At the Forefront Live: Supporting Cancer Research

Research is one of the primary ways we look to answer cancer. UChicago Medicine as part of a research institution that uses clinical trials to search for cancer treatments and cures. Philanthropy and the support of donors plays a very important role by helping fund ongoing research projects. We'll talk to two of our fundraisers and two of our physician scientists, coming up now on At The Forefront Live.


And welcome back to Forefront Live. I want to remind our viewers that we will be taking your questions live, on the air, so just type them in the comments section. We'll try to get to as many as possible for the next half hour. We also want to remind our viewers that today's program is not designed to take the place of a visit with your physician.

Well, welcome to the program.

Thank you.

Thank you for being on today. If you all will just introduce yourselves to our viewers, and tell us a little bit about what you do. And Laila, we'll start with you.

I'm Leila Rashid, and I oversee fundraising efforts for the medical center and for cancer research.


I am Lexi Fiedler, and I am a fundraiser on the pediatrics team. So I support Comer Children's Hospital.

Perfect. So let's talk a little bit about philanthropy, and the University of Chicago, and how critically important this is to the mission and the work that is done here as a research institution in particular. Can you start us off a little bit with the history?

So, the history. We've been doing this for decades. In fact, before, actually, we had a formal office, we had an affiliate group called the University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation, who was, really, the beginnings of our philanthropic effort. And then we have a large team that works in concert with our physicians and our leadership to raise philanthropic funds to support research, education, training, facilities, all the really important things that help the medical center.

And it's interesting, because when I talk with our researchers and or doctors, they say it's more important than ever before, the work that your team does, and the generous donors, and the help that they give, because it's just, we're in a changing dynamic and a changing climate, but we still need to do the research, because we're looking for the various cures and treatments for cancer and other things as well.

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.


So, Lexi, can we have any kind of jump in for a minute and talk to us a little bit about your role first? But then, there's a special reason why you're on today, and I want to touch on that here in just a minute.

Oh, yes, absolutely. So not only am I a fundraiser here for a University of Chicago Medicine, but I'm also a grateful patient. So last year, at the age of 32, I was diagnosed with breast cancer with no family history, and it was obviously a no-brainer to come to the University of Chicago Medicine, because we have remarkable cancer doctors here. And I knew that I would be taken care of in many different ways, so.

And so far, as your journey has gone, you came here for treatment. You got your treatment, and everything's gone very well so far. And we noticed even that you're a little bit of a celebrity with us last weekend--

Oh, yeah!

--with the newspaper, and--


--but but thanks for doing this, because I think it is great to get the word out and tell this story. And it's a story that's important, because people need to realize that there are options available and really good options.

Absolutely. So just a little bit more about my story. Like I said, I have no family history. I got diagnosed in August, and then I had to make some decisions about if I wanted to do fertility preservation, which is something that many cancer patients don't have to go through, because cancer often hits at later stages. But then I went through 20 weeks of chemotherapy following that, and then I had a mastectomy with a deep flap reconstruction, which is where they reconstruct your breasts out of your own tissue. And that is something that University of Chicago surgeons specialize in. So I am so thankful for everything that they've done for me.

I had the opportunity to meet you a few weeks ago. We did a quick interview with you, and you mentioned at that time, you're feeling great now.


You look great.

Thank you.

So you're out there and back at work, and this hardly got you down at all.

No, I worked through my entire treatment. So it was really quite remarkable. And I will be done at the end of October with some of my infusions. So it's a really exciting time for me right now.

Now, Laila, that's dedication, so it's--

Oh, yeah. We know that. Absolutely.

Laila, can you talk to us a little bit about just the role of philanthropy, kind of in general, as we're a research institution, which is very important. And it's interesting whenever we do these shows. We talk with physicians and patients about some of the clinical trials and things we do and how they can really impact people's life. But research is critical to all of it, and it's the fundraising that really kind of helps make this go.

Yeah, I mean, the research is essential, obviously. It's where new discoveries are made, and philanthropy can sort of follow that trajectory from the very beginning. So philanthropic gifts can help a researcher gather data, do the early studies, and then apply for other grants and that kind of thing. So philanthropy is very important in terms of seed funding. Philanthropy can help towards clinical trials and set those up. Philanthropy can help hire people, trainees, facilities, labs, patient services. It is important at every level.

And it's interesting. The people that give to UChicago Medicine, they're really engaged, because your team engages them, which, I think, is important. And that's really nice that you do that. And it's important to the donors as well.

