Here are some recent stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have had in the Tampa community benefiting Rogel Cancer Center. If you would like to register, volunteer or donate, please visit swimacrossamerica.org/detroit.
Here are some recent stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have had in the Charleston-Kiawah community benefiting MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. If you would like to register, volunteer or donate, please visit swimacrossamerica.org/kiawah.
Here are some recent stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have had in the Nashville community benefiting Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. If you would like to register, volunteer or donate, please visit swimacrossamerica.org/nashville.
Here are some recent stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have had in the Houston community benefiting MD Anderson Cancer Center. If you would like to register, volunteer or donate, please visit swimacrossamerica.org/houston.
Here are some recent stories that display the impact all the members of the Swim Across America family have had in the Tampa community benefiting Johns Hopkins All Chidren’s Hospital. If you would like to register, volunteer or donate, please visit swimacrossamerica.org/tampa.
To date, Swim Across America has contributed close to $4.2 million for clinical research at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Fred Hutch. Starting in 2019, funds raised from the SAA-Seattle have gone to support breakthrough research by young investigators. In 2021, six grants were awarded to researchers focused on: lymphoma, sarcoma, breast, pancreatic, and urological cancer research. Below, the grant recipients share progress statements on their research over the last year.
Dr. Meghan Flanagan Research focus: Breast cancer Project title: Association of HSD3B1 (1245C) genotype with recurrence among post-menopausal women with estrogen receptor- positive, HER2- negative breast cancer Background: Endocrine (antiestrogen) therapy reduces the risk of recurrence and improves mortality among women with hormone-receptor positive breast cancer. However, approximately one-quarter of women are inherently resistant or develop resistance to endocrine therapy. Ultimately, this research may allow us to identify women with innate endocrine resistance and develop novel therapeutics and treatment strategies. Progress Statement: The SAA funds were used to evaluate whether an association exists between a mutation in a gene (HSD3B1, involved in hormone biosynthesis) and breast cancer outcomes. Using extensively collected clinical and pathologic data about patient demographics, tumor and treatment data and recurrence rates, we were able to show that women with two mutations in the HSD3B1 gene had higher rates of distant metastatic recurrence compared to those women who did not have this mutation. Future studies will be forthcoming to determine how this mutation may decrease the effectiveness of anti-estrogen medications that are used universally in post-menopausal ER+ breast cancer. This mutation is found in up to 15 percent of ER+ post-menopausal breast cancer patients, and if shown to decrease the effectiveness of anti-estrogen medications, there would be potential indications for alternative treatment strategies in these patients.
Dr. Sita Kugel Research focus: Pancreatic Cancer Project title: Exploring novel functions of HMGA2 in pancreatic cancer Background: Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma (PDA) is an extremely lethal disease with a 5-year survival rate of less than 10%. Recent work has led to the discovery that PDA can be subdivided into two principal subtypes based on transcriptional signatures: classical and quasi-mesenchymal (QM). The QM PDA subtype is more aggressive and has the worst overall survival. Our laboratory has been focused on understanding of the mechanisms that drive each subtype in hopes of identifying therapeutic vulnerabilities that may be exploited in the clinic. Progress Statement: Within an already challenging malignancy, there are transcriptional subtypes of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma that are especially lethal. Understanding what defines each subtype, as well as their susceptibilities and mechanisms of resistance, will help to identify new targeted therapies or combination therapies and lead to more treatment options for this devastating disease.
Dr. Jonathan Sham Research focus: Pancreatic Cancer Project title: Novel Drug- eluting Biopolymer to Reduce Pancreatic Fistula and Improve Outcomes After Pancreatic Surgery Background: Pancreatectomy is the mainstay of any potentially curative treatment regimen for pancreatic cancer. Despite an overall improvement in the safety of pancreatic surgery over the past several decades, the morbidity of pancreatectomy remains exceedingly high. The most significant complication after pancreatic surgery is postoperative pancreatic fistula (POPF), which occurs in up to 60% of cases. The use of a biopolymer, poly(Nisopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM), is an innovative method to prevent leakage of pancreatic juice from the cut surface of the gland, while the suspended octreotide- eluting microspheres will simultaneously reduce baseline pancreatic fluid secretion. This novel dual-action approach will be tested in a validated rat model of POPF with the goal of rapid clinical translation and patient benefit. Progress Statement: Swim Across America is advancing our work to improve outcomes after pancreatic surgery. Their support is enabling a trailblazing collaboration between surgeons and bioengineers to develop novel ways to stop leaks after pancreas surgery and make patients live happier, healthier and longer lives. Polymer synthesis is moving forward, and two teams are working on creating and testing polymers with different characteristics for use in our animal experiments.
