Food and Fun on the Farm: Cancer Research Support on the Menu at Pelotonia on the Farm

Pelotonia on the Farm

It was a busy week for the Roychowdhury Laboratory Team.

“We’ve had three papers accepted by three different journals (The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, Journal of Oncology: Precision Oncology and Oncotarget), and we’re applying for a Pelotonia Idea Grant tomorrow, from research we gathered during our work on a previous Pelotonia Idea Grant,” said Sameek Roychowdhury, MD, PhD, an Assistant Professor in the Division of Medical Oncology at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

But in the midst of all this research, as well as seeing patients in-clinic and enrolling and monitoring several clinical trials, Dr. Roychowdhury and his team took some time on a recent Thursday evening to raise money for their other team: Team Buckeye – OncoBusters, their Pelotonia peloton.

“I like food and I like fun,” Dr. Roychowdhury said. “And, if we can put them together and do something good with it, we’re going to capitalize on it to help us with our goal to raise money for our one goal, which is to end cancer.”

Pelotonia on the Farm was held at Jorgensen Farms in Westerville and featured lots of tasty food – such as edamame hummus crostini and jalapeno black bean burgers – drinks and live music in a beautiful outdoor setting.

“Cancer affects all of us, and so does cancer research,” Val Jorgensen said. She and her family donated the use of their farm to the Roychowdhury Lab. “I’m a cancer survivor myself and am incredibly grateful for everyone who is here.”

The OncoBusters host a series of fun fundraising events every year, including the popular Dunkatonia, in which people donate money to toss a ball and try to hit a bullseye to dunk a long list of OSUCCC – James figures in a big vat of water. The OncoBusters also sell t-shirts, pizza and Pelotonia pins to raise money for their peloton – about $20,000 this year.

They’ve also raised something else.

“So much of what we do in our lab is collaborative, so it’s necessary to really be a team player,” said Michelle Wing, PhD, FNP-C, FABMG, a research scientist in the Roychowdhury Lab, member of the OncoBusters and a rider.

“Pelotonia is such a great team-building exercise,” added Hui-Zi Chen, MD, PhD, a medical oncology fellow in the lab and an OncoBuster rider.

And the team extends beyond the 10 members of the lab.

“It’s about building relationships with everyone, all the 8,000 riders in Pelotonia,” Dr. Chen said. “The Pelotonia community is our friends and family and patients and everyone impacted by cancer.”

The Roychowdhury Lab “beats cancer with genetics,” Dr. Roychowdhury said. “We determine the genetic and biological makeup of a cancer to determine the best treatment.” This genetic roadmap leads to a more targeted therapy ­(known as precision cancer medicine) and also results in the enrollment of more patients in clinical trials. The members of the lab are also developing new tests to find genetic markers in cancer cells.

Think of the members of the lab as genetic detectives looking for clues about the causes of cancer.

“Sameek is so passionate, and an example of a phenomenal physician-scientist who understands grassroots fundraising,” said Doug Ulman, president and CEO of Pelotonia, who attended Pelotonia on the Farm and, every year, gets dunked and soaked at Dunkatonia. “He and his team are all in… and they use Pelotonia to build morale for his lab,” Ulman said.

Dr. Chen did most of the organizing for Pelotonia on the Farm, which attracted about 100 people.

“This was our first time doing it, and it’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I think we’re going to make it into an annual event.”

Another speaker at Pelotonia on the Farm was Rhonda Ball, one of Dr. Roychowdhury’s patients and an example of someone who has benefited from precision cancer medicine.

“In three days I’m having a birthday, a big one (her 60th),” she told everyone. “And it’s special because I did not think I would live to see this birthday because of cancer.”

Ball had cancer of unknown origin – meaning cancer was present, but the location in her body where it started was not known – and traditional therapies weren’t working. The Roychowdhury Lab found a marker for a genetic mutation and enrolled Ball in a clinical trial that utilized a new drug developed for treatment of a different type of cancer. It worked.

“I just want to say thank you,” Rhonda said. “For everything you do to raise these research dollars. You’re saving lives and you saved mine and for that I am forever grateful.”