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.
On September 25th, 2021, three-time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel completed the 10.4-mile ocean swim from mainland Rhode Island to Block Island. Elizabeth partnered with Swim Across America for “Block Cancer” to honor her father, Ted Beisel, who passed in 2021 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Elizabeth became the first woman to successfully complete the swim raising over $160,000.
In addition to the $160,000 Elizabeth raised, Swim Across America raised an additional $500,000, with appreciation to the Lustgarten Foundation, to create a $660,000 grant bucket. The $660,000 is being applied to three grants to fight pancreatic cancer in honor of Ted Beisel:
a) A $60,000 grant to Dr. Peter Yu (NYU) pancreatic research metabolism study was awarded in 2022 b) A $300,000 grant to Dr. Ajay Goel (City of Hope) to conduct research for pancreatic detection was awarded in 2023 c) A $300,000 grant for pancreatic research will be announced in April of 2024
Photo: Elizabeth presents the award to Dr. Yu at Swim Across America—Rhode Island
Background: Swim Across America is celebrating 35 years of impact this year in our public service message with Clear Channel Outdoor in Times Square. We highlighted some of the incredible milestones we’ve achieved as an organization thanks to the tireless efforts of our swimmers, volunteers and donors. You can read more about our history at swimacrossamerica.org/35. Thank you for #MakingWavesToFightCancer with us. And if you are inspired to help others, find a charity swim near you at swimacrossamerica.org. Thanks to the Clear Channel Outdoor team for supporting the Swim Across America mission on the largest scale! You can read about more about the partnership here.
Times Square Details: The 30 second ad is running for 3 weeks in July. The two screens stand 100 feet tall combined – 55′ H x 31′ W and 44′ H x 44′ W and the location was adjacent to Duffy Square and the TKTS on Broadway between 46th and 47th Streets.
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.
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.
“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’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