Arizona Students to Hold Annual Brain Tumor Walk

Students Supporting Brain Tumor Research (SSBTR) is holding its annual walk-a-thon Saturday, Feb. 27 to raise money for research at Barrow and other institutions.

SSBTR is a nonprofit organization which formed in 2002 after three students from the Paradise Valley Unified School District were diagnosed with and ultimately succumbed to brain tumors.

Steve Glassman, the founder of the organization and then student council adviser at Pinnacle High School, organized the inaugural walk-a-thon with help from a small group of student volunteers.

The event attracted about 250 participants and raised $7,500. Ten years later, it drew more than 3,000 students and raised more than $215,000.

Ninety-three percent of every dollar raised by SSBTR goes directly to institutions that fund or conduct brain tumor research. In addition to Barrow, beneficiaries include Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the National Brain Tumor Society, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, and the Steele Children’s Research Center.

“These funds allowed us to open a new research direction – the use of the therapeutic ketogenic diet as a treatment for glioblastoma in addition to the standard of care, which includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation,” said Dr. Adrienne Scheck, whose laboratory at Barrow is dedicated to neuro-oncology research. “This work has been very successful and has led to the opening of a clinical trial for patients with glioblastoma. Without SSBTR, this would not have been possible.”

SSBTR President Dr. Wendy Kaye, a Valley pediatrician who became involved in the organization after losing her daughter to a brain tumor, said the organization consists of students from elementary school all the way up through medical school. She estimated that about 80 students help organize fundraising events.

Dr. Kaye said that in addition to supporting a cause, the students learn valuable career skills.

“The students really take the lead in running a nonprofit organization,” she said. “They’re expected to write a grant, solicit funds from corporations, and work with foundations. We really help them develop their leadership skills. Many of the co-chairs have gone into nonprofit management, public relations, medical school, and medical research.”

Dr. Kaye said the majority of the students involved in SSBTR have been affected by brain tumors in some way, with many students being survivors themselves.

“Our daughter asked us before she passed to please help other people and to try to find a cure for these problems,” she said. “It’s also to support people who are fighting and let them know that there are a lot of people behind them.”

The walk-a-thon will be held from noon to 3 p.m. at Saguaro High School, which is located at 6250 N. 82nd St. in Scottsdale. Gates open at 11 a.m. Register at the gate or online at

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ASU Student Leaders Raise Funds for TGen Pancreatic Cancer Research

A small idea by two freshman students ignites campus awareness of TGen’s efforts to help cancer patients

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Feb. 15, 2016 — Students at Arizona State University have raised nearly $5,000 for pancreatic cancer research at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Led by Lambda Chi Alpha, eight Greek social groups at ASU bought t-shirts, held a dunk tank and decorated their Greek letters during “Hunt for a Cure” events in November, which is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

Today, members of the fraternity toured TGen to see how their fundraising dollars are being put to work.

The fundraising idea began with Race Carter and Braden Liu, two members of Lambda Chi Alpha. Carter and Liu hatched the idea while considering Liu’s fledgling t-shirt business, and the plight of another fraternity brother’s relative with pancreatic cancer.

“We started making all these connections. Purple is one of the colors of our fraternity. Purple is the color associated with pancreatic cancer. And the next month was Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month,” said Carter, 18, a Barrett Honors College freshman, majoring in Business.

“It was like it was supposed to happen,” said Carter, who felt that TGen, with one of the nation’s leading pancreatic cancer research units — TGen has led two Stand Up To Cancer Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team efforts — was the perfect organization to benefit from their philanthropy.

Carter and Liu took the idea to the leaders of Lambda Chi Alpha who jumped on board with the idea of holding a fundraising event. They enlisted the help of seven sororities, reached out to non-Greek students, and eventually sold nearly 600 t-shirts.

“Whoever is affected by pancreatic cancer is the real winner of this fundraising,” Carter said. “The researchers, the patients, everyone. It’s TGen that wins, and everyone that wins. And it’s not just the money. We need to get the message out there.”

Carter said he realizes that $5,000 may not make a huge difference in a research effort that costs tens of millions of dollars to pursue. But he and his fraternity brothers and students in the Greek system already have plans for similar events to benefit TGen in the future, and he is hoping the fundraisers snowball, building greater awareness about TGen across the ASU campus.

“We want to keep doing it every year!” he said.

Pancreatic cancer annually takes the lives of more than 40,000 Americans, making it the nation’s fourth leading cause of cancer-related death. Only 1 in 4 patients survive more than a year following diagnosis, and the 5-year survival rate is less than 10 percent for all patients. Pancreatic cancer can rapidly spread to distant organs, especially the liver and the lungs. Survival remains low, in part, because no early screening test exists.