Yeah, yeah. We get very involved. So do our faculty, and our leaders, and other volunteers as well, so it's sort of a whole community. We care passionately about what we do. We are impacted by what we do. So it does get very personal, and it's quite rewarding, I hope, on the philanthropy side, but also on our side.

Yeah, absolutely. So what motivates people when they support science? Because some of this is pretty dense stuff.


And it takes a while to really understand what is happening, but people seem to be really, very into it. And, again, I think that's a credit to what you do.

Well, they're motivated to support science in a place that is excellent. So that that is why we have been so successful, because we're a place that people look to, whether they've had an experience here-- sometimes they are patients of ours or family and friends of patients, but other times, they're folks who are looking for a real answer to these problems, and they're looking to invest philanthropically. And they know we have a track record, they know about our science, they know that we're a good place. And then we report back and let them know what the impact of their gift is. We steward with them and have that ongoing dialogue.

So, Lexi, from your standpoint, obviously you were passionate about this before your diagnosis. Maybe even more so now, I'm guessing, but I don't know. Why is this so important to you, and why was it important before?

I've just always had a passion to help people with catastrophic illnesses and diseases. And I think that my career in philanthropy and fundraising, it helps me convey to others the importance of what we're doing, and their funding of research and patient care can really help move things forward. And I could say that now, as a grateful patient, I would not be here without the remarkable generosity of our donors and our supporters, because you know I also am personally in a clinical trial. And there are hundreds of clinical trials here at University of Chicago Medicine, and even if this trial does not help me, I know it will help others moving forward. So that's why it's very important to me.

Absolutely. So, Laila, can you talk to us a little bit about philanthropy and its role in spurring additional funding? I think most people think of the first gift and they assume it's done.


But oftentimes, that leads to more funding.

Yeah, yeah. So there's several ways. One way is, again, through seed funding. So, really difficult to get NIH funding, more and more competitive. And what's typically required is you need to have some sort of proof of concept or a lot-- be fairly down the path of your discovery to get that NIH funding. But how do you get the funding to get there? So seed funding is really important, and then it gets leveraged to sometimes tenfold of the kind of funding that you can get from the federal government.

The other thing, too, is those people are-- one person will give to a certain area, and then somebody else that will bring other people who want to invest in that. So if we have a generous donor that gives to something, sometimes, it will be a match, or sometimes it will just inspire people to do the same thing, because it touches them.

And it is so critical that this type of work continues, and I want to remind our viewers because every time that you see somebody that is impacted in a positive way by some of the research that's done here, it all starts with those clinical trials and that research at one point. And, actually, here at UChicago Medicine, we've actually been on the leading edge of a lot of new treatments or a lot of treatments that are now the standard, for example, with mesothelioma. That's one that was developed here, the treatment for it. And there are various others.

I actually was real fortunate. Recently, I got to talk to a gentleman, and we're going to have him on one of our shows in the future. But he was the first CAR-T cell therapy patient in Chicago, and he's three years out doing great. But his situation was dire before he got that treatment. So it really does have a great impact.


How is philanthropy similar or different from venture investing? I thought that was an interesting question when I saw that, and I would love to have you explain that to us.

Yeah. So, with philanthropy, the return on investment is discovery. It's a science. It's that kind of impact. And sometimes, with that, you can help fund something that leads to discovery, or a translation, or therapy, or not. And both of those things are extremely valuable in the scientific process, and the outcome isn't predetermined. What venture funding is-- the end game is financial. It's to return a financial reward. It doesn't mean that it doesn't have impact on disseminating knowledge. It does, but the motives are different from both of them.


They both have their place.

So, as people watch this-- and I'm sure there will be folks out there that may think, well, I would like to make a donation-- what's the easiest way to do something like that?

Well, go ahead.

Well, we have a few different options. So we obviously have the Give to Medicine website, where people can make a one-time gift or a recurring gift an honor or in memory of somebody, and related to a specific disease area. We also have a few events. So, this weekend, on Sunday, we have the RBC Race for the kids at Comer Children's, which is--

That'll be fun.


It always is.

--which is the race that I helped support, and it funds research specifically for Comer Children's Hospital.


And then another event coming up is the UCCRF Breakthrough Ball, which is on Saturday, November 9.

Fun. And I need to talk to you a little bit after the show about the Comer Race, because we're going to shoot some video there, and I need to get some more details from you.


