More than $2M Awarded to Chicago Rush University Medical Center by Swim Across America

With the support of Swim Across America grant funding, researchers at Rush University Medical Center are gaining momentum in their quest to discover the early detection tools and treatment options of the future in the fight against cancer. RUSH’s experts intimately understand the physical, emotional and financial burdens of cancer on patients’ lives, and they refuse to let the disease rest as the second leading cause of death in the U.S. Since 2012, Swim Across America–Chicago has awarded More than $2M that has funded these early stage research projects.

Dr. Carl Maki

Grant Recipient: Carl Maki, PhD
Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College

Project: Targeting proteins to improve drug responses for patients with treatment-resistant breast and lung cancers

Project Details: By studying cancer at the molecular level, Maki and his team have made significant strides in identifying promising new options for treatment-resistant breast and lung cancers.

In 2015 Maki received an SAA grant to study a family of enzymes known as prolyl peptidases (which regulate blood pressure and appetite) as a possible mechanism to help prevent or alleviate resistance to the drug tamoxifen, one of the most widely used therapies for the 80% of women with breast cancer whose tumors are considered estrogen receptor-positive. Maki and his team found that an enzyme inhibitor for prolyl peptidases, used in conjunction with tamoxifen, effectively killed breast cancer cells in rodents. Using these promising findings, Maki applied for and received a prestigious R01 research award for continued study from the National Institutes of Health and a grant from the Department of Defense to extend this research into triple-negative breast cancer.

In 2020 Maki was awarded another SAA grant to study proteins called histone demethylases in non-small cell lung cancer. Among the deadliest of all cancers, this accounts for about 4 in 5 lung cancer cases. Maki and his colleagues are studying how these proteins may allow lung cancer cells to resist the drugs currently used to treat the disease. By blocking these proteins, the team has been able to kill lung cancer cells in laboratory studies and lung tumors in mice. They identified a novel mechanism for how these inhibitors improve treatment outcomes and recently published their results.

“What starts out as an idea might result in something great,” Maki said. “SAA gives less established researchers a chance and helps all researchers fund pilot projects that ultimately can lead to bigger things.”

Dr. Animesh Barua

Grant Recipient: Animesh Barua, PhD
Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College
Director of the Proteomics Core and MicroRNA and Gene Expression Core

Project: Seeking an improved early detection test for ovarian cancer

Project Details: Throughout his career, Barua has relentlessly pursued the development of an effective early detection test for ovarian cancer. With an SAA grant received in 2020, he and his team are drawing upon extensive experience with immunoassays and ultrasound imaging of ovarian tumors to take the next steps forward in this important area of research. In this study, Barua’s lab is developing a fresh approach to early detection testing involving the fimbriae (fingerlike protein branches that guide an egg during ovulation) of the fallopian tubes. Emerging information shows that high-grade serous carcinoma — the most malignant and most common type of ovarian cancer — originates from the fimbriae. The aims of Barua’s study include identifying specific protein markers associated with cancer development in the fimbriae and determining the efficacy of these markers in predicting cancer growth.

Dr. Amanda Marzo

Grant Recipient: Amanda Marzo, PhD
Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Cell Therapy at Rush Medical College

Project: Bolstering the body’s natural immune response for greater success in the battle against breast cancer

Project Details: Tumor-infiltrating CD8 T-cells are essential for tumor immunity. However, many of these cells become exhausted and are unable to protect against tumor growth. Key molecules known as checkpoint inhibitors, such as programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) expressed on tumor cells and programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) expressed on CD8 T-cells, have been shown to be a hallmark of CD8 T-cell exhaustion. For most tumors, blocking PD-1/PD-L1 signaling does not result in tumor rejection. A main cause for the ineffectiveness of checkpoint blockade immunotherapy lies in the dysfunctional state of CD8 T-cells once they enter the tumor. CD8 T-cells are specialized in killing tumor cells but face multiple suppressive signals that dampen their ability to effectively respond. Using an SAA grant received in 2019,Marzo and her colleagues seek to improve scientists’ understanding of how other immune-modulating treatments can improve CD8 T-cell responsiveness to checkpoint inhibitors. Specifically, the researchers aim to determine if metformin, an anti-diabetic drug, could enhance tumor-infiltrating CD8 T-cell responsiveness to PD-1 blockade therapy by altering breast cancer metabolism. The team also seeks to establish if bolstering the number of infiltrating CD8 T-cells into the tumor using interleukin-15 complexes (known to cause proliferation of cells and increase their killing ability) in combination with PD-1 blockade therapy could induce regression of established breast tumors and lead to long-term tumor immunity. Marzo and her team plan to publish the results of their study and are using preliminary data generated from this research to apply for a federal R21 grant.

