Thursday, December 14, 2017
Health

Miles for Moffitt race proceeds all go straight to research grants

These are hard times for good causes.

We've seen glittering charity galas dialed back to quieter affairs, and fat donation checks slimmed substantially since the economy went south.

Politics have played a role, too. Komen for the Cure races around the country report that participation is down more than 25 percent since the national breast cancer charity tried cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood.

Yet judging from the local calendar, more groups than ever are putting on races and other fundraisers. As a participant, I've wondered how much of my money goes to the charity, as opposed to the nice T-shirts that fill my dresser drawers.

So I asked the people behind Miles for Moffitt what they do with the proceeds from their event, held this year on May 12.

Turns out Moffitt is extremely specific about these things, which should not be too surprising given that we're dealing with scientists here.

"What's really great is that every single cent goes to research, and every single cent has been allocated to individuals,'' explained Tom Sellers, director of the Moffitt Research Institute and an epidemiologist.

Corporate sponsors pick up the tab for T-shirts, portable toilets and all the other necessities of a mass event.

Back in 2007, race participants raised $75,000 for research, and it was divided among three rising stars at Moffitt. Among them was Susan Vadaparampil, who also is an associate professor at the University of South Florida.

She told me this week that her investigations into helping women with hereditary cancer are still reaping benefits from that $25,000 grant.

You know all those stories you read about multiyear, multimillion-dollar studies that reach some stunning conclusions? Chances are they started small, with just enough research to prove the idea had promise — and could compete for larger research grants.

This is exactly how Vadaparampil has been leveraging her Miles for Moffitt money. She wanted to find out why so many breast cancer patients at Moffitt were not getting genetic counseling, even though the information might help them and their family members better protect their health.

Lots of people assumed the women were overwhelmed with all the decisions cancer patients face.

Vadaparampil wanted the real answer. She used part of her $25,000 to start looking. She discovered evidence that many of the women simply didn't understand why genetic counseling and testing might be useful.

That finding led to a $500,000 grant to dig deeper.

And that is leading to a randomized control trial — the gold standard of research — next year in which she'll test specific educational materials to bridge the knowledge gap. What she learns could have a significant impact on hereditary breast cancer patients. It also could contribute to the growing field devoted to helping all patients make wiser medical choices for themselves and their families.

But wait — there's more.

"I'm very frugal,'' she said, laughing.

She's also looking specifically at how genetic counseling and testing could affect the lives and families of African-American women with breast cancer. This work won her a large grant from the American Cancer Society. But like so many research grants these days, it was later trimmed.

With what she had saved from her Miles for Moffitt grant, Vadaparampil, 38, offset enough of the cut to allow her work to go on as planned.

All told, she has turned her $25,000 into nearly $1.5 million.

Until this year, the race money went to relative newcomers on Moffitt's faculty. Now, with research funds from the National Institutes of Health growing more scarce, Moffitt is allowing senior scientists to seek race dollars. It's a tough competition — 40 faculty members have put in applications, Sellers said.

The good news is that every year, Miles for Moffitt has raised progressively more money. Last year, the figure was $250,000.

"Just seven out of 100 grant applications are being funded by NIH,'' Sellers said. "And these are all from really smart, talented people who have great ideas. You need an edge to get those grants, and preliminary data is critical.''

So that's what everybody will be running and walking for next week — good to know if you'll be out there racing or just cheering from the sidelines.

 
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