So we'll do that after the show. We'll conduct business off the air, but that ought to be a lot of fun, and a lot of people participate in that. And it's a great event for Comer Children's Hospital. So, can you give us some examples of cancer research or programs that have been funded through philanthropy?

Yeah, I mean, there's a number of things. We have funding that has helped immunotherapy studies that target treatments for two of the deadliest cancers, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer. We've had research studies focusing on a cutting edge GI cancer clinical trial looking at targeted metastatic treatments. We've had programs that have helped us establish a high risk and advanced prostate cancer clinic, so definitely patient care there. We've got, recently, a fellowship that was added to the gynecological oncology fellowship under Dr. Yamada. So many, many things.

It supports people, it supports these programs, patient care, and basic research as well. From on the bench, there's a famous green tea study that supported breast cancer research. And that was done purely through philanthropy.

Again, it's you can't overstate the importance of philanthropy when it comes to research and the work that's being done in the laboratories here in the University of Chicago. It's so critical and so important, and it makes such a big difference.

So, again, if you want to donate, please do. And we've got the little lower third graphic up, if we can pop that up there again just to remind people. And go there if you want to donate, because we'd appreciate it.

Lexi, I want to wrap up with you for this segment, and just talk a little bit about your future. Again, things are going great. You look fantastic. You feel good?

Thank you. Yes

Just tell us a little bit about your future and what your plans are.

My plan is, after October 25, hopefully, to never have to deal with cancer again. So I know that my future is bright, and I have a new perspective on life now. And I know it sounds so cliche to say that, but it's precious, and it's really important. So I'm really glad to continue to be able to work in my role to support this mission.

Fantastic. Well, thank you both for being on the program.

Thank you.

Thank you.

We're going to a quick break. They're going to switch out. We're going to have a couple of our research, both physicians and scientists come up here in just a moment. So give us just a minute, and we'll switch out our guests.

University of Chicago Medicine is advancing the forefront of health every day with breakthroughs in immunotherapy to fight aggressive cancers, leading edge treatments to prevent a major cause of stroke, and game changing orthopedics for elite athletes, and the rest of us, too. We're bringing research to reality and making the extraordinary possible, so you can experience advance care in everything we do. Welcome to the forefront.

Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago Medicine is at the forefront of kids' health, shaping national standards of care from infants to young adults. Comer Children's. Welcome to the forefront.

And welcome back. We have two new guests. We did that quickly. You guys were great. So if you can, just introduce yourselves to our guests, and tell us a little bit about what you do here at UChicago Medicine.

Sure. I am Diane Yamada. I'm the section chief for Gynecologic Oncology.

Dr. Sheth?

And my name is Dr. Deepa Sheth, and I'm an assistant professor of radiology and breast imaging.

So let's just talk about research in general at first. And tell us a little bit about the importance of philanthropy when it comes to research, if you will. And Dr. Yamada, we'll start with you.

Sure. Philanthropy is incredibly important to what we do. It has filled in the gaps of so many areas of research that we do that are just unfunded by national co-operative trials or national level funding. So for our particular section, it's allowed us to run an entire clinical trial, where the translational or biomarker components were funded by national funding, but the clinical trial itself was not funded at all. And so it's really allowed us to launch a novel clinical trial. And it has allowed us to fund the future research which is our fellows, as well as some incredibly rare areas of ovarian cancer, where we'll be able to look at very novel therapies.

Now we're going to do something, take a step back and get real basic here. We talk about clinical trials a lot. Tell us what a clinical trial actually is, if you will, so our viewers understand that.

You want me, or--

Go ahead.

Sure. So a clinical trial is basically a research study, and it can have a number of different components. But, primarily, it, for us, involves patients. It can be involved at different levels. So there can be a phase I study, for instance, where we're looking at a new therapy that's not been looked at before and just looking at the side effects of that in particular patients.

Phase II studies are where we're really looking at efficacy or how effective an actual agent can be in a particular type of cancer. And then the phase III trials are usually the largest studies, where we're comparing the standard of care treatment to a novel agent in a particular patient population or a patient population that expresses a certain type of biomarker. And all of those trials use different numbers of patients and have different levels of requirement in terms of studies and translational studies.

And some of these clinical trials can take years, correct?

Absolutely, absolutely.

Yeah, and that's part of the whole work here, is to be thorough and make sure that everything works as we anticipate.


So Dr. Sheth, can you tell us a little bit about what motivated you to pursue kind of the research aspect of medicine? Why is this important to you?

