Annual Grassroots Campaign Raises $1 Million in One Month for Cancer-Fighting Technology

(BPT) - Cycle for Survival’s indoor cycling fundraisers are known for their party-like atmosphere with dancing, music, colorful team signs, and a sea of orange pom poms. Behind the event-day excitement is a serious mission: to beat rare cancers.

Since 2007, more than $230 million has been raised to fund rare cancer research and clinical trials led by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK). Every dollar raised directly supports a variety of initiatives across many cancer types.

Cycle for Survival’s December Challenge, an annual endeavor, is a month-long campaign that includes an effort to purchase a specialized type of technology for $1 million. The results have been an extraordinary and tangible way to make an impact on the lives of cancer patients. Names of December Challenge donors who hit a fundraising milestone are recognized in the lab where the technology is housed.

The most recent December Challenge was dedicated to acquiring a highly advanced light sheet fluorescence microscope (LSFM). Scientists in the Sloan Kettering Institute will use sophisticated software to analyze the massive amount of data captured by the microscope, turning a task that would manually take years into one that can be completed in just days.

Before the existence of LSFM technology, it was considered impossible to capture high-quality images of biological processes such as organ development at the single cell level. Because cells are the building blocks of organs and tissues, understanding their behavior — and how this behavior can go awry — is crucial to MSK’s mission to prevent, control and cure cancer.

The 2019 campaign follows five years of success:

  • Starting in 2014, Cycle for Survival acquired a DNA sequencer. A more advanced version of that sequencer was later funded through the 2017 December Challenge. These machines have been transformative. Using a test developed by MSK called MSK-IMPACT, scientists can identify genetic mutations that cause cancer in some patients. The goal is to match patients with drugs targeting their exact mutation — a precise way to stop the disease. Recently, MSK researchers announced surpassing 50,000 tumors sequenced since they began. The data gathered through the sequencing is helping the scientific community at large better understand cancer.
  • A new liquid biopsy system was the focus of the 2015 campaign. Liquid biopsy is a simple but revolutionary blood test that allows doctors to analyze tumors without the need for invasive surgery. In 2019, MSK announced approval of the breakthrough liquid biopsy called MSK-ACCESS, which has the potential to be a powerful diagnostic tool for people at risk of their cancer relapsing. Thanks to Cycle for Survival funding, researchers are studying how liquid biopsy can help diagnose brain tumors that can’t be biopsied, lead to more personalized treatments, identify who might be eligible for a clinical trial, and monitor how a patient responds to treatment — in real time.
  • The December 2016 effort was directly tied to the information gathered from the DNA sequencers: supercomputing equipment to unlock the power of genetic data — and deliver more personalized treatments to patients. Supercomputers — powerful networks of interconnected computers — interpret and analyze trillions of data points to uncover patterns impossible to see with the naked eye.
  • In December 2018, the Cycle for Survival community raised $1 million for organoids — mini 3D versions of tumors created in a lab to test drug effectiveness and help predict patients’ response to treatment. Although organoids are about the size of a poppy seed, they are ideal for testing drugs because they mimic the complex genetic characteristics and function of organs.

Beyond the December Challenge campaign, Cycle for Survival has provided funding to hundreds of MSK physicians, scientists, and research teams. Doctors who’ve received these funds credit Cycle for Survival with launching and advancing trailblazing projects that otherwise wouldn’t have had the resources needed to get off the ground.

From January 25 – March 8, more then 37,000 participants in 17 cities across the country will ride at the annual events, led by instructors from Equinox, Cycle for Survival’s founding partner. The energy and optimism experienced at the events are a celebration of what the movement to beat rare cancers has accomplished, and a rallying cry to continue fundraising so doctors and researchers can uncover more ways to improve and save lives.

Note on the photo: Fluorescent images taken with a confocal microscope, from the lab of Mary Baylies, PhD, Sloan Kettering Institute. The December Challenge successfully fundraised for a new fluorescent light-sheet confocal system. Photo credit: Stefanie Windner, PhD.