September is ovarian cancer awareness month. For several years now, NewsChannel 5 has partnered with Chic Awearness – a fall fashion show and fundraiser dedicated to raising research dollars to fight the disease.
In the past five years, $300,000 has been raised with that money devoted to local research projects.
A pilot program at the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center is funded by the last year’s fundraising haul. It takes a cross collaborative, bio-medical engineering approach. Vanderbilt researcher Dr. Fiona Yull explains:
“The idea is to make a cell culture on a chip that will allow us to mimic what happens in the body, but in a cell culture in a much more efficient way. We’re trying to design these organ on a chip models which are basically little plastic structures which you can put a particular cell type in one component, and maybe another in a different component, and then flow fluid past them as if you have an intact system, and there is blood flowing past the tumor. So now you can start to ask – ‘What makes a tumor go to this type of site?’ ‘What if we add these white blood cells, does it kill the tumor or help them?’ ‘What if we put this drug into this environment – can we get a readout?’”
The idea is in its infancy but could be a game changer in the way ovarian cancer is treated.
“The biggest challenge right now is that ovarian cancer is not one disease, and so treatment right now treats ovarian cancer as if it is,” said Dr. Aicia Beeghly-Fadiel.
Beyond their work in the lab, both researchers are tasked with the job of finding money to fuel their projects. Dr. Yull said fewer than ten percent of grant proposals get funded from traditional sources, making private donations crucial.
“It’s really frustrating to have what you think is a great idea - and that might make a difference - and not be able to move it forward.”
If you would like to help in local efforts, the 6th Annual Chic Awearness is being held Monday, September 24 at the Hutton Hotel.