The Maine Cancer Foundation, which in 2012 received $1.2 million from the Tri for a Cure triathlon, recently announced the recipients of more than $1.3 million in grant funding for cancer research, education and patient support programs statewide.
“We feel very fortunate to be able to increase the number of grants we awarded this year,” said Tara Hill, executive director of Maine Cancer Foundation. “By funding 32 different organizations, we’re adopting a comprehensive approach to fighting cancer in Maine.”
This year’s grant recipients range across the state, from York County to Aroostook County, and include all aspects of cancer, from laboratory research to patient transportation.
“Research is at the core of our grant program,” said Hill. “We are providing more than a million dollars this year for cancer research focused on cures. Some programs examine a specific type of cancer, such as Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, which is being studied by Dr. Xuehui Yang at Maine Medical Center Research Institute, while other efforts work to improve basic biological sciences, like the work of Dr. Kyuson Yun, who seeks to improve the viability of tumor samples at The Jackson Laboratory.
This year, several proposals were awarded multi-year “accelerator” grants, eligible for up to $200,000.
“Some ideas are worth the extra investment,“ said Hill. “A proposal arrives and you say, ‘Wow! This is a great idea, let’s encourage this.’”
Previously, Maine Cancer Foundation grants had averaged around $80,000.
“As the foundation has grown, the types of research we can fund has grown,” said Hill. “Public support for fighting cancer in Maine is very strong, and we’re determined to make the absolute best use of the dollars we have.”
One such proposal is headed by Dr. Peter Brooks at Maine Medical Center Research Institute. Brooks is currently examining a custom molecule developed by his lab called C45Na, which he hopes can be shown to block cell growth in breast cancer tumors. Brooks will be using his grant funding to provide the pharmacological studies needed to submit C45Na for FDA testing and eventual human clinical trials.
“Targeted molecular treatments are one of the most exciting developments happening today,” said Hill. “Think of treating cancer like trying to remove dandelions from your lawn. You have several options. You could mow the lawn – that’s like surgery, but only get the weeds you can see, and they often grow back. Or, you could cover everything in weed-killer, which is more like chemotherapy. It works, but it’s toxic and you kill some of the good plants along with bad. Molecular targeting would be like having a full-time gardener who removes every single weed by hand. This would be the best of both worlds, no cancer cells, and no side effects.”
Despite advances in research, Maine has long trailed behind the nation in the fight against cancer, currently ranking number 49 in the Center for Disease Control’s annual report on cancer incidence.
“Maine suffers from a unique combination of factors,” said Cullen McGough, director of communications for Maine Cancer Foundation. “We have a state population that is older than the national average, smokes more than average, and is spread out across a very large geographic area. All of these contribute to an increased cancer rate.”
In an effort to combat these challenges, Maine Cancer Foundation also provides grants for transportation, screening, education, patient services and even professional development.
“The transportation requests we get are a great example of the desperate need for cancer services in some parts of Maine.” said McGough. “For many people in rural areas, the nearest treatment center can be hundreds of miles away, or for some cancers, only available in Massachusetts. We hear about women who have chosen mastectomies over less-damaging treatments simply because they can’t find a ride to therapy, and that’s unacceptable. We can do better.“
Maine Cancer Foundation is already looking forward to 2014 and the next round of grants.
“We are honored that the people of Maine have trusted us with their support and their donations,” said Hill. “Thanks to the Tri for a Cure and our other fundraisers, we will continue to seek out the most promising research and the most effective programs.“
Hill urges any organization that is engaged in the fight against cancer to apply for a grant – or help fund one.
“We’re fighting, and we’re winning.” said Hill. “A hundred years ago, if I told you we would beat smallpox, you wouldn’t believe me. Fifty years ago, if I told you we would beat polio, you wouldn’t believe me. Beating cancer is hard, but today there are effective treatments for many types of cancer and the promise of more to come, but only if we try.”