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SKCC scientist receives grant for promising lung cancer

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http://www.sddt.com/News/article.cfm?So ... 0070327crm

By JAN PERCIVAL, Special to the Daily Transcript

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Research advancements in cancer therapy are beautiful music to the ears of lung cancer patients everywhere. One-time La Jolla Symphony violinist Ruth Gjerset is striking an important chord, recently receiving an award of $100,000 from the Joan Scarangello Foundation to Conquer Lung Cancer. Gjerset's work using gene therapy as a way of suppressing the growth of tumors is currently under way at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

Recognized as one of the biggest sources of venture capital for lung cancer research in the United States, Joan's Legacy has awarded more than $2.4 million in direct research grants to top cancer centers like the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego. The foundation is a leading resource in the search for new treatments and a cure for lung cancer, which accounts for one of four cancer deaths among women, killing more women each year than breast, uterine and ovarian cancers combined.

"I am honored to be the recipient of a Joan's Legacy grant," said SKCC's Gjerset. "The foundation is well known nationally as a beacon in the fight against lung cancer."

Gjerset's research at SKCC is aimed at developing a gene delivery strategy that uses mesenchymal stem cells to suppress tumor growth. Mesenchymal stem cells are derived from bone marrow and contribute to tissue regeneration.

"Because they are not rejected by the immune system, and because they migrate to tumors, these cells are useful as therapy delivery vehicles in treating cancer," Gjerset explained. If successful, Gjerset's strategy will represent an entirely new approach to tumor suppressor gene therapy for lung cancer and will have a major impact on advanced cancer treatment.

Also known as Joan's Legacy, the New York City-based nonprofit Joan Scarangello Foundation is committed to increasing awareness of lung cancer and fighting the world's leading cancer killer by funding innovative research like Gjerset's. According to the foundation's Web site, in 2006, approximately 174,000 Americans were diagnosed with lung cancer and more than 162,000 died from it. Every day, approximately 450 Americans die from lung cancer, about 19 every hour.

Joan's Legacy is named after Joan Scarangello, a journalist who wrote for NBC Nightly News. The nonsmoker died in 2001 after a nine-month battle with lung cancer. In March, Dana Reeve, the widow of actor Christopher Reeve and also a nonsmoker, died after being diagnosed with lung cancer seven months earlier. Both women's stories have been the subject of national media coverage, drawing attention to nonsmoking-related lung cancer. The foundation says it wants to put an end to the smoking-related stigma that plagues victims of the lung cancer diagnosis.

Gjerset grew up in San Diego and received a bachelor's degree in biology - with a minor in music - from the University of California, San Diego. She was also a violinist in the La Jolla Civic Orchestra, now known as the La Jolla Symphony.

Following doctoral studies at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School and work as a researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Gjerset joined the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, a nonprofit research institute dedicated to the development of advanced biological cancer treatments such as gene therapy, angiostatic therapy, vaccine therapy and immunotherapy.

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