Yeah. As an early investigator, for me, philanthropic funding really sort of catapulted my career, to be very honest. So that preliminary funding that I received really allowed me to get the preliminary data that I needed to then further apply for higher level phases of funding. And sort of having that personal communication with the donor, sharing the exciting preliminary data that I was getting, sort of making changes in data that led to policy guidelines, and potentially even relating to just as basic as a patient physician successful outcome metric. It just showed how powerful philanthropic funding can be for an early investigator like myself in my career.

And it has to be tremendously gratifying when you see kind of the rewards of this, because it does make-- this truly impacts people's lives.


When you get in, and again, these clinical trials can take years, but you see the progress along the way. How does that make you feel to know that you're making this kind of an impact?

Yeah. Having a champion donor sort of advocating for you as a clinician researcher and especially a young investigator like me was invaluable, right? So you really realize how rewarding and impactful your research is. And it sort of reminds and re-inspires us to why you went into this field in the first place, like why you wanted to make an impact on patients and communities to begin with.

So Laila was telling us a little bit about how the funding works from a research standpoint and philanthropy standpoint. Wondered if you could jump into that a little bit more, and talk about a person's investment leads to important research, which then, that research can lead to other funding. Can you kind of tell us how that works in your work?

Yeah. So in radiology specifically, having that philanthropic seed funding allows me to create preliminary data. And as was mentioned earlier, creating that proof of concept, right? So then you can use that to apply for higher level, deeper phases of funding, and potentially get more, increased government grants for this. And the really interesting thing is that it does serve as a catalyst. So not only are you generating preliminary data from that initial idea, but then it sort of inspires you to have more research ideas, right? And as spin-offs from the original idea, and it just becomes this continuous stream of innovation and creativity, especially for a young investigator like myself.

So, Dr. Yamada, what is exciting about kind of when you propose a project, and you're hoping for funding, and you start working with our philanthropy team? Tell us about that, and how exciting that is, and what that process is like.

It's incredibly exciting and gratifying. So from our standpoint, it's allowed us to, in some instances, for instance, we have an incredible donor who herself had low grade ovarian cancer, and it's a very rare type of cancer. It's not something that's incredibly well studied, but we have some very novel ways of kind of analyzing and going deeper into discovering what the biology is of some of these tumors.

And so what it allowed us to do was to take her interest and her willingness to fund an entire project and go to investigators that have the ability to kind of look at this rare, incredibly rare tumor at a different level. So we're going to use different technologies and different ways of analyzing the biology of some of this tumor to be able to look at low grade ovarian cancer in a very, very different way. So it allows me to bring together a team that I wouldn't normally have access to and to really be able to tie that to an interest of a particular patient that has this incredibly rare tumor.

And again this is one of the things that I think is unique about the University of Chicago, UChicago Medicine, our relationship with not only the hospital side of things, but the university side. And I was very fortunate. I got to sit in on a similar meeting like that with a potential donor and some of the scientists once. And I was really impressed with the questions that this donor was asking of the scientists. I mean, this person knew their stuff, and was very well versed, and clearly had a deep, deep interest in that area, obviously.

But it was very interesting to see the whole process play out, and then it was also interesting to see the scientists, how they work with physician colleagues who are scientists, how they work with other researchers all throughout the system, and it all comes together. And again, I think that is one thing that is just very unique here and very powerful.

So tell us a little bit about just-- one of the areas when we talk about science research, there are some risks that have to be taken and some things that, you're stepping out in areas that maybe you haven't before. Can you talk to us a little bit about philanthropy's role in that and making that possible?

Sure, absolutely. So there are a couple of areas that I can think of just off the bat. So, for instance, and I think Laila mentioned this, ovarian cancer is a unique cancer in the sense that we don't-- there's not water That's it That's known about the role of immunotherapy in ovarian cancer. It's a solid tumor. It's not a liquid tumor, where this has been examined on a deeper level.

So the group here is incredibly strong when it comes to utilizing CAR-T therapy. And the question has come up in the past as to whether there's a role for CAR-T therapy in solid tumors. And, in particular, in ovarian cancer. This is certainly not my scientific area of expertise, but we have incredible experts here in the form of Michael Bishop and others who have the capability to be able to do this. And we have incredible clinical trials such as Gini Fleming who can actually run with this information once we have it.

So philanthropy has allowed us to put together a team that will be able to analyze the role of whether there-- of CAR-T therapy in ovarian cancer, and it's very exploratory. So we have to be very honest with the donors and let them know that this is exploratory, but an answer that comes up, whether it's positive or negative, will significantly add to our body of knowledge and has the potential to be something really promising.

