Woman’s Cancer Association Announces Grant Recipients

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What began as a small grassroots effort more than six decades ago has once again resulted in a major influx of funds for innovative cancer research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. The Woman’s Cancer Association (WCA) of the University of Miami recently announced five new grants for physician-researchers at Sylvester.

WCA President Bill Tenney, right, presenting a check for five new grants for Sylvester researchers, to Shawn McGee, senior director of development.

“The Miller School of Medicine and Sylvester are making incredible advances in cancer research and patient care,” said Bill Tenney, president of the WCA. “We are dedicated to providing the seed funds brilliant physician-researchers need to forge ahead with their discoveries.”

The WCA has a long history of raising funds to support research at the Cancer Center. Since its inception in 1959, the group has raised more than $14 million to promote cancer research, patient treatment, and education, including the five new grants, which total $285,000.

Luisa Cimmino, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, received a grant of $100,000 for her research entitled “Enhancing TET Function with Vitamin C for the Treatment of Leukemia.”

“As a junior faculty member of Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, I am very grateful to the Woman’s Cancer Association,” Dr. Cimmino said. “They are supporting my research in the pursuit of our common goal, to improve treatment outcomes for patients with cancer.

Marzenna Blonska, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine, also received a grant of $100,000 for research entitled “Oncogenic Signaling Pathways in B-Cell Lymphomas.”

“I truly appreciate the generous support that I received from the Woman’s Cancer Association,” Dr. Blonska said. “These funds will help to identify the mechanisms that lead to the spread of cancer cells and resistance to current therapy, improving the therapeutic intervention in patients suffering from a metastatic disease.”

Julio Barredo, M.D., professor of medicine, received a grant of $50,000 for research targeting the intersection of metabolism and epigenetics in the treatment of acute leukemia. “Our efforts investigating and developing new therapies for children, adolescents, and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia are only feasible with the support of organizations like the Woman’s Cancer Association,” said Dr. Barredo, who is also the associate chair for basic research at the Holtz Children's Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center.

Other support includes the Pearl M. and Edwin L. Powell Woman’s Cancer Association Endowment Fund. Each year, the WCA awards a grant to a physician-researcher at Sylvester from the endowment’s accrued interest. This year, Macarena de la Fuente, M.D., assistant professor of neuro-oncology, received $30,000 for her research.

“These funds will allow me to continue our research program related to the identification and clinical application of novel radiographic biomarkers for isocitrate dehydrogenase mutant gliomas,” said Dr. de la Fuente, who also received a WCA $30,000 grant for her research in brain cancer in 2014.

The WCA also continued their 20-year support of the Holtz Children’s Hospital Pediatric Palliative Care team with a grant of $5,000.

“The resilience, love of life, and consistent generosity of WCA members, has provided our team with the fortitude to improve our delivery of quality-focused care to our patients and families dealing with the ravages of cancer,” said G. Patricia Cantwell, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and director of pediatric palliative medicine at the University of Miami and Jackson Health System.

“Their donations have enabled us to improve education and training for medical staff members at all levels in areas of communication, pain and symptom management, and the art of navigating goals of care,” said Dr. Cantwell, who is also the pediatric medical director of TiLLiKids/Heartland and medical manager of US&R South Florida Task Force 2.

In addition to research, the WCA’s funding initiatives focus on cancer patient treatment and recovery. The WCA’s Silver Lady Fund supports cancer patients with special needs who are unable to pay for treatment, and the group has also established a bereavement room for families of pediatric cancer patients and supplied materials for the library at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute.

The Woman’s Cancer Association got its start in the late 1950s, when 28 Dade County women met to discuss ways to help fight the battle against cancer. By 1959, the group had adopted its organizational charter as the Woman’s Cancer Association of the University of Miami. There are currently two chapters that comprise the Woman’s Cancer Association — the Barton Ravlin Chapter and Heidi Hewes Chapter — both of which raise funds from individual and family grants, community partners, corporate sponsors, fundraisers, and proceeds from their resale store, the Bargain Box.

“The Woman’s Cancer Association’s support is invaluable in our work to save lives,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester, the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, and professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology. “The funds they raise advance the essential research required to find cures and improve treatment options for our communities.”

Additional information is available on the WCA website.

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