Cancer research stands at a critical junction. Never before has technology and knowledge about cellular behavior been so advanced. However, federal funding shortfalls have led a decline in funding for cancer research, says oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Increases in funding from pharmaceutical companies have helped make up some of the gap, but scientists worry that the profit motives will affect the types of research conducted. Dr. Barrett Rollins, chief scientific officer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says:

“Government is really the only entity that can support unfettered research because it recognizes that there may be a great lag time between a discovery and its application that benefits society. Shareholders would not want a company to think that way.”

However, a growing organization, called Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C), is working to support a new framework for cancer research, changing not only the funding sources, but also the way research is done. On September 5 at 8 p.m./7 p.m. Central, the organization is hosting the televised Stand Up To Cancer Day to fundraise for the cause.

Stand Up To Cancer Day on Sept. 5 will raise money for innovative cancer research.

To promote the fundraising effort, Hollywood’s biggest names including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Ben Stiller have teamed up for a star-studded evening that will be televised on more than 30 major television stations, including ABC, CBS, NBC, E!, Bravo, ESPNEWS, and more. The stations are donating commercial-free airtime for the Stand Up To Cancer Day fundraising event.

Stand Up To Cancer’s way of fundraising is different, and so is its approach.

Many of the organization’s studies are high-risk, which means they’re without predictable results. Although some high-risk clinical trials yield little information, they’re worthwhile because they’re the studies with the potential to produce breakthrough science that changes everything. Maybe even cure cancer.

Because the outcomes are so uncertain, these high-risk trials are also those not likely to receive funding from a company that answers to shareholders.

Stand Up To Cancer Day fundraising pays for research emphasizing collaboration and impact over competition and sure bets.

Another common feature of medical research is that it’s a highly competitive game, with institutions and researchers strategizing, sometimes undercutting one another in an effort to win money and publish studies first. Stand Up to Cancer Day fundraising dollars support a different way of operating.

The organization awards grants to dream teams that are working on specific problems in cancer research. The teams are comprised of scientists from multiple institutions and disciplines, which typically doesn’t happen in clinical research. However, the organization says collaboration is the best way to advance cancer research.

Current dream teams include those studying breast and pancreatic cancer, and PI3K, a complex pathway discovered that cancer uses to grow and survive. The PI3K Dream Team is working to learn how different types of tumors react to drugs designed to inhibit the pathway and destroy cancer cells, including breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer cells.

Other dream teams funded by Stand Up To Cancer Day include one studying so-called tumor organoids, which are tumors growing in laboratory conditions, outside the human body.

Scientists have the ability to examine cancer cells and uncover all the DNA malfunctions that occurred leading up to the malignancy. This dream team figured out how to create the tumor organoids, and then test various ways of killing them. This method opens up important and promising ways to test cancer drugs in the laboratory and increase the pace of research.

The tumor organoid dream team’s current trials are focused on colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. With funding for the project estimated at $8.3 million, the research is as expensive as it is important. Stand Up To Cancer Day helps raise money to continue this life-saving research.

Stand Up To Cancer formed in May 2008, and since then, the organization’s researchers have worked on more than 140 clinical trials involving more than 4,000 patients. All proceeds from Stand Up To Cancer Day support the effort.

Every 30 seconds, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with cancer. Every three minutes, two people die from it.

Cancer is the second most common cause of death, accounting for 25% of all mortality, according to SU2C. Thanks to advances in research, two out of three people survive the disease at least five years.

Common cancers include lung, prostate, breast, and skin cancer. However, cancer can develop anywhere in the body and more than 100 types of the disease exist. While great advances in treatment have resulted in more cancer survivors, people continue to develop cancer at a stable rate, according to the University of Southern California.

Early detection is the best way to ensure a good prognosis, with the disease being relatively easy to treat if caught early.

Cancer develops when cells begin multiplying out of control, growing in a malignant mass known as a tumor. At first, the cancerous cells stay in one place, but they spread to other parts of the body if left unchecked.

Learning about cancer is complex because different types of cancer behave in distinct ways, and even one type of cancer, such as breast, may have sub-characteristics that affect treatment.

For example, some breast cancer cells have estrogen receptors, which means estrogen encourages the tumor’s growth. Meanwhile, breast cancer cells in other women don’t have estrogen receptors. The two types of breast cancer require different drugs to treat them, and that’s not all the types of breast cancer there are. Meanwhile, that’s just breast cancer.

Because of cancer’s complexity, efforts at collaborative research, such as those supported by Stand Up To Cancer Day, are critically important.

Cancer pain among patients and survivors is another critical issue. Cancer pain may result from tumor growth, treatment, or as a result of surgery to treat the cancer. Post-surgical chronic pain may develop when a nerve is severed while removing the tumor.

Although cancer pain is underreported and sometimes undertreated, particularly in survivors, much research is underway to uncover new methods of helping patients live fuller lives during and after treatment. For example, a treatment involving ultrasound guided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) allows doctors to essentially burn cancer cells while reducing pain related to bone metastases.

Do you plan to participate in Stand Up To Cancer Day?

Image by Yale Rosen via Flickr

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