TGen is working to develop early detection of pancreatic cancer and new treatments for patients.

“We heartily applaud the philanthropic leadership of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and the hundreds of young men and women at ASU who joined them in this fundraising effort,” said TGen Foundation President Michael Bassoff. “Race Carter, Braden Liu and all of their brothers at Lambda Chi Alpha have shown how a simple, but thoughtful, idea can grow into a movement, raising awareness and hope for the thousands of patients who need our help.”

Dogs Accelerate the Advance of New Cancer Treatments for Both Pets and People

National review shows studying cancer in dogs offers ‘a unique opportunity’ for helping patients, saving time and decreasing costs

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Feb. 4, 2016 — A Science Translational Medicine review suggests integrating dogs with naturally occurring cancers into studies of new drug therapeutics could result in better treatments for our four-legged friends while helping inform therapeutic development for human cancers.

The review, conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Science, including faculty at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), hopes to close the gap between human and canine cancer research, and accelerate the knowledge developed by studying cancer in both people and pets, a field known as comparative oncology.

“We are hopeful this analysis will be useful in developing and advancing an agenda for the field of comparative oncology,” said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen President and Research Director, and one of the authors of the study. “Many canine breeds develop naturally occurring cancers, such as breast cancer and melanoma, that share remarkable genetic similarities with their human equivalent. This allows us a unique opportunity to have what we learn in the human be of help to the dog, and what we learn in the dog to be of direct help to human patients with these cancers.”

Dr. William Hendricks, an Assistant Professor at TGen specializing in canine research, agreed: “It has been remarkable to see first hand the similarity in genetic changes, called mutations, between a dog with melanoma and a human patient with the same disease. Looking through the lens of genetics is giving us new targets and offering new hope for improving our treatment of humans and dogs.”

This “gap analysis” is the result of a National Academies Institute of Medicine workshop — The role of Clinical Studies for Pets with Naturally Occurring Tumors in Translational Cancer Research — held June 8-9, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

“Low cancer drug development success rates and the associated high attrition rates of new drugs, particularly late in human clinical trials, are indicative of a key shortcoming in the preclinical development path,” said Dr. Chand Khanna, a former Senior Scientist at NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, who holds both a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and a Ph.D. in Pathobiology, an interdisciplinary field devoted to basic research into the mechanisms of disease.

“Strong similarities between the biology of cancer in dogs and humans have been shown, including patterns of response to therapies and cancer recurrence,” said Dr. Khanna, the review’s senior author. “Specific types of cancer are functionally identical between dogs and humans, and in some cases the cancers can be considered indistinguishable between the species.”

Findings the authors report include:

•    A limited understanding of the filed of comparative oncology in the cancer drug development community.

•    The value of comparative oncology can be seen not only in accelerating drug development and eventual FDA approval, but also in saving time, costs and risks to patients by providing early assessments of clinical trials that should be discontinued.

•    Studying canines to answer questions about drug target biology — before and after exposure to novel treatments — should be a priority.

•    Comparative oncology also should prioritize the development and validation of biomarkers in circulating blood, and guide decisions about optimal drug combination strategies.

•    There is a need to include veterinarians in clinical practice and in the pharmaceutical industry, physician and veterinary medical associations, and aligned philanthropic groups, in the discussion of opportunities presented by comparative oncology.

•    Tissue samples of canine cancers stored in tissue banks and bio-specimen repositories “should now be leveraged in order to rapidly accelerate comparative oncology.”

Importantly, this review found that the knowledge of genetic alterations that drive human cancers far exceeds knowledge of those same alterations in canine cancers. More than 30,000 human cancers have been genomically profiled, while genomic sequencing data has been published for fewer than 50 canine cancers.

“Our understanding of the genomic landscape of canine cancer is widely considered to be the single largest gap currently present in comparative oncology today,” said Dr. Amy LeBlanc, Director of the Comparative Oncology Program at NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, and the review’s lead author.

Other recommendations included in the review: Veterinary schools are best positioned and prepared to successfully recruit and manage canine patients for comparative oncology studies; the successes in immunotherapy in human cancer treatments should be extended to canine clinical trials; and a centralized registry of canine clinical trials should be created, providing easy access for pet owners and veterinarians.

This “Focus” article, published Feb. 3, 2016, in Science Translational Medicine is titled: Perspectives from man’s best friend: National Academy of Medicine’s Workshop on Comparative Oncology: