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Woman’s Cancer Association Celebrates Researchers and Award Grants for 2021-2022

What began as a small community effort seven decades ago has resulted in a new series of grants to accelerate groundbreaking research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. The donations were made possible by The Woman’s Cancer Association (WCA) of the University of Miami, a volunteer organization that has been providing funds for cancer research, education, and patient welfare since 1959.

During its annual Ruth Self Memorial Education Day and Grant Awards ceremony on May 26, the WCA announced the grants for 2021-2022 and invited the researchers to share the innovative discoveries they are pursuing as part of the center’s mission to transform treatments and patient care. Sylvester is South Florida’s only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center and one of only two in Florida.

Patricia Cantwell, M.D.; Sophia George, Ph.D.; Ines Lohse, Ph.D.; Rumela Chakrabarti, Ph.D.; Emiliano Cocco, Ph.D.; and Nora Tenney
From left; Patricia Cantwell, M.D.; Sophia George, Ph.D.; Ines Lohse, Ph.D.; Rumela Chakrabarti, Ph.D.; Emiliano Cocco, Ph.D.; and Nora Tenney

Funding ‘Incredible Advances’

“Sylvester researchers are making incredible advances in cancer research and patient care,” said Nora Tenney, president of the WCA. “We are dedicated to providing the seed funds brilliant physician-researchers need to forge ahead with their discoveries.”

The 2021-2022 recipients include:

Emiliano Cocco, Ph.D., assistant professor, $50,000 through the Madelon Ravlin Grant Memorial Grant for “Investigating How Mutant H2A and H2B Histones Mediate Uterine Carcinosarcoma Histogenesis and Therapy Resistance.”

Rumela Chakrabarti, Ph.D., associate professor, $50,000 through the Archie & Bill Clot Memorial Grant for “Exploring the Function of DGAT2 Mediated Lipid Metabolism in MDSCs in Triple-Negative Breast Cancer.”

Ines Lohse, Ph.D., associate scientist, $50,000 through the Miami Country Day School (MCDS) Pediatric Grant for “Investigating the HDAC Inhibitor Panobinostat as a Treatment Option for Pediatric Osteosarcoma.”  MCDS students hold an annual fundraiser that has raised more than $850,000 for pediatric research.

The WCA also awards a grant each year from The Pearl M. and Edwin L. Powell Woman’s Cancer Association Endowment Fund. This year, $29,150 from the Powell Endowment Fund Grant will go to Sophia George, Ph.D., research associate professor and associate director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, for “Mapping the Fallopian Tube Epithelial of Rare Germline Mutation Carriers to Study Early Events in Ovarian Cancer Development.”

The WCA also continued its 20 plus-year support of the Holtz Children’s Hospital Pediatric Palliative Care team with a grant of $5,000 to Patricia Cantwell, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and director of pediatric palliative medicine at the University of Miami/Jackson Health System, for “Strengthening the Role of Pediatric Palliative Medicine.”

WCA’s Early Days

The Woman’s Cancer Association started in the late 1950s, when 28 Dade County women met to discuss ways to help fight the battle against cancer. By 1959, the group had adopted its organizational charter as the Woman’s Cancer Association of the University of Miami.

Currently, two chapters comprise the Woman’s Cancer Association — the Barton Ravlin Chapter and Heidi Hewes Chapter, which raise funds from individual and family grants, community partners, corporate sponsors, and fundraisers. The WCA also relies on proceeds from their resale thrift store, the Bargain Box, which is their biggest fundraiser.

Four people cutting a ribbon in a hospital lobby
From left: Adam Carlin; Bill Tenney, WCA past president; Lourdes Beltran, WCA past president; and Stephen Nimer, M.D., at the ribbon cutting of the Woman’s Cancer Association Lounge at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center in 2018.

Supporting Sylvester’s NCI Designation, Programs

In 2018, Sylvester Director Stephen Nimer, M.D., dedicated the Woman’s Cancer Association Lounge at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center in Coral Gables. The dedication was in recognition of the WCA’s four-year, $1 million donation to support the drive for NCI designation at Sylvester and its long history of collaboration with the cancer center.

Since its inception, the group has raised $14.2 million for Sylvester programs.

“The Woman’s Cancer Association’s support is vital in our work to save lives,” said Dr. Nimer, who is also the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, executive dean for research, and professor of medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biology at the Miller School, and professor of chemical, environmental, and materials engineering at the University of Miami. “The funds they raise help advance innovative research required to find cures and improve treatment options for patients. We could not be more appreciative of their philanthropy.”

Assisting Patients and Their Families

In addition to research, the WCA’s funding initiatives also help other vital areas.

“It is equally important to support patients going through cancer treatment,” said Tenney, a WCA member since 1996. “Sylvester social workers reach out to the WCA for immediate financial help for patients when there are no other options. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, we raised additional funds through online bingo games to help.”

The group has also established the bereavement room for families of pediatric cancer patients and supplied materials for the library at the Batchelor Children’s Research Institute.

The Bargain Box Thrift Store is located at 1350 West Flagler Street in Miami.

Individual and corporate members are welcome to join the WCA. For more information, contact Shawn McGee at [email protected] or Nora Tenney at [email protected].

Tags: Dr. Emiliano Cocco, Dr. Ines Lohse, Dr. Patricia Cantwell, Dr. Rumela Chakrabarti, Dr. Sophia George, Dr. Stephen Nimer, Holtz Children's Hospital, Woman's Cancer Association