Dr. Sheth, what are some of the exciting projects that you may be working on that you can share a little bit?

Yeah. So my current research projects sort of focus on this concept of a new and faster breast MRI protocol. So a traditional breast MRI traditionally takes about 25 to 30 minutes, and it can cost anywhere in the thousands, depending on your insurance. And the criteria for ordering a breast MRI is really limited right now to patients with an elevated lifetime risk of breast cancer and those with the new or current diagnosis of breast cancer.

So with that philanthropic funding that I have received, I am helping create something called an abbreviated ultrafast MRI, which is 10 minutes. And we're hoping that the preliminary data that we generate from this funding will help lead to policy changing guidelines. And we're hoping to sort of revolutionized the way that we screen women, especially in this area of personalized medicine, right? This concept of one size fits all for breast cancer therapy no longer applies. We know that. Every female has their own personal type of breast tumor that needs to be treated and diagnosed in a very personal manner. And so this sort of abbreviated ultrafast MRI gets closer to that concept.

You mentioned something that I thought was interesting, too, the financial aspect of things. I think a lot of times when we talk about research like this, one of the impacts, potentially, on patients is a fiscal or financial impact, and this could be a positive one for patients.

Yeah, absolutely. So time is money, especially in the world of radiology and scanners, right? So the longer an exam takes, the longer the time on the MRI scanner is. So not only are we trying to create a faster MRI-- it's only 10 minutes-- we're just trying to make sure that it's just as sensitive and specific as that full 25 minute scan. And so part of the funding really helps us develop that and make sure that, although there are no guidelines on this currently, we are using the data that we acquired to make sure that we're making safe decisions and what's right for the patient, the right decisions.

And Dr. Yamada, if you can talk to us a little bit about just your role as not only physician, which is a big role, but also as a researcher. That is also kind of a unique thing that the pairing there is invaluable when it comes to this type of work.

And I think that's definitely true. I think the really unique part of being a gynecologic oncologist is that not only are we oncologists who administer chemotherapy to our patients and take care of them lifelong, but we're also surgeons. And so the beauty of that is that you can be in the operating room, for instance, operating on a patient with ovarian cancer and have access to all the specimens that you really need to kind of drive forward the research that needs to be done.

So Ernst Lengyel, who's one of our G1 oncologists, has started this incredible ovarian cancer lab where we have thousands of specimens in our tumor bank that we have access to be able to actually use and study as we're developing some of these clinical trials and asking some of the really important questions that need to be answered in ovarian cancer. So being a physician, a surgeon, and a researcher allows me and my entire team to actually participate in the whole continuum of all the things that are really important for that level of research.

And it's got to just give you a fascinating look, too, because not only are you dealing with research, but you're dealing with your patients and how it impacts them. And I mean, there's so many facets to it.

Yes, absolutely. It makes it very, very personal. And I think that because we can take care of our patients through the initial treatment and we follow them all the way until they're cured or until they may pass away from their cancer, we become very, very close to them as well as their families.

So, Dr. Sheth, can you take us out, because we're about out of time? But how important is philanthropy when it comes to research?

If you are on the fence, you absolutely should talk to a University of Chicago Medicine Development Team, right? So this team of advisors are going to really get to the bottom of what causes you're passionate about, and set you up in a personal one-on-one basis with physicians that actually engage in research that are directly passionate to you, right? And the whole point of this is to form this continuous channel of communication, trying to set up you as the donor, potentially, who's interested in these important causes with physicians who are really passionate about it. And when you sort of combine this passion from the donor and purpose from a young investigator like myself, really extraordinary things in research can happen.

Well, I don't think we could put it any better than that. And they're really nice people, too, so that is another good point. But it is really interesting to see the process and see how it works. And it's a great bunch of folks to work with. So thank you for doing this.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Appreciate it. And thank you for all your questions and watching the program. Remember, check out our Facebook page for schedules on future programs. We keep it updated. For more information on cancer programs, visit And if you want to make a donation, we'll see that little lower third coming up. There we go.

Thanks again for watching, and we hope you have a great week.


Laila Rashid and Lexi Fiedler, from UChicago Medicine and Biological Sciences Development, discuss the importance of supporting research. S. Diane Yamada, MD, and Deepa Sheth, MD, talk about how donor funding supports their quest to advance research and improve cancer care.

female cancer researcher with large pipette in lab

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