncologist to say to a patient, ‘I don’t have anything else for you.’ As researchers, that’s our job: We’re there to put new tools in the toolbox. The dollars that go to Roswell Park fund that, especially in three key areas.

Q: How has cancer treatment changed over the years?

For 20 years, we had chemotherapy and surgery and radiation. For some patients, that’s all we have still today. But there are new therapies being developed. It’s amazing to watch, just in my short career, how much everything has changed. In fact, we’ve reached a point where we’re really treating individual patients, not cancer as a whole, and that has added years to many patients’ lives.

Q: What are those key areas where the funds go?

A: First, they fund genetic testing and the development of new genetic tests — to help us decide what therapies might work best for our patients and to cover the costs of those tests for people who cannot afford them. The research world is completely different now, and how we treat patients is completely different. Now, we often make decisions about treatment based on genetic markers.

The second place the money goes is to clinical trials. New drugs and new therapies go through a rigorous testing process that takes many years and millions of dollars to get to clinic. We have tons of tools in our toolbox, especially for the more common cancers like breast and lung and colon. But for those rare cancers, like osteosarcomas and pediatric tumors, we don’t have new drugs for patients yet, and we’re working really, really hard to get them. A good chunk of the money raised for ESR goes to fund clinical trials, specifically to help patients who run out of other options. It goes to research teams who are asking cutting-edge questions, who are developing new therapies, who are learning more and more about tumors every day and who are learning how to treat individual patients. All of those dollars really, really pay off.

Then, we bring in federal support, pharmaceutical support and support from outside to really help make those dollars grow. And so, the impact of the dollars raised at Empire State Ride makes a tremendous difference for our patients.

Q: So, what does the future of cancer treatment look like?

A: Immunotherapy, including a really huge area of research at Roswell Park called CAR T-cell therapy, is making tremendous strides for our patients in every disease site that we’ve tested it in. We expect to see impressive changes in the next five to 10 years. There are new targeted therapies every day. So, every time we learn something new about a tumor, we’re able to start to think about ways to treat that and target it. New drugs are in development to achieve that.

Q: How does that all tie back to Empire State Ride?

A: Cancer touches all of us in many, many ways. When you think about what someone with cancer is going through today, you realize that what we struggled with on the road for Empire State Ride is nothing. 

But the fundraising is everything, and it’s making a difference.

Q: What does outside support look like?

Statistically, for every dollar that we raise through events like the Empire State Ride, we’re able to match that by $13 from external funding, from federal sources and other places. If every dollar that comes in gets magnified by 13, you can start to imagine the tremendous impact that we can have.

I see riders every day and tell them, ‘Those dollars matter. Those $5, $10, $20 donations are going to turn into cures, and they’re going to save lives.’”

ESR to end cancer logo

 

Thinking about joining Dr. Ohm on the road in 2023? Join our mailing list to learn more.

You’re shaping the future of cancer by fueling research

Every day, Roswell Park is pushing to eliminate cancer’s grip on humanity. Thanks to generous funds brought in through the Empire State Ride, we’ve seen the genesis of groundbreaking and lifesaving advances right here in Buffalo. Those new treatments and findings all have their start with new questions and ideas from Roswell Park scientists.

That’s where Roswell Park’s Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) comes in. Researchers submit their project proposals, all looking to continue to learn more about cancer. Through a competitive and rigorous process, these investigators and their work have been funded. These grants are made possible by the generosity of ESR road warriors and their donors, without whom, these projects could not get off the ground and make their marks on cancer as we know it.

Gurova, Katerina

Study of the role of immune system in anti-cancer activity of novel chemicals causing unpacking of DNA in tumor cells

Led by Katerina Gurova, MD, PhD, Department of Cell Stress Biology

This investigation expands on existing work of Dr. Gurova’s currently in clinical trial. She and her team developed a group of chemicals called curaxins which kill tumor cells without harming DNA; something many anti-cancer drugs unfortunately do. Curaxins are able to preserve DNA and healthy cells, because they disrupt the binding of DNA into chromatin instead of the DNA itself. Since tumor cells are more susceptible to that damage, they are the cells that are destroyed.

These curaxins, in addition to actively killing cancer cells, are believed to also have the power to boost an immune response that will cause immune cells to attack tumor cells. This would unlock the maximal anti-tumor efficacy of curaxins, cutting off both mechanisms through which cancer evades the immune system.

