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Patients and researchers are among those united to Pedal The Cause


July 12, 2021
July 12, 2021

Pedal The Cause (PTC) is an extraordinary event, not only because of the money it raises to fund cancer research, but also because of who participates in it.

Several Siteman patients are expected to be among the riders at this year’s event, Sept. 25 and 26. And so are several of the researchers working to help them.

Sam Achilefu, PhD, is one of those researchers. Riding, he says, is a way to honor patients and to give back to those whose efforts help support his work.

Since 2010, PTC has raised more than $32 million and leveraged more than $200 million in federally funded sources to fund 168 research projects at the Siteman Cancer Center and Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, including Achilefu’s "cancer goggles" project.

Achilefu is a Washington University professor of radiology and bioengineering. His team developed a way to let surgeons see cancer more clearly during surgery by injecting patients before surgery with a special dye that binds to cancer cells. Infrared light is shone on the patient during surgery and reacts with the dye. Wearing special goggles, the surgeon can see the cells more clearly and remove them while leaving healthy tissue intact.

The goggles have been used successfully on breast cancer and skin cancer patients. Achilefu and his team hopes to expand their use to other types of cancer.

PTC funding “brought the acceleration we needed” to take cancer goggles from the lab to the operating room, he says.

He rides in PTC to demonstrate his excitement about the support his team receives from PTC, Achilefu says. “It illustrates our commitment, not just to what we do, but also to those who support us.”

Milan Chheda, MD, a WU medical oncologist and neuro-oncologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Siteman Cancer Center, has ridden in PTC several times. His research focuses on finding effective treatments for glioblastoma, one of the deadliest brain cancers, by disrupting the cells that regulate stem cells within the tumor. Although much more needs to be done, Dr. Chheda is optimistic that his team’s work will yield significant results.

“Pedal the Cause is community and hope. I ride for my patients, I ride for the memory of my dad and I ride for science,” says Dr. Chheda.

WU medical oncologists at BJH and Siteman Ron Bose, MD, PhD, and Cynthia Ma, MD, PhD, work on finding targeted treatments for breast cancers. A PTC grant in 2016 funded a clinical trial of a promising oral drug therapy that targets a specific breast-cancer-causing gene. That trial resulted in Siteman receiving a federal grant to run a larger, multicenter trial of a targeted combined-drug therapy.

Dr. Ma and Dr. Bose credit the PTC grant for making these trials possible.

Both Dr. Ma and Dr. Bose have ridden in PTC.

Seeing and riding with people who may have benefited from her team’s work helps Dr. Ma recommit to her goals. “It’s really very inspiring,” she says. “It’s kind of a positive reinforcement I need to keep doing this.”

Dr. Bose agrees. “A lot of times people are working away in the lab. They don’t see the broad impact of what we do,” he says. “I encourage people from my lab to come out and see — these are people’s lives that you’re touching.”

To see all the research projects supported by Pedal The Cause, register to participate or get more information, go to pedalthecause.org.

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