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Promise and Progress - Swim Across America Baltimore Raises Record Funds

Promise & Progress: Special Issue Bloomberg - Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy
Issue No. 2016

Swim Across America Baltimore Raises Record Funds

Date: March 23, 2016


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With sunny skies and light winds to buoy swimmers, kayakers and volunteers alike, this year’s pool and open water events raised more than $550,000 for the Kimmel Cancer Center. Now in its sixth year, the annual event attracts hundreds of swimmers of all ages and abilities. Some swam in honor or in memory of a loved one. Many were cancer survivors and some donned “rookie” stamps, indicating they were swimming in the event for the first time; while others took on a new challenge this year, swimming a 5 mile course around scenic Gibson Island.

“Because of the efforts of each and every member of the Swim Across America Baltimore family, we have new ways of attacking the deadliest cancers,” says Luis Diaz, M.D., director of the Swim Across America Laboratory at the Kimmel Cancer Center.

In May 2015, at the largest world-wide meeting of cancer physicians, Kimmel Cancer Center physician-scientist Dung Le, M.D., and Diaz reported on a study of 48 patients with colon and other cancers where standard therapies failed. The Kimmel Cancer Center team discovered that mistakes in so-called mismatch repair genes may accurately predict who will respond to certain immunotherapy drugs known as PD-1 inhibitors. Such drugs aim to disarm systems developed by cancer cells to evade detection and destruction by immune system cells. This study builds on genetic discoveries first identified by Johns Hopkins researchers and other scientists two decades ago. But until now, the connection between these genetic mistakes or mismatches and ways to target them was unrealized.

“It is only because of the funding from Swim Across America that we were able to pursue this innovative idea,” continued Diaz.

“A key finding is this: Defects in mismatch repair genes are found in a small percentage of many cancer types. So this research has implications for more than the cancers we studied in this initial trial. In fact, this type of biomarker for immunotherapy response could apply to tumors containing errors in other DNA repair genes, as well, thus expanding its impact. Our research shows us that using a predictive biomarker can help us direct the use of immunotherapy drugs to patients who are more likely to respond, avoiding giving people expensive and

time-consuming treatments that are not likely to work or delaying the use of other treatments,” Diaz indicated.