5th District Eagles Telethon supports vital studies in smoking-related cancer
“You can draw a direct line between research spending and improved cancer outcomes,” says Douglas Yee, M.D., director of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. “The more effort, research, and money we put into cancer research, the fewer people are affected by cancer or lose their lives to it. That’s been very clear.”
Participants in the 5th District Eagles Cancer Telethon are taking Yee’s words to heart. Since 2004, the telethon, held annually under the auspices of the Fraternal Order of Eagles on KTTC-TV in Rochester, Minnesota, has raised $530,000 for the Masonic Cancer Center.
Led by director and CEO Robert Callier, the telethon takes in donations from southeastern Minnesota communities during the 20-hour TV event as well as at 5K races, golf tournaments, bowl-a-thons, and other activities held throughout the year.
Last year, the telethon presented Yee with $130,000 for the Masonic Cancer Center. That unrestricted gift allowed him to direct the money where it’s needed most.
Yee chose pilot studies that lay the groundwork for obtaining support from federal agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute, for larger researcher projects.
“We are making great progress in reducing cancer’s impact,” Yee says. “At the same time, we are in a much more competitive environment for federal research funding, so it’s extremely important for the Masonic Cancer Center to have discretionary support to put forward pilot projects.”
All too aware that lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer deaths and that smoking is the biggest contributor to lung cancer, Yee has invested the telethon’s gift to help fund pilot research projects being conducted at the University’s Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC).
“The seed money we get from the Eagles is crucial because it allows us to apply for larger grants, often in areas that are under-studied,” says TTURC director Dorothy Hatsukami, Ph.D. TTURC pilot projects that received 5th District Eagles Telethon funding this year include three such under-studied subjects:
- Physical activity as an intervention for smoking cessation in women age 50 and older, conducted by Sharon Allen, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine and Community Health;
- Risk assessment for African-American light smokers, based on metabolism of tobacco carcinogens, conducted by Kola Okuyemi, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Medical School’s Program in Health Disparities Research; and
- Modeling tobacco dependence in rats using a cigarette smoke exposure system, conducted by Mark LeSage, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medicine.
“It’s hard to get any kind of [federal] funding and harder still to get funding to study something that’s uncharted territory,” LeSage notes. “Pilot funding gives you a chance to be creative, to pursue novel avenues and get your foot in the door to an area that could potentially have a major impact on the field.”
Callier, who has volunteered for the 5th District Eagles Cancer Telethon for 50 of its 54 years, says he’s seen firsthand what research can do to improve cancer outcomes.
“I have a relative who’s been free and clear of cancer for nine years after going through surgery, chemotherapy, everything,” says Callier, who’s also met countless others whose lives have been saved or improved because of treatments developed through cancer research. “It’s been very gratifying,” he says.