Your Work – Five Research Projects Funded by the 2013 Event

Getting on a bike for the first time can be intimidating. Riding farther than you ever have before can be scary. Asking someone to donate can feel uncomfortable.

Helping to change the way we fight cancer is unforgettable.

Oaklands at the finish lineToday, every moment that you put in pays off. Today, we announced the five research projects that will be funded by your efforts, totally more than $400,000.

Today, we say thank you to everyone who participated in the inaugural Pedal the Cause. You are an integral part of funding collaborative, translational research here in San Diego that could soon be saving lives.

“I am certain that we can make progress toward new treatments for this devastating disease”

The projects were reviewed and approved by an esteemed panel of doctors and scientists on the C3 Grant Review and Approval Committee, chaired by Tony Hunter, Director of Salk Institute Cancer Center. The criteria on which they were evaluated was thorough and rigorous, with an emphasis on collaborative, translational research. Each grant recipient has the potential to make a huge difference in cancer treatment.

At the announcement event, Pedal the Cause executive director Patrick Connor reminded everyone that these grants are why we ride: “We founded Pedal to help fund transformative research with the potential for rapid impact on the way cancer is treated. Each of our five grantees will explore novel approaches to fighting cancer that could make a big difference for patients here in San Diego and around the world.”

Read more about each grant after the jump, and download the one-sheets for more details here.

Today, you made a difference.

Tell your donors what they helped accomplish.

Join us for Pedal the Cause 2014 and keep making your mark in the fight against cancer.

Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical GenomicsStopping Cancer Growth

The process of secretion by which cells export proteins was not previously known to play an important role in cancer. However, a newly discovered pathway that functions in secretion, named for its key protein GOLPH3, drives a high fraction of cancers that together account for the majority of cancer deaths, making an unprecedented link between secretion and cancer. Seth Field, MD, PhD, (UC San Diego) and Michael Jackson, PhD, (Sanford-Burnham) will collaborate on research to take advantage of this unique pathway as a target for a new class of cancer treatments. They will identify inhibitors of the GOLPH3 pathway to study their potential as novel cancer drugs.

“As a physician who often participates in the care of patients with cancer, I have witnessed the personal suffering that accompanies the diagnosis, despite the use of modern therapies,” said Dr. Field. “As a researcher I know that we can do better. Our goals are to better understand how this pathway contributes to cancer, and figure out how to stop it.”


Halting Breast Cancer’s Spread

The spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor to distant organs, termed metastasis, is the leading cause of cancer-related death. Even the removal of early-diagnosed primary breast cancer cannot guarantee prevention of metastatic recurrence many years later. Michael Karin, PhD, (Moores Cancer Center) and Geoffrey Wahl, PhD, (Salk) will research ways of halting breast cancer metastasis by inhibiting Ubc13 and p38, enzymes involved in controlling metastatic spread.

“When my dad died of kidney cancer it was awful to see how helpless he and his physicians were 30 years ago,” said Dr. Karin. “Ten years ago, after many years of basic research, I decided to do more towards the development of new therapeutic approaches to defeating cancer. I am very excited about this project because it can quickly lead to a new clinical trial that, if successful, will offer a new way to treat metastatic breast cancer. This grant will allow us to take our work closer to the clinic and to patients.”

“We have been working in breast cancer research for years and I have always wanted to translate our work to the clinic, but did not have an avenue until Pedal the Cause. This project offers an exciting new way to use a drug that is in the clinic to help stop metastasis, which is what kills most women with breast cancer,” said Dr. Wahl. “This project comes close to home since I witnessed the suffering my mother went through with metastatic colon cancer. She died of her illness. At that time, I redoubled my efforts to try to use my scientific knowledge so that other children, mothers, and fathers would not have to watch their loved ones pass away. If this project is successful, it would bring the dream of a world in which people do not die of metastatic cancer closer to reality.”


Reprogramming Pancreatic Cancer’s Hard Shell Dr. Andrew Lowy, UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center

Every day, a San Diegan will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, yet only one in 20 will survive for five years after this diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth deadliest cancer, yet very little progress has been made in fighting the disease over the last 50 years. Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat in part because the cancer grows encased in a thick tissue protective layer called the “activated stroma.” Andrew Lowy, MD, (Moores Cancer Center) and Geoffrey Wahl, PhD, (Salk) will study a novel way to treat this recalcitrant cancer by focusing on smart-drugs that can reprogram the stroma to allow other smart-drugs to attack the cancer inside.

“Our project, if successful, would be a new approach to pancreatic cancer treatment focusing not only on treating the cancer cell, but also the cells the cancer recruits to help it grow,” said Andrew Lowy, MD, FACS, chief, Division of Surgical Oncology at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. “My mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was 10 years old and survived for 15 years, enduring six cancer operations to see me graduate college and medical school, and become a surgeon. The dedication of the cancer physicians treating her made that possible and had a great influence on my decision to become a surgeon-scientist focused on cancer treatment and research.”

