Home > Uncategorized > Cancer researcher: Benefit runs are vital in fight against diseases

Cancer researcher: Benefit runs are vital in fight against diseases

By Craig Davis, Sun SentinelFebruary 8, 2011

Every weekend when runners compete in South Florida and elsewhere, they are not only racing for themselves but in support of various causes.

Dr. Richard Alexander can attest that their efforts carry benefits far beyond physical fitness. It’s the reason the clinical researcher from the University of Maryland Medical Center will run in Sunday’s Miles For Meso 8K at Spanish River Park in Boca Raton.

“The practice of having public events for the purpose of supporting research in the field of medicine is a distinctly American phenomenon. This type of support is going to be increasingly important,” Alexander said. “The competition for research dollars is fierce these days.”

Alexander has been involved in the quest for a cure for Mesothelioma, the lethal form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Its most recent high-profile victim was football Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, and others include Steve McQueenWarren Zevon and former White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan.

Larry Davis & Dr. Alexander

Larry Davis, director of the Boca race, has worked relentlessly to raise awareness and support research efforts since being diagnosed with the disease in 2007. He also remains active in running; he competed in a half marathon last weekend in California.

Alexander can relate on both levels. He has run 10 marathons (PR of 3:40). And he has first-hand experience that the efforts of Davis and others can make a difference.

In the past year, Alexander’s research team, spearheaded by Sheelu Varghese, has made significant strides in cracking the mystery of mesothelioma.

Studying tumors on a molecular level, they discovered each contained an abundance of certain proteins that fueled the tumors’ growth. If researchers can succeed in controlling the proteins, they soon could be on track to a breakthrough in treating meso — provided there is funding.

Fewer than 10 percent of research projects submitted to theNational Institutes of Health receive federal funding, even though many are deemed worthy. Alexander said foundations that benefit from events such as Miles For Meso 8K are able to provide funding directly to research efforts.

“It’s hard to gauge to what degree [it helps], but if you look at most successful scientists, almost every one was aided at some critical point in their career by philanthropic support,” Alexander said. “We know that advances in cures for cancer are made through research.”

Other local runs for causes this weekend include the Race For Women’s Wellness, Saturday at Coral Springs Medical Center, benefitting the Lisa Boccard Breast Cancer Fund; and Sunday’s I Care I Cure … I Run 5K at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise. The I Care I Cure Foundation supports therapies for childhood cancer.

Alexander has run marathons in New York, San Diego, Japan and several times in his favorite, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington. Although the demands of his profession leave limited time for training, he sees parallels between medical research and marathon training. Both are painstaking processes.

“To be successful in reseach, you’ve got to be patient, disciplined, and you’ve got to be able to work through a lot of adversity,” Alexander said. “That’s exactly what’s needed to be competitive in marathon running.”

For more about participant sports in South Florida, visit Craig Davis’ blog at SunSentinel.com/recreation


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