Dr. Jordan Gauthier Research focus: CAR T-cell therapy Project title: Factors associated with failure of CD19 CAR T cells in diffuse large B cell lymphoma Background: We are investigating two factors potentially critical to failure of CD19 CAR T-cell therapy for DLBCL: a) T cell dysfunction, impeding the generation of functional CAR T cells during manufacturing; b) the suppressive tumor microenvironment (TME). Our studies will better characterize T cell dysfunction and the TME as core mechanisms of failure of CD19 CAR T cells and identify potential targets to improve outcomes of CAR T-cell therapy for DLBCL. Progress Statement: The Swim Across America grant allowed us to explore the two following aims. Aim 1: To determine whether exhausted T cells are associated with treatment failure after CAR T-cell therapy for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). We analyzed blood samples from 34 DLBCL patients treated on a clinical trial of CAR T-cell therapy. While we did not confirm an association between exhausted T cells and treatment failure, we found that a higher proportion of terminally differentiated T cells may have an adverse impact on the outcomes of CAR T-cell therapy. Aim 2: To determine if an exhausted gene signature in T cells from lymphoma tumors is associated with treatment failure, we analyzed pre-treatment tumor biopsies obtained from 17 patients receiving CAR T-cell therapy. In biopsies from patients in complete response after CAR T-cell therapy, we found that T cell-associated genes were overexpressed compared to patients not in complete response after treatment. This suggests that tumors more permissive to T cell infiltration might respond better to CAR T-cell therapy. So far, we have not confirmed that an exhausted gene signature is associated with treatment failure. The SAA grant has been used to design and optimize novel assays that will allow us to further address this aim in the future.
Dr. John Lee Research focus:Sarcoma Project title: Development of STEAP1 chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy for Ewing sarcoma Background: Ewing sarcoma (ES) is a soft tissue/bone cancer with 200 newly diagnosed adolescents/young adults per year in the United States. Patients with metastatic dissemination face a very grim prognosis as available treatments are unable to eradicate the disease. New therapeutic approaches are needed. If successful, these studies will help lay the groundwork for the development and clinical translation of a first-in-field STEAP1 CAR T-cell immunotherapy for ES. Progress Statement: We applied the Swim Across America grant to evaluate whether a novel chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy targeting the protein STEAP1 could be an effective strategy to treat Ewing sarcoma. Our results indicate that human Ewing sarcoma tumor models commonly express STEAP1 and are susceptible to killing by STEAP1 CAR T cells. In related studies, we have also determined that STEAP1 CAR T cell therapy appears safe in a novel mouse model that we engineered to express human STEAP1. Together, these findings provide the rational to translate STEAP1 CAR T cell therapy into clinical trials for Ewing sarcoma in the near future.
Dr. Adam Gadzinski Research focus:Urological cancer Project title: Interstate Telehealth to improve access to urological cancer care among rural patients. Background: Timely access to urological cancer care is challenging for rural patients who often travel great distances to tertiary centers. This is particularly true for patients residing in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) region. We hypothesize that Telehealth will provide similar patient satisfaction, reduced costs, and earlier time to treatment. We further hypothesize that implementation of the interstate Telehealth program will decrease referral to visit time and increase clinical efficiency. Lastly, we hypothesize that providing Telehealth appointments will increase the frequency of referrals from rural areas. We anticipate that implementation of our interstate Telehealth program will improve access to urological cancer care for rural and underserved patients throughout the WWAMI region. Progress Statement: Our SAA grant has been used to support our telemedicine research efforts to assess the quality of telemedicine visits for cancer patients from rural areas and the Pacific Northwest states. We have demonstrated that telemedicine visits save cancer patients and their families a significant amount of time and money that would have been spent traveling to doctor appointments. We also found that patients are very satisfied with receiving cancer care remotely via telemedicine, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 email@example.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.
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.