“Our new approach of attacking the cancer from the outside in, and from the inside out is very exciting, since, if the lab studies bear fruit, we would be able to take the two drugs we are using directly to the clinic since they are already in clinical trials for other types of cancer,” added Dr. Wahl. “I have been strongly motivated to do cancer research since I was a teenager, when I observed a close friend’s uncle suffer with what is now a treatable form of cancer. While I have seen great progress in many types of cancer, such advances did not come in time for my father, who had lung cancer, or my mother, who died of colon cancer. My dad died rapidly of causes unrelated to his cancer. My mother showed incredible courage in fighting her disease, and her example doubled my resolve to devote my career to doing research that would make a difference for those diagnosed with cancer. This project offers an opportunity to make good on that promise.”


Discovering Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor Weaknesses 

Gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST) is a cancer that arises from nerve cells that control the movement of muscles in the intestine. Many GISTs have a high level of a protein called KIT, which led to the use of a drug called imatinib that could attack KIT. This became the first targeted, personalized treatment of solid tumors. However, it did not completely cure the disease, because some GISTs don’t have the KIT target or develop a drug-resistant form of KIT. Jason Sicklick, MD, (Moores Cancer Center) and Robert Weschler-Reya, PhD, (Sanford-Burnham) will use advanced screening technology to discover new drugs that can target GISTs resistant to current therapies.

“Targeted cancer therapies continue to evolve. It is increasingly recognized that tumors are heterogeneous and one magic bullet is not enough to kill every cell type in a given cancer,” said Dr. Sicklick. “This research will shed further light upon this heterogeneity in gastrointestinal stromal tumors and will identify additional ammunition that can be used in combination with current drugs to minimize disease recurrence.”

“You could say the mission to cure the disease is in my DNA. My family’s medical history is rife with cancer and several relatives carry a cancer predisposition gene. During my general surgical residency, I got the dreaded call that my older sister had breast cancer at 37 years old. Five years after her diagnosis, during my training in surgical oncology, my 65-year old father, like several other family members, was found to carry the BRCA2 breast cancer gene. He was then diagnosed and treated for early stage lymphoma. Today he is free of disease and just celebrated his 70th birthday with his three children, including my sister, and his five grandchildren. For better or worse cancer is in my genes. Like the researchers, surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists that have helped my family over the last decade, I will work tirelessly to defeat this disease.”

“GIST is an extremely aggressive cancer, and even though there are drugs that work initially, many patients become resistant to them. It’s clear that we need new strategies for treating the disease,” said Dr. Weschler-Reya. “It is privilege to work with Jason Sicklick, who, in addition to treating GIST patients in the clinic, is one of the few scientists who devotes his research to studying the biology of the disease. With this understanding of GIST and our experience finding drugs that kill cancer cells, I am certain that we can make progress toward new treatments for this devastating disease.”


Dr. Madlensky and the patien familyFinding New Hereditary Breast Cancer Markers

Only 20 to 25 percent of breast cancer cases are linked to BRCA. Lisa Madlensky, Ph.D., (Moores Cancer Center) and Geoffrey Wahl, Ph.D., (Salk) are working with a family that is strongly suspected of carrying a hereditary breast cancer, but all members are BRCA-negative. The study aims to find a new gene that families with unexplained hereditary breast cancer can be tested for, in order to determine which family members have the gene and therefore need to be monitored carefully or undertake breast cancer prevention measures, and which family members did not inherit the gene and are considered to be at average risk.

“While a lot of emphasis is placed on research for cancer treatments and cures, I feel strongly about supporting research on the early detection and prevention of cancer,” said Dr. Madlensky. “One of my motivations comes from the patients I meet at Moores Cancer Center. Many of them express more concern for their children’s risk of cancer than for their own diagnosis or treatment. One of the unique things about cancer research is that often it starts off with an unusual finding from a single family, but then ends up impacting whole populations of cancer patients.”

“The ability to sequence the DNA of this family is a dream come true for us, especially since one of the sisters has become an important part of our lab family,” said Dr. Wahl. “This project offers our basic research lab a chance to contribute to an effort that will directly help a patient and a friend. It has been empowering to all of us. Furthermore, it is a testament to the unique strengths and collaborative spirit of the San Diego Biomedical community. In this particular case, the patients in question have the most common form of breast cancer, which is the type that expresses the estrogen receptor. If we are fortunate enough to be able discover a previously unknown gene linked to early onset estrogen receptor positive breast cancer that has a high probability of recurrence, it is likely that it would answer the ‘Why did I get this cancer so young’ of many patients, and it may help to identify additional people at high risk for breast cancer development in the future. Additionally, due to the uncertain nature of the outcome of this research, regardless of its potential for high impact, it would likely not be funded by mechanisms other than an entity like Pedal the Cause, which specifically tries to identify such high-risk, high-reward projects.”








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