From his exemplary college football career as an Ohio State Buckeye to his 11 years as an NFL linebacker and his current career as a sports broadcaster for ESPN, Chris Spielman has always been hands-on when it comes to his managing his responsibilities.

His dedication to the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research is no different. Chris continues to raise millions of dollars for the fund and keeps close tabs on the distribution of grant awards to researchers who are making exciting discoveries at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

On July 22, Chris met with Spielman Fund grant recipients to learn about their research and how it is helping advance the fight against breast cancer, the disease that his late wife Stefanie, the fund’s namesake, battled for many years before passing away in 2009.

Researchers from the OSUCCC – James shared their findings with Chris, who listened and took notes, evidencing his signature attention to detail to the issue that has become a cornerstone of his life’s work. While it can be challenging for any lay person to understand the complicated world of cancer research, Chris’ longtime immersion in breast cancer research and advocacy allowed him to grasp the researchers’ descriptions of the complex science happening in their labs.

All three projects look toward potential targeted therapies for triple negative breast cancers—a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer that can be challenging to treat. With Ohio State’s atmosphere of collaboration and generous funding from the Spielman Fund, this research has the potential to make a worldwide impact on the disease.

Robert Brueggemeier, PhD, presented preliminary findings from an early-stage drug discovery collaboration between pharmacy and molecular genetics that he is leading. Now in the proof of concept stage, this project is investigating breast cancer cell growth and MPS1, a protein often found to be elevated in breast cancer patients—especially those for whom other treatments have failed. Findings from this Spielman-funded study are enabling the publication of a research paper and proposals to National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense to continue the drug’s development.

Early-stage drug discovery is important and is increasingly done by universities rather than pharmaceutical companies, explained Brueggemeier, because it is risky and does not always result in a marketable drug. Early findings from Brueggemeier’s study show promise; if further research continues to yield positive results, the drug could one day become part of an Ohio State-led clinical trial.

Ramesh Ganju, PhD, is working to develop a therapy against triple negative and metastatic breast cancer that targets both the tumor and the areas surrounding tumors. Early findings have shown great promise, as tumors in mice receiving this therapy have shown significantly reduced growth and spread. Thanks to funding from the Spielman Fund and a Pelotonia Idea Grant, Ganju recently secured funding from the National Cancer Institute that will enable new discoveries.

Ganju’s project demonstrates the huge importance of donor-funded research at the OSUCCC – James. Because the Spielman Fund grant provided seed funding for his research, Ganju was able to generate exciting preliminary findings that enabled him to secure funding from an extremely competitive federal grant program–funding he may not have received without the Spielman Fund’s early support.

Erin Macrae, MD, is biopsying patients’ breast cancer tumors to examine genetic alterations and provide new treatment options based on her findings. Part of her research involves monitoring whether doctors pursue those alternative treatment options for patients. Supported in part by the Spielman Fund, this project has positioned Ohio State as leader of a nationwide study and netted a career development award for Macrae, providing three-years of support to continue her research.

Macrae, listed by Columbus Business First magazine in their 2013 class of “Forty Under Forty,” is making huge strides early in her career. With Macrae’s talent and ambition and support from the Spielman Fund, there is no limit to the impact her research can have on breast cancer.

Despite his longstanding relationship and strong familiarity with the researchers and programs at the OSUCCC – James, Chris’ continued awe of their innovative work was evident. He praised their accomplishments, saying, “When I am out speaking with folks fighting this disease, I want to be able to give them a reason to hope. You are doing that right here at The James, and I really appreciate it.”

He emphasized how important it is for him to be able to describe the research discoveries to the people he regularly meets at his public speaking engagements about breast cancer. A self-professed “cancer warrior,” Chris often meets those whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. He can empathize with them firsthand and knows that a major source of hope for families in the midst of the struggle is that brilliant minds at places such as the OSUCCC – James are hard at work to find a cure.

“I am so grateful for your dedication and your passion,” Chris told the researchers. “The work you are doing is going to make a difference to so many people.”

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