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From Bike Ride to Cancer Lab to Therapeutic Products

by Charles Brenner, PhD, Associate Director for Basic Sciences

This article originally appeared in the Valley News on June 21, 2008

Charles Brenner, PhD

Charles Brenner, PhD

On July 12, people from all over Northern New England and beyond will gather in Hanover to participate in The Prouty Century Ride & Challenge Walk. They'll ride bikes, walk and volunteer in support of Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only two comprehensive cancer centers in northern New England as designated by the National Cancer Institute . The goal this year is to raise $2 million. Not only does money raised during The Prouty stay here to support doctors, nurses, patients, and cancer research, it also helps patients with cancer all over the world.

You may not think of the Upper Valley as a major international exporter of regionally produced products. But as a scientist at Dartmouth, I can name dozens of products used worldwide that were developed at Norris Cotton Cancer Center. That's why it's important to adopt the mantra of the environmental movement: "Think globally, act locally." Anything you can do to support Norris Cotton also helps to advance human health and to limit death from cancer.

What kind of products does Norris Cotton make? Some are intellectual — insights into the disease and how it spreads. Others are novel devices and therapeutic molecules that have the potential to improve cancer care. Others are novel uses of existing molecules, which are being developed to more effectively treat specific malignancies. Here are some examples:

  • Dr. Barbara Conradt discovered that cell death in roundworms occurs as a function of fragmentation of the mitochondrial energy factories, precisely as it does in human cells. Because this normal cell death process is undermined by cancer development and also exploited by cancer therapy, Conradt's experiments have already been cited by 71 subsequent studies and form the basis for novel approaches to killing cancer cells.
  • Dr. Keith Paulsen's laboratory published breast-imaging results using new technologies that had never been considered before. The devices and the contrasting software being developed have the potential to be exported worldwide for early detection of cancer.
  • Dr. Randolph Noelle's group and his co-workers are producing a set of engineered proteins to develop vaccines to treat cancer. Their nationally funded work has spun off sufficient patents to create a company to develop and commercialize their inventions.
  • Dr. William Kinlaw and his co-workers have discovered that a natural product, widely available in health food stores, kills particular types of cancer cells. Combined with an antibody test invented by Kinlaw, this discovery may produce a strategy to identify and treat one specific type of malignancy.

All this work has been supported in part by money raised from The Prouty.

Cancer research is a continuum, from the first insights at the molecular level to new drugs and novel devices that ultimately find their way into the clinic. Nationally, you might find that bigger cancer centers tend to produce more useful products than smaller ones, but you won't find a cancer center that produces significantly more insights, devices and useful molecules per investigator or per dollar than Norris Cotton. We like to think that dollar for dollar and pound for pound, we are as formidable a cancer center as you will find anywhere.

This is why we at Norris Cotton thank you for your tremendous commitment to The Prouty, which constitutes a major source of our research funding. By participating, you are investing in your local community of cancer researchers, who are efficiently converting your dollars into new products to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancer. These products are a major regional export and will help save lives of people we know and people we will never know. Thanks for thinking globally and acting locally.