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Conquest - Making Maryland the National Cancer Model

Making the Connection 2001-2008

Making Maryland the National Cancer Model

Date: April 20, 2010

Tough economic times saw many states, who had promised to use the proceeds from the lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers to address the problems caused by cigarette smoking, begin to use the funds to patch holes in their state budgets.

Maryland’s governor and legislators were one of the first and few to hold up their end of the bargain funding cancer research and providing free cancer screening and education to the poor and uninsured through the Cigarette Restitution Fund.

Maryland was held as a model program as other states were chastised at Congressional hearings on November 12, 2003. Senator John McCain called the National Governor’s Association and National Council of State Legislators to task for not living up to their promises.

“At the time of the settlement, there was general agreement that the money would be used for tobacco education and treatment of smoking-related illnesses,” said McCain. ?

The Avon Foundation joined the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and its community partners to further improve breast cancer care for the women of Baltimore City. The Avon Access to Breast Health Care Initiative will provide funding for education and screening services for underserved minority and low-income women in Baltimore City.

The Avon Access to Breast Health Care Initiative was funded through a $10 million gift made by the Avon Foundation to the Kimmel Cancer Center. It is the largest single gift ever to the Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Program. In addition to the Breast Health Initiative, the gift also supported construction of the Avon Breast Center and breast cancer research at Hopkins.

The new initiative will reach women and add to services currently provided through Hopkins partnerships with community-based cancer education centers developed through the CRF-sponsored Baltimore City Cancer Plan.

“We are honored to count Avon among our partners in reducing the high cancer rates in our community,” says JEAN FORD, M.D. , director of the CRF public health grant. This gift provides an opportunity to reduce the burden of breast cancer in underserved
communities. “It is our goal to attract similarly generous contributions to reduce the burden of other cancers that show racial and geographic disparities, including prostate, oral, cervical, and colon cancers,” he says. ?

Dr. Victor Velculescu’s way of identifying cancer-related genes is brilliant—so said Popular Science magazine. He was named by the magazine in their second annual
Brilliant 10, a survey of researchers and academes in fields from geophysics to quantum origami to identify scientists whose work is, according to POPSCI’s editors, “just plain brilliant.” VICTOR VELCULESCU, M.D. , P H . D. , associate professor of oncology and a CRF-funded investigator, made the cut. “His maverick approach ushered in a
new way to finger cancer genes,” reports POPSCI. “Velculescu decided that rather
than the conventional approach of identifying genes and then trying to figure out their role, he wanted to catch cancer genes in the act and then identify them.” To do this, Velculescu developed a method known as SAGE for Serial Analysis of Gene Expression.

“Of the approximately 100,000 genes in the human genome, only a fraction are thought to be active in each type of cell, but there are several thousand different types of cells in the human body and each has a unique pattern of gene expression,” explains Velculescu. “SAGE allows us to study thousands of genes simultaneously, measure their expression, and quickly identify the genetic differences between normal and tumor cells.”

In simple terms, SAGE works like the bar codes on products that are scanned at grocery store checkouts. Just as these accumulated bar code entries provide a picture of a store’s high and low-volume sales items, SAGE gives a picture of the cell’s gene expression pattern. A product frequently purchased would be equivalent to high expression; ones rarely purchased amount to low expression.

With SAGE technology, researchers assign each gene a specific sequence of ten base pairs, using a combination of adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymidine, the building blocks of DNA.

These sequences are the “bar codes” that represent individual genes. The bar codes are then identified and counted by sophisticated sequencing and computer methods.

Not only does Velculescu’s method work, but it’s 30 times faster than the conventional method. “SAGE is revolutionary,” says Sanford Markowitz, a cancer geneticist at Case Western Reserve. “It has, so far, identified dozens of genes involved in cancer and other
diseases,” he says.

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