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  • Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala raises more than $2 million, marking a decade of dedication to IU cancer research

    Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala raises more than $2 million, marking a decade of dedication to IU cancer research

    More than $12 million raised since 2012

    INDIANAPOLIS—During a celebratory night marking a decade of the Chuckstrong initiative, more than $2 million was raised for research at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center.

    Hosted by the Indianapolis Colts, Jim Irsay and former head coach Chuck Pagano on Aug. 4 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the 2022 Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala celebrated 10 years of Pagano's survivorship and more than $12 million raised for cancer research.

    As the evening was about to wrap up, Pete Ward, chief operating officer of the Indianapolis Colts and chair of the cancer center’s development board, took the stage with one last surprise. After last year’s free throw challenge for Pagano, Irsay, who was not in attendance, asked Ward to put Pagano on the spot again. For a $1 million gift to cancer research from Irsay, Ward asked Pagano a series of Colts trivia questions. With three chances and 10 seconds to answer, Pagano got the last question right as guests counted down. That $1 million was in addition to $500,000 Irsay had kicked in to start the Chuckstrong challenge earlier in the evening.

    Chuckstrong huddle

    The Chuckstrong initiative has enabled the cancer center to accelerate center research by recruiting top-level researchers from around the country and purchasing sophisticated laboratory instruments used by researchers to make advances against the disease. (Read more about the impact.)

    The 2022 Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala brought together cancer research supporters, Colts fans, cancer survivors, researchers and philanthropists. Among the attendees were former Colts players Adam Viniateri, Robert Mathis and Jack Doyle. Current Colts players Jonathan Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr. and Nyheim Hines surprised VIP guests with an appearance at the pre-event locker room reception.

    The event also brought back Bruce Arians who joined Pagano on stage for a conversation between the two NFL coaching greats and cancer survivors. Arians’s first stint as an NFL head coach came when he stepped into the role for the Indianapolis Colts while Pagano was treated for leukemia in 2012. The two friends recalled the many ways their careers have intertwined and the challenges and triumphs of that 2012 Colts season.

    Kelvin Lee at Chuckstrong

    “We are proud that our partnership with the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center makes such an incredible impact funding cancer research right here in Indiana,” Ward said. “Many of us in the Colts organization have benefitted from the incredible work that IU cancer researchers have done, so we see firsthand how important the work is.”

    The guests learned about the impact of IU cancer research and the hope it provides to people like John Corbin. In a touching video, the Indianapolis resident shared his cancer journey that began in 2016. Corbin was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, which in his case is radiation resistant.

    Corbin, who was in attendance, received a standing ovation. Pagano addressed him directly from the stage: “The way you handle this, the way you’re fighting with dignity and grace and class, it’s an inspiration to us all, John.”

    “Philanthropy accelerates research, and that philanthropy directly impacts patients because it leads to research studies that look at those hard-to-treat cancers that resist all kinds of therapies,” Kelvin Lee, MD, director of the cancer center, said. “Research is really focused on solving those problems and philanthropy accelerates that. It directly impacts the patients because it's going straight to the research.”

    Pagano and Katzenellenbogen

    Top-level “touchdown” sponsors for the Chuckstrong Tailgate Gala were the Indianapolis Colts; Nichols Colver – BJ and Lori Nichols and Bob and Lisa Colver; Republic Airways; Sol and Kay Rasso; Huntington Bank; and Lori Efroymson Aguilera and Sergio Aguilera – In memory of Dan and Rachel Efroymson.

    Pagano’s story

    When Chuck Pagano shared his diagnosis of acute promyelocytic leukemia in September 2012, the Chuckstrong movement quickly began and provided an opportunity for Indianapolis to visibly support Pagano as his team rallied and marched toward the playoffs. Pagano underwent treatments at IU under the guidance of Larry Cripe, MD, a hematologist and cancer center researcher. Pagano returned to his head coaching duties on Dec. 24, 2012 – a day that inspired and captivated all who have been touched by cancer. Today, Pagano remains cancer free.

     

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    IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the U.S. and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.

  • IU cancer researchers refining colorectal cancer classification, identifying new targets for treatment using cutting-edge, single-cell technology

    IU cancer researchers refining colorectal cancer classification, identifying new targets for treatment using cutting-edge, single-cell technology

    INDIANAPOLIS — Analyzing nearly 500,000 single cells, researchers at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center are refining how to classify colorectal cancer and identify new targets to develop effective therapies.

    Their work, led by Ashiq Masood, MD, associate professor of medicine at IU School of Medicine, was recently published in Genome Biology. Ateeq Khaliq, PhD, is the paper’s first author and a postdoctoral fellow in Masood’s lab.

    Previously, the research community classified colorectal cancer into four subtypes called consensus molecular subtypes (CMS) – CMS1, CMS2, CMS3 and CMS4. Masood and colleagues found colorectal cancers don’t fit neatly into these discrete subtypes. Instead, these tumors and their ecosystems exist more in a continuum.

    Masood and colleagues found common factors across all the CMS subtypes that are associated with poor outcomes for patients. If a patient has higher numbers of certain cell types – cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) and/or tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) – these patients will not do well. Masood sees these findings as an opportunity to develop better treatment for patients.

    “Single-cell analysis is providing a much higher resolution, which was not possible before,” Masood said. “We found that the colorectal cancers are much more complex than these subtypes.”

    Single-cell analysis allows researchers like Masood to use technology to investigate cell variation and the different cell types within a cell population, such as a tumor.

    In addition to being a gastrointestinal oncologist, Masood has training in bioinformatics and computational biology and does genomic research as a cancer center member.

    Researchers analyzed 49,589 single cells from 16 racially diverse colorectal cancer patients, plus seven adjacent normal colon tissue samples. Those cells were then profiled along with data from multiple external cohorts, totaling 487,829 single cells. This data set is among the largest colorectal cancer single-cell atlases to date, Masood said.

    “This single-cell analysis is showing that cancer-associated fibroblasts and TAMs predict the poor outcomes; thus, they offer therapeutic targets,” Masood said. “This is the next set of work that we will be doing at IU.”

    Researchers are now working on testing if inhibiting those cell types – particularly CAFs that are known to cause resistance to immunotherapy – can provide a path for new colorectal cancer treatments.

    “Most colorectal cancer patients still receive chemotherapy, with modest benefit,” Masood said. “There is an unmet need to develop better therapies, so our hope is we can improve clinical outcomes by developing new drug therapies.”

    Additional authors from IU School of Medicine are Ateeq Khaliq, PhD, Yong Zang, PhD, and Yingjie Qiu; and IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center members Yunlong Liu, PhD, Melissa L. Fishel, PhD, and Anita Turk, MD.

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    IU School of Medicine is the largest medical school in the United States and is annually ranked among the top medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The school offers high-quality medical education, access to leading medical research and rich campus life in nine Indiana cities, including rural and urban locations consistently recognized for livability.

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