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Hope fuels a search for the cure for cancer

Three-time cancer survivor Annie Parker hopes to live long enough to witness a cure for cancer. However, she’s not alone in this endeavor of helping patients treat cancer cases and ultimately finding a cure.


“That’s what we’re all hoping for,” Parker said. “That is the ultimate goal. As I’ve always said, it’s about minutes and time, and people to get more time with their families. So whatever works, whether it’s a clinical trial, chemotherapy or radiation, that gets people more time to spend with their families.”


University of Toledo President Sharon Gaber and Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, joined forces with Parker Jan. 24 to host “An Evening with Annie Parker” at the Maumee Indoor Theater.


Parker’s lifelong battle with cancer first appeared in the public eye when she was the first woman in Canada to test positive for the BRCA 1 gene mutation that leads to a higher risk of many breast and ovarian cancers.


“I don’t consider this just my story,” Parker said. “I consider it so many other people’s stories too, and I often say I wish someone had given me my book because more stories that are told and more cancer patients now don’t need to feel alone.” 


She added that while the diagnosis of cancer will certainly test individuals’ emotions, faith and confidence, the efforts in cancer research of the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at the UT Medical Center will no longer allow patients to feel uneducated and, more importantly, alone. 


In order to provide more information on cancer, the event included a panel with professors and researchers from UTMC.


Gaber led the opening remarks, expressing her extreme gratitude and pride that this moment finally came to fruition because she is a cancer survivor herself. 


“…Thank you to everyone that is here today,” Gaber said. “Thank you to everyone who was able to make this moment possible.”


The event also included the short film “Decoding Annie Parker,” inspired by Parker’s story. It highlighted her triumphant journey of overcoming cancer cases and, ultimately, almost discovering the cure for cancer.


Dr. Charles Brunicardi, professor of surgery at UT and academic chief of surgery at ProMedica, shared that the vision for cancer care in Northwest Ohio is finding better targeting therapy. 


“So, you have genomics, you then try to figure out what the targets are and then you come up with better therapies,” Brunicardi said. “We’ve now formed a group with the support of UT and the support of ProMedica, and if we can figure out how to target it, we can prolong life for patients with cancer.”

 

He added that cancer patients will suffer less because they will be using targeting therapy that won’t be toxic. Brunicardi said their team is very close to changing the per diems for the way they treat cancer by having targeting therapy.

 

It will transform the way cancer is treated in Northwest Ohio and hopefully even transform cancer care all over the country Brunicardi said.


Ann Kujawa, vice president of the ProMedica Cancer Institute, added that UT’s partnership with ProMedica will allow education and research to move forward as clinical trials are driving them to targeting therapy. 


“We are better together to help and promote our communities,” Kujawa said. “We are better together to train medical students, residents, fellows and physicians to develop a loyalty to the community.” 


Kujawa said that these individuals will not only study and practice here, but that they will also discover and remain here so that they can develop our communities for what they strive to be.


Another professional who contributed to this discussion was Dr. William Maltese, professor and chairman of the cancer biology department and McMaster endowed chair of biochemistry and cancer biology at UT, who shared information on the types of research being conducted at UT in the field of cancer biology. 


Another faculty member, Dr. Kate Icemen, is currently engaged in a study using ovarian cancer tissues she acquired through the ProMedica tissue bank, Maltese said. She has discovered a new class of drugs that can block the movement of the ovarian cancer cells. Even though there are tumor cells living in these little clusters, once they encounter a normal tissue, these drugs completely paralyze the tumor cells so they cannot move out into the normal tissue.


“If we can prove that this process is not toxic to normal cells, we can move toward clinical trials,” Maltese said.


He hopes the phase one trials can happen in their own cancer center.


The program concluded with closing remarks from Cooper, who expressed his deepest appreciation to Parker, the panelists and those who financed the program with their contributions.  


“Finally, to each of you who are survivors, know that you’re not alone in your journey,” Cooper said. “Each year, about 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer. It’s important to know we are here with you.”


After the program ended, each survivor and community member went home with a paperback copy of “Annie Parker Decoded .” She urges medical professionals, cancer patient survivors and all attendees to keep asking hard questions, innovating, pushing the envelope and not to stop dreaming of a cancer cure. 
 

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