Dr. Alan Blank

Grant Recipients: Alan T. Blank, MD, MS
Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Section of Orthopedic Oncology at Rush Medical College

Jitesh Pratap, PhD
Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College

Dr. Jitesh Pratap

Project: Pursuing therapeutic approaches to prevent breast cancers from

metastasizing to the bones

Project Details: In this study funded by a 2019 SAA grant, Blank and Pratap seek to fulfill a need for the development of a therapy that can prevent primary breast cancers from metastasizing to the bones and surviving there. The researchers hypothesize, based on results of previous studies, that a subgroup of patients with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone has high levels of autophagy (a process of recycling of cellular components), Runx2 proteins and acetylated α-tubulin — worsening their chances of survival. To investigate this, the researchers are working to determine the clinicopathologic association with the autophagy pathway in tumor samples from patients with cancer that has metastasized to the bone. They are also creating patient-derived xenograft models of bone metastasis. Blank and Pratap hope the results of this study will propel the development of better combinatorial therapeutic approaches to treat bone metastasis.

Dr. Faraz Bishehsari

Grant Recipient: Faraz Bishehsari, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Medicine & the Graduate College in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition, Section of Gastroenterology at Rush Medical College
Associate Director for Molecular & Translational Research for the Rush Center for Integrated Microbiome & Chronobiology Research

Project: Pursuing precision medicine to improve outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients

Project Details: Patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma — the most common form of pancreatic cancer — face poor survival rates, with only 6%-8% of patients surviving five years after diagnosis. This cancer does not respond well to targeted therapies. Bishehsari and his colleagues received an SAA grant in 2019 to establish a platform towards precision medicine in order to tailor therapies based on patients’ individual tumor characteristics. The researchers have developed primary cancer cells from a small tissue sample obtained during diagnostic pancreatic biopsies from pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas. Molecular profiling of these patient-derived tumor organoids explained the variation in response to a variety of conventional and investigational therapies. They are optimizing this platform to help eventually establish individualized treatments for pancreatic cancer patients.

Dr. Jeff Borgia

Grant Recipient: Jeffrey A. Borgia, PhD
Associate Professor in the Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology at Rush Medical College
Director of the Rush University Cancer Center Biorepository and Rush Biomarker Development Core

Project: Identifying biomarkers for the improved evaluation and treatment of stage I non-small cell lung cancer

Project Details: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States, but evidence is surfacing that widespread lung cancer screening programs may improve patient outcomes when the disease is detected early. Borgia and his team received an SAA grant in 2020 to develop a new diagnostic method to improve physicians’ ability to predict the recurrence of stage I non-small cell lung cancer, or NSCLC. This would help physicians identify patients who would benefit from adjuvant treatment options or closer surveillance. The aims of this study include identifying biomarkers for disease recurrence in stage I NSCLC patients and evaluating these biomarkers for their value in predicting recurrence.

Swim Across America has supported cancer research at Rush University Medical Center since 2012 through more than $2 million in grant funding. Together, Swim Across America and RUSH are relentlessly fighting cancer, working to save lives.

Swim Across America Provides Grant Funding That Helps Lead to 100% Cancer Remission

June 9, 2022—The New England Journal of Medicine published a paper on June 5 that 12 patients completed a phase 2 clinical trial for advanced rectal cancer and showed a 100% clinical complete response to dostarlimab, an immunotherapy treatment produced by GlaxoSmithKline. The clinical trial was conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering with early-stage grant funding from Swim Across America.

Reviews of the clinical trial and quotes in the New York Times from cancer experts are hopeful:

“I believe this (a 100% response) is the first time this has happened in the history of cancer,” commented Dr. Luis Diaz, an author of the New England Journal of Medicine paper.

Dr. Luis Diaz, Memorial Sloan Kettering

“There were a lot of happy tears,” said Dr. Andrea Cercek, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a co-author of the paper.

Depending on patient size and other factors, the cost to run a clinical trial can run into millions of dollars. Early-stage sponsors such as Swim Across America are necessary to fund the costs. Swim Across America’s grant for the MSK clinical trial helped fund the science and speed of sharing of information. Other funding partners of the MSK clinical trial are the Simon and Eve Colin Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, Stand Up to Cancer, and the National Cancer Institute. Swim Across America is delighted with the results and continues to provide grant support.

Swim Across America.

