Women in philanthropy expands Biodesign cancer research support

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Women in philanthropy expands Biodesign cancer research support

June 8, 2017

June 7, 2017

New grants from Women & Philanthropy, a philanthropic program of the ASU Foundation, will distribute $250,000 to support three initiatives that span innovative cancer research and a unique prisoner education program at ASU.

 With the awards, the Women & Philanthropy program will continue its support of ASU’s Biodesign Institute, where researchers are combatting disease and improving health in myriad ways—including two new promising cancer therapy studies.

“Cancer kills more than a half a million people every year,” said Rona Kasen, volunteer co-chair of Women & Philanthropy. “Women & Philanthropy members are pleased to support the work of groundbreaking researchers in ASU Biodesign who are developing such promising anti-cancer therapies. As we do every year with our funding, our members support ASU research and programs that will make real headway against persistent societal problems.”

Another award will support prisoner education program developed by students in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions that equips ex-inmates to return to their communities and families.

“That’s why we also chose to support The Arizona Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program,” said Kasen. “Sending former prisoners home without the support they need to re-enter society sets them up to fail. This program prepares them to succeed.”

The Biodesign Institute recipients are Karen Kibler, for a study on anticancer viral therapy; and Jeffrey Langland, who is exploring a natural plant product to combat cervical cancer. They were awarded $84,698 and $95,710 in funds, respectively.

Kibler’s research focuses on new strategies to offer hope for people whose cancer becomes resistant to chemotherapy.

Her project aims big: to explore the viability of a modified virus as a novel cancer therapy (the virus is called vaccinia, which has already been successfully used to vanquish smallpox as a public health threat).

“This award is the first stepping stone toward moving this whole hypothesis closer to a clinical study,” Kibler said.

In particular, her research team has developed mutants of the virus used to vaccinate against smallpox that kills many types of cancer---but does not harm healthy cells.

For Karen Kibler, an assistant research professor at the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy, this award also means a critical opportunity to produce preliminary data which may help secure a larger grant.

“So often, we don’t have any funding mechanism to support obtaining initial data to turn our ideas into reality.  And we don’t get the larger grants without preliminary data,” said Kibler.

In the second project, Jeff Langland will pursue a natural botanical-based therapy for cervical cancer.

Previous work by Langland’s team identified a plant that unleashes anti-viral activity against the human papillomaviruses, or HPV, a common virus spread through sexual contact that often leads to cervical cancer, the fourth most frequent cause of cancer in women.

Women & Philanthropy funding will allow researchers to define the specific mechanism behind the botanical’s potency, evaluate it against cervical cancer cells, understand other potential uses, and identify side effects.

Funding these endeavors is part of Women & Philanthropy mission, which has they been demonstrating the power of a grassroots communal philanthropy forum for 15 years now.

It all began in 2002 when a group of women from the ASU community banded together with a mission to seek out deserving research projects and give them a boost to get them off the ground floor.

Now at 251 members strong, the organization has funded 83 programs and awarded approximately $3.5 million in total awards. Each year, donations from its members are pooled together and they host a pitch competition, featuring presentations by a preselected group of potential recipients.

“There are so many accomplished women in this community. We wanted to bring them together to learn about what’s going on at ASU, and to create a forum for advocacy in the community,” said Lexi Killoren, the Director of Engagement Programs at Women & Philanthropy.  

Led by co-chair and founding member Sybil Francis, PhD—wife of ASU President Michael Crow—and co-chair Rona Kasen, the Women & Philanthropy program provides an opportunity for women to express their generosity and impact their communities by supporting ASU’s knowledge enterprise.

All Women & Philanthropy funding contributes to the success of Campaign ASU 2020, the ASU community’s comprehensive campaign to raise at least $1.5 billion to support students, faculty, discovery and creativity, community partnerships, and Sun Devil competitiveness. Learn more at GiveTo.ASU.edu.

For more information, contact Lexi Killoren, senior director of engagement programs for the ASU Foundation, at 480-965-0878 or lexi.killoren@asu.edu.


Written by: Gavin Maxwell

Joe Caspermyer (editor and media contact)