Dr. Gurova and her team intend to study type 1 interferon responses as a potential biomarker of curaxin’s efficacy in activating an anti-tumor immune response. This success of this research will help scientists give cancer patients their best chance.

Hahn, Theresa

Study of a new blood test that may predict fatal cancer relapse after allogeneic blood or marrow transplantation

Led by Theresa Hahn, PhD, Department of Cancer Prevention and Control

Allogeneic blood or marrow transplantation (AlloBMT) has been used for over 60 years to cure blood cancers. The process involves collecting cells from a healthy donor and infusing them into a patient with blood cancer so those new cells can recognize the cancer cells and destroy them. Sometimes, that process doesn’t work and the cancer relapses.

Dr. Hahn will study one gene that may be responsible for allowing those donor cells to attack cancer cells. That gene produces an enzyme that has a marker, which can be measured in someone’s blood. When there’s a high level of that marker, it acts as one “brake” on the immune system. When there’s a low level, this “brake” does not seem to be activated.

Dr. Hahn and her team believe cells with this “brake” are better at killing cancer cells. They will investigate a new blood test to determine if there is an association between the amount of those markers and fatal cancer relapse.

This project will potentially directly impact the choice of donor for AlloBMT and will hopefully provide a new pathway to study how cancer cells can escape the immune system. If this study is successful, it has the potential to predict fatal cancer relapse and improve survival after this kind of transplantation.

The following investigations were funded in November 2021:

McGray, Bob A “Tag Team” approach to T-cell therapy in ovarian cancer. Engineering long-lived T-cells that attack tumors AND instruct the T-cells already in the tumor to fight cancer.

Led by AJ Robert McGray, PhD, Departments of Translational Immuno-Oncology and Immunology

Immunotherapies have been helpful to so many cancer patients, but ovarian cancer patients have only seen modest success through immunotherapy treatment options. Dr. McGray and his team seek to meet this need for more effective options to treat ovarian cancer. One reason existing treatments might not be as effective as could be hoped is that many of the T-cells that infiltrate ovarian cancer cannot effectively target the cancer cells.

This team of researchers aims to engineer T-cells that would release bi-specific T-cell engagers (BiTEs), which would specifically target folate receptor alpha, found in ovarian cancer. The proposed study would address fundamental gaps in knowledge and potentially improve clinical outcomes for ovarian cancer patients.

This approach has the potential to be combined with and improve upon current treatments that are being evaluated in ovarian cancer, as well as other cancer types that do not routinely benefit from immunotherapy.

Tang, DeanHow does a non-protein encoding long RNA called MEG3 function as a prostate tumor suppressor?

Led by Dean Tang, PhD, Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics

More than 70% of human tumors have a low rate of maternally expressed gene 3 (MEG3), a gene which functions as a tumor suppressor in many cancers. Still, little is known about MEG3.

Dr. Tang and his team will study MEG3, particularly in prostate cancer. It is believed that MEG3 does its work by maintaining genome and chromosome integrity through regulating checkpoints and DNA damage repair.

They intend to learn more about the underlying tumor-suppressive abilities of MEG3 and discover how and why it is lost in prostate cancer. The ultimate goal is to fill a critical knowledge gap in the functions, mechanisms and regulation of MEG3 in prostate cancer, which will potentially shed light on the tumor suppressive powers in other cancers, as well.

Wang, HaiTarget the nutritional interplay between cancer cells and bone cells to limit prostate cancer bone metastases

Led by Hai Wang, PhD, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Most cancer patients die not because of complications from their original tumor but because of the problems that arise when the tumor has metastasized to other sites. Bone is the predominant site for metastases of prostate cancer, causing skeletal complications and marked decreases in quality of life and survival rates.

Dr. Wang and his team hypothesize that prostate cancer cells that spread to bone change the way nutrients are converted into energy there. They will investigate exchanges of nutrients between cancer cells and bone-forming cells called osteoblasts, to better understand the metabolic processes and molecular signaling when prostate cancer metastasizes to the bones.

Through this work, these researchers hope to impede the progression of the metastatic disease process and expedite future clinical trials. This could potentially lead to the development of new treatments to alleviate skeletal complications for these patients and improve survival rates.

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