Swim Across America’s grant agreement with beneficiaries such as Memorial Sloan Kettering requires that 100% of an SAA grant must be spent on approved research and clinical trial programs. In 35-years, SAA has granted nearly $100M to innovative and otherwise unfunded ideas so that the time of oncologists such as Dr. Cercek and Dr. Diaz is protected to make progress and develop new treatments.

Swim Across America has a proven track record of identifying and funding early-stage ideas of promise. Swim Across America grants have played a major role in clinically developing FDA-approved immunotherapy treatments ipilimumab (YERVOY), nivolumab (OPDIVO), pembrolizumab (KEYTRUDA), and atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ).

You can volunteer or swim by visiting swimacrossamerica.org/communities

New England Journal of Medicine: https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMoa2201445

Swim Across America-Long Island Sound

Colorado Community Makes Waves to Benefit Children’s Hospital Colorado

Picture a sunny and warm mid-August morning in Colorado. Retired Olympians such as Missy Franklin and George DiCarlo are smiling with water enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. They enter the water of Chatfield Reservoir in Littleton to “Make Waves to Fight Cancer” with the Swim Across America-Denver charity swim. There’s a sense of community as supporters and family cheer for them. Not because they’ll be racing for first place, rather because they’re all there to raise money that will provide grants for pediatric cancer at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Created in 2018, Swim Across America-Denver has granted $545,917 to research projects at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Colorado. Uniquely, all the proceeds from Swim Across America-Denver stay in our community to fund research projects at Children’s Colorado where philanthropic grants from Swim Across America are necessary to make progress in giving hope to kids and their families who are fighting cancer. Here are the projects that are being funded by SAA:

  • The acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) research project, led by Drs. Amanda Winters, Taizo Nakano, and Craig Forester, aimed at bringing new therapies into phase II of clinical trials for pediatric MDS and AML to better define how to diagnose, classify and treat MDS patients.
  • The tumor research project, led by Dr. Adam Green, which will characterize the immune response to new brain tumors to better establish which types are amenable to cancer immunotherapy and provide a new prognostic marker for these diseases.
  • The sepsis biomarker project, led by Dr. Leonora Slatnick, will lead to novel ways of diagnosing and managing infectious complications in immunosuppressed patients.
  • The CAR-T Cell project, led by Dr. Lindsey Murphy and collaborating with Dr. Winters and members of the BMT-Cellular Therapeutics team, aims to use novel laboratory methods for detecting CAR-T cells in patients receiving those therapies to better understand how patients respond to these therapies and improve cure rates.

“With [Swim Across America grants] we’re building the largest national database on pediatric myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) to collect data on all of the past and future children with this life-threatening disorder. SAA’s contribution will help encourage research collaboration at over 50 children’s hospitals to enter data that will help develop a national standards-of-practice to treat pediatric MDS,” said Taizo Nakano, MD.

Grants from SAA will also be used to fund site initiation of a nationwide clinical trial for pediatric MDS at Children’s Colorado and will also be critical for Dr. Forester and Dr. Winters as they investigate the biological activity of the drug combination being tested.

“This will allow us to understand why the drugs work for pediatric MDS and perhaps enable us to predict at diagnosis which children with MDS are more or less likely to benefit from these drugs,” said Amanda Winters, MD.

“We welcome and invite our Colorado community to join us,” said Nicole Vanderpoel and Jessica Vitcenda, community leaders for SAA—Denver. “You can swim, volunteer or do a virtual activity with all the proceeds staying in Denver to benefit Children’s Colorado.”

Learn more about SAA-Denver and how you can get involved by visiting Swim Across America – Denver.  

Support Swim Across America with a Qualified Charitable Distribution from your IRA:

Make Waves to Fight Cancer while satisfying your required minimum distribution.

What is a QCD?

A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is a distribution of funds from your IRA (excluding an ongoing SEP or SIMPLE IRA) directly to a qualified charitable organization, such as Swim Across America. Since the gift goes directly to the qualified charity without passing through your hands, the dollar amount of the donation may be excluded from your taxable income up to a maximum of $100,000 annually, with some exceptions. Please consult your tax advisor for information regarding your specific exceptions.

To learn more about QCDs, visit IRS.gov

Am I eligible to make a QCD?

If you are 70.5 years or older, you can make tax-free gifts to Swim Across America of up to $100,000 from your IRA. Your donation will count toward your minimum required distribution.

How do I make a QCD to Swim Across America?

Contact your IRA custodian and request a direct transfer to:

Swim Across America, Inc.
8508 Park Road #389 Charlotte, NC 28210
Tax ID number: 22-3248256

Do not withdraw the funds and make a contribution yourself, or you will have to report the withdrawal as taxable income. If you are requesting the transfer at the end of the tax year, allow enough time for the transfer to complete by December 31. 

Please note: we are not in a position to give formal tax advice, and we strongly advise you to have these gifts reviewed by your own qualified financial or tax advisors.

BLOCK CANCER: Inspiring Photos of Olympian Elizabeth Beisel’s Historic Swim

On September 25th, three-time Olympian and 2016 Team USA Captain Elizabeth Beisel made history as the first woman to swim the 10.4 miles from mainland Rhode Island to Block Island. She undertook this open-water challenge as a fundraiser for Swim Across America (SAA) to benefit cancer research and patient programs in honor of her father, Charles “Ted” Lyons Beisel, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in July. To date this charity swim has raised over $163,000.

Thanks to photographer Cate Brown, we have some great images to share from that historic day below.

More information is still available at blockcancer.org.

Swim Across America – Charleston-Kiawah Researcher Awarded 5-Year NCI Grant

Swim Across America is proud to share that MUSC Hollings Cancer Center researcher Haizhen (Jen) Wang, Ph.D., has been awarded a five-year $344,000 per year grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to pursue her early investigator studies in leukemia. Prior to receiving NCI funding, Dr. Wang’s research was supported by $65,000 in grants from the Swim Across America – Charleston-Kiawah charity swim held annually at Kiawah Island Golf Resort.

Swim Across America helps fill the funding void by providing grants so doctors can conduct clinical trials and research that can lead to breakthroughs in detection and treatment. When this funding leads to larger grants like Dr. Wang’s with the NCI, it’s a win not only for future patients but for all Swim Across America participants, donors and beneficiary partners.

According to the Hollings website, Dr. Wang’s research “focuses on uncovering the connection between cancer metabolism and cancer immunology. Her research has shown that a molecule called cyclin-dependent kinase 6 (CDK6) may be a key regulatory molecule in cancers such as leukemia.” The grant funding has already started this year and allows Dr. Wang to add research team members. The grant also has the unique option to extend two more years.

SAA-Charleston-Kiawah has supported MUSC Hollings Cancer Center since 2019 and has welcomed Dr. Wang, her family and other members of the Hollings team to participate in our annual charity swim.

To learn more about the impact or donate, please visit swimacrossamerica.org/kiawah

‘WaveMakers’ Docu-Series about Swim Across America Premieres July 8 to Share Stories of Hope in the Fight Against Cancer

Grammy Award-Winner John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band Contributes Theme Song ‘I’ll Take You Home’  and Provides Narration for ‘WaveMakers’

CHARLOTTE, July 1, 2021 — Every 15 minutes, 50 Americans are diagnosed with cancer. That’s close to 1.9 million new cases of cancer diagnosed just this year with an estimated 600,000 cancer deaths. But those statistics don’t tell the whole story. Within someone’s cancer journey, there are remarkable stories. Stories of triumph, stories of courage, stories of pioneers and stories of heartbreak that inspire.

WaveMakers is a new docu-series about Swim Across America, produced by Browning Production & Entertainment, and airing on the Discovery Life Network beginning July 8 at 8:00 p.m. (EST). It is a six-episode series that shares the stories of patients, survivors, family members, oncologists, swimmers, volunteers and Olympians who are all striving to make waves in the fight against cancer.  

“WaveMakers showcases the Swim Across America community that is changing the face of cancer,” noted Rob Butcher, CEO of Swim Across America. “Our grants have led to breakthrough treatments such as immunotherapy that are saving lives. WaveMakers is a beautiful showcase of stories, and how the disease changes lives. We hope that viewers will be inspired and in watching WaveMakers know that there is hope.”

Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band-member John Driskell Hopkins wrote the theme song “I’ll Take you Home” for WaveMakers and provides the voice-over for the six episodes.

“I wrote ‘I’ll Take You Home’ to honor our family friend Grace Bunke, who sadly lost her life to osteosarcoma, and inspire her mother Vicki who is carrying on Grace’s legacy through Swim Across America to help others,” said John Driskell Hopkins. “I’m honored to be part of the story that brings a message of hope to so many.” 

WaveMakers six-part docu-series will air for six weeks on Discovery Life Network. The first episode will air July 8 at 8 p.m., (EST). The trailer and broadcast schedule with show titles are available at wavemakers.tv.

Episode 1: July 8th; A 14-year old with osteosarcoma patient inspires a movement

Episode 2: July 15th; A mom honors her daughter’s legacy

Episode 3: July 22; Olympians and survivors inspiring each other

Episode 4: July 29; Why is it so hard to cure cancer?

Episode 5: August 5; When will cancer finally be cured?

Episode 6: August 12; A family overcomes heartbreak to find purpose with Swim Across America

Media Inquiries: Jenifer Howard | 203-273-4246 jhoward@jhowardpr.com

About Swim Across America: Swim Across America (SAA) is dedicated to raising money and awareness for cancer research, prevention and treatment through swimming-related charity events. Founded in 1987, Swim Across America has granted more than $100 million that has funded cancer research and clinical trials. With the help of volunteers nationwide and Olympians, Swim Across America grants have been at the forefront of leading to new treatments in immunotherapy and gene therapy. To learn more visit swimacrossamerica.org or follow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

2020 Swim Across America Highlights: Douglas Whitlock Bicycles from Chicago to St. Louis

This year, when Swim Across America pivoted from open water swims to virtual challenges, people have been finding all kinds of fun and creative ways to support Swim Across America and cancer research in their community. We’re highlighting some of the best ‘Making Waves to Fight Cancer’ stories with Swim Across America in 2020!

Douglas Whitlock, Swim Across America – St. Louis participant and partner at Sandberg Phoenix, one of SAA-St. Louis’s official sponsors, took his SAA -Coast to Coast Challenge to whole new level by bicycling from Grant Park in Chicago all the way to The Gateway Arch in St. Louis – a bike ride that is over 300 miles! Not only did he complete the journey, he and his team raised over $13,000 for groundbreaking cancer research and clinical trials at Siteman Cancer Center along the way! Congratulations to Doug for finishing such a challenging journey and for inspiring us all.

Swim Across America Awards a Record $6 Million in Grants to Fight Cancer for 2020

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In 1987, an inaugural charity swim was hosted across Long Island Sound that raised $5,000 for cancer research. Since then, Swim Across America charity swims have granted nearly $100M that has funded innovative cancer research and clinical trials. Swim Across America grants have played a major role in the development of immunotherapy, detection, gene therapy and personalized medicine. The impact is that families who hear “you have cancer” are more than ever hearing “there is hope.”

In 2020, Swim Across America will be awarding a record $6 million in cancer research grants that will fund more than 50 projects and programs at the following beneficiaries: Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy (Connecticut), Baylor Scott & White Sammons Cancer Center (Dallas), Cancer Support Team (Westchester, NY), RUSH University Medical Center (Chicago), Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (New York), Columbia University Medical Center (New York), Dana- Farber Cancer Institute (Boston), Feinstein Institute for Medical Research (New York), Medical University of South Carolina Hollings Cancer Center (Charleston), Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center (Baltimore), Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital (Tampa), Atrium Health Levine Cancer Institute (Charlotte), MassGeneral Hospital for Children (Boston), MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston), Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York), Moffitt Cancer Center (Tampa), Nantucket Cottage Hospital, Palliative and Support Care of Nantucket, Siteman Cancer Center (St. Louis), Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, UC Benioff Children’s Hospitals (San Francisco and Oakland), Children’s Hospital Colorado (Denver), University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center (Detroit), VCU Massey Cancer Center (Richmond) and Women and Infants Hospital (Rhode Island).

In addition to these grants that are being funded by Swim Across America charity swims within their community, Swim Across America is awarding $120,000 in grants to the Conquer Cancer Foundation (American Society of Clinical Oncology—ASCO) and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) that will fund young investigators who have promising ideas to fight cancer.

For more information, please visit swimacrossamerica.org

Swim Across America Impact: The 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine

Since it’s founding in 1987, SAA charity swims have funded more than $75 million to cancer research. SAA grant researchers have developed multiple FDA approved immunotherapies, gene therapy and personalized therapy treatments. Swim Across America Impact highlights  where SAA grants have changed lives.

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The 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine has been awarded to Dr. Jim Allison and Dr. Tasuku Honjo for their work in immunotherapy.  Swim Across America grants have played a role in the development of their research.

Dr. Jim Allison has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his breakthrough research that our immune system can fight cancer. The Swim Across America research lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center collaborated with Dr. Allison to focus its research and clinical trials to understand how immunotherapy treatments could be developed for patients. The research and our grant funding at Memorial Sloan is more important than ever to understand why some patients respond to immunotherapy and others

Dr. Tasuku Honjo was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine. His discovery helped pioneer a new type of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. With Dr. Honjo’s discovery, SAA beneficiary Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins was able to conduct a clinical trial funded by Swim Across America that helped lead to the FDA approval of Keytruda. Families are being given hope because of pioneering research and non-profits like Swim Across America that provide grant funding.

You can read more about